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Inhofe announces Senate retirement, endorses chief of staff as chosen successor

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Chris Polansky / KWGS News
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Luke Holland, chief of staff for the retiring Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), speaks with reporters at the Oklahoma History Center on Friday following a press conference announcing his run. Inhofe, who will serve out the remainder of this session of Congress, did not attend because he had contracted COVID-19 but called in via phone to offer his endorsement.

Oklahoma's senior U.S. senator officially announced his plans to retire Friday, endorsing his chief of staff in a run to replace him.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), a fixture in Oklahoma politics since the 1960s, said he and his wife, Kay, had made the decision together.

"We have some other things we need to be doing at this point in our lives," Inhofe, 87, told reporters via speakerphone at a press conference in Oklahoma City which he did not attend because of what his staff called a "mild" case of COVID-19.

In a written statement, Inhofe said, "When our journey of service to Oklahoma started with my first political campaign in 1967, we never expected that the road the Lord would lead us down would take us from the Oklahoma legislature, to being Mayor of Tulsa, to the House of Representatives, and, finally, to the United States Senate where I was privileged to lead the committees that best serve Oklahomans."

"Thank you to everyone who has trusted me with your vote over these many years. It has been an honor to serve you in the Senate. May God bless you and God bless Oklahoma," he said.

Inhofe's retirement will not take effect until Jan. 3 of next year. Inhofe endorsed his chief of staff, 35-year-old Luke Holland, as his chosen successor to the seat he first won in 1994.

"He's actually run this show, with, a lot of it, for now a long period of time, we're talking about several, several years," Inhofe told reporters Friday by phone.

Holland, a Bartlesville native, said working for Inhofe has been his only job since graduating from the University of Arkansas in 2009.

Holland told reporters Friday his first priority in the Senate would be advancing Christian values. Holland repeatedly referred to Christianity as being integral to U.S. government.

"My number one priority is to restore the Christian values that we have in this country. I want to move us back in that direction," Holland said. He claimed President Joe Biden, a Catholic, "is against the Christian values that we all hold true — he wants to kick God out of everything."

"You know, in Oklahoma, we've got a lot of people who believe the same thing," Holland said, referring to Christianity. "And that's why I think that we can both be very aware of the challenges that we face as a country, but also remain optimistic that God is still up there even though the Democrats want to cast Him out of our existence."

The timing of the retirement announcement means the contest to succeed Inhofe will be on the same November ballot as the races for governor and Oklahoma's other Senate seat, with Gov. Kevin Stitt and Sen. James Lankford, both Republicans, each running for reelection.

Several prominent Oklahoma Republicans weighed in on Inhofe's announcement Friday.

"His legacy in the Senate will be remembered as a fighter for our military service members & our nation’s infrastructure," Lankford said in a statement. "Oklahomans will remember his leadership when they’re driving on sound highways & bridges—but he will also be known for his love for Jesus & his love for sharing Jesus with the world."

"Senator Jim Inhofe has served the State of Oklahoma with unwavering devotion," Stitt said in a statement. "At every turn, Oklahoma has benefited from his profound vision for a strong national military, robust infrastructure system, and vibrant domestic energy production. I am grateful he has committed to serving the state and our nation through the end of 2022."

"To watch and work with Senator Inhofe is to witness a true statesman," wrote Republican Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma's 3rd Congressional District. "Jim’s work advocating for numerous policies and practices that be believed were worthy of his country has made our entire nation stronger, safer, and has made a loving impact on millions of families across the United States. But we all know Jim takes greatest pride in the many ways he helped his fellow Oklahomans back home. From being a larger-than-life advocate for Oklahoma’s military installations to improving infrastructure across the state, Jim Inhofe has made an impact on Oklahomans that will be felt for generations.

"I want to thank Senator Inhofe for his decades of service to our city, state, and country. No member of Congress in history has done more for Tulsa than Jim Inhofe, and our community looks forward to welcoming him home in his retirement," Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum wrote in a statement punctuated with the American flag emoji.