Oklahoma Rep. Mullin has ‘bond’ with Arkansas

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 168 views 

It was a campaign that started with nine men on the ballot, but in the end it was small business owner Markwayne Mullin who was the last man standing.

Mullin, a Republican from the small town of Westville, Okla., said he entered the 2012 race to replace Democrat Dan Boren in Congress for one simple reason.

"What really (happened) is I got fed up," he said. "It had to do with my business, really. My wife and I have been blessed with our company. But the biggest threat to my company is the federal government and the mandates pushed on us. It's coming to a point where it's going to get to where it's not feasible for a small business owner to survive."

And so Mullin, the owner of Mullin Plumbing, threw his name in the hat, competing against five other Republicans while the Democratic primary saw three candidates vying for the nomination.

Mullin took a few hits during the campaign. With Mullin’s campaign including opposition to Obama’s stimulus plan, the Associated Press reported in September 2012 that Mullins’ companies indirectly received $370,000 in stimulus funding through contracts with the Cherokee and Muscogee nations. Mullins said he was not aware the work at tribal housing projects was funded by stimulus dollars.

In the end, Mullin came out on top, with about 57% of the vote in the general election and a ticket to Washington.

And he has held true to his distaste for federal government regulations, primarily opposing the Affordable Care Act. During his time in office, Mullin has joined other house Republicans in voting time and again to repeal what the Supreme Court has now affirmed as the law of the land.

"One thing that we're doing is picking at Obamacare. Yes, we've voted 40 times to repeal it, but we're making some headway. The President just came out limiting the mandate. You saw 39 (Democrats) voting with us on delaying the employer mandate. We are saying, 'Look, this is what is wrong with Obamacare.'"

Asked why House Republicans, such as himself, would continue voting to repeal the law even though a repeal would not pass the Senate, Mullin said it is all about putting members of Congress on the record with regard to the ACA.

"The people who make a career as a congressman are going to have to realize people don't want this forced down their throats. Now that re-election is coming up, we're putting these people on record. We may not have made headway on the first 20 (attempts at repeal), but we're exposing them on this last 20 and we're going to continue doing that."

Mullin's district, the 2nd District of Oklahoma, is unique as it stretches from the borders with Kansas and Missouri to the border with Texas, stretching the entire width of the Oklahoma border with Arkansas.

With the district being largely rural, comprised mainly of small towns across hundreds of miles, many residents commute to other Congressional districts and in some cases, other states for work. It's the case in the Fort Smith area, where a large proportion of the population in both Sequoyah and LeFlore Counties cross the state line not only for work, but also for shopping and entertainment. The same situation also occurs in far Northeast Oklahoma, where residents may commute to either Joplin, Mo., or Pittsburg, Kan.

With such a migratory population base, Mullin faces a unique situation where he must work not only with the Oklahoma Congressional delegation, but also with the members of Congress who represent districts where his constituents may work.

One of the strongest relationships Mullin has established since coming to Washington has been with U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers. When discussing the cooperation required between himself and the neighboring Congressmen from different states, the freshman Congressman said he understood firsthand the unique challenges in his district.

"The last mile section of my back fence is the Arkansas state line, so there is a common bond between us," Mullin said of his relationship with Womack.

"We get along with him great. The first time that I met Steve Womack, I walked up to him and told him where I was from and he said, 'Yellow Jackets.' He knows mascots. And I told him that I always go on vacation in (Arkansas)."

Womack, who supported Mullin in the GOP primary for the Oklahoma Congressional seat, also said Mullin considers most issues from his perspective “as that small business owner who has been in the trenches.”

"The thing I like about Mark is that he still wears his small town characteristics.”

The two primary concerns for Mullin in his work with neighboring Congressmen has been transportation and commerce, which he explains are directly linked to one another.

"Most of the stuff that we work on is with transportation needs, to move commerce from one part of the state to the next and across the border," he said. "For example, we have a water caucus. If one lock fails (along the Arkansas River), it will affect commerce in Arkansas and Oklahoma immediately. We've already got an emergency response idea put together."

Mullin said fixing Oklahoma's roads was vital to keeping commerce flowing through the Sooner state and improving the economy not only for Oklahoma, but for Arkansas.

"When you live this close to the border, it's not always (driving) on the interstates. Sometimes, it's small county roads. There's an issue with some of the county bridges that we're not able to move product across. In some cases, you have to go 100 miles around to move product around these deficient bridges," he said. "When you live in a border town, like I do and my entire district, it's important to take care of these side county roads and not just the interstates."

According to Womack, taking the lead on these issues, and others, is what has given Mullin a "great reputation" among the leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives.

But what's next for the guy whose backyard butts up against the Arkansas state line? Is he going to stay in the House or come home and take care of his growing business?

"I committed to everyone that I would be here for at least three terms," Mullin said. "I wanted everyone to understand that I wouldn't get fed up with the process and leave after one term. I'm committed to at least six years."

For Womack, that is something he and his House colleagues look forward to.

"(Mullin is a) great guy. Good friend. … He has a very reasonable mind and, in my estimation, has good, sound judgment."