Matt Pinnell’s name hasn’t appeared on a ballot, but he believes his convictions and political experience are the perfect resume to be Oklahoma’s next lieutenant governor.
Pinnell, of Tulsa, served as chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party during the 2010 and 2012 elections, then was the Republican National Committee’s state party director, working as the chief liaison between the national and state parties. Most recently, he led the transition for new national Republican Party Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel.
Over the course of four years, he said, his job was to repair state parties that were “burning to the ground, essentially,” by identifying problems and getting together key people to solve them. As a result, he said, Donald Trump had functioning state parties to support him in the 2016 presidential election.
“In this political environment in Oklahoma today, we need elected officials that are good at developing relationships … and being able to solve problems quickly,” he said at a meeting with The Constitution’s editorial board last week.
He and his wife Lisa also own Binxy Baby, a company that produces baby hammocks for shopping carts, and he believes the lieutenant governor should be the “economic development director for the state” to retain businesses and recruit new industries.
“If you’re not creating jobs it’s very hard to get out of any budget hole we see in this state,” he said.
Attracting industry isn’t made easier by Oklahoma’s well-publicized problems, such as lack of funding for education and infrastructure and its high level of incarceration.
Oklahoma still has advantages, he said, like low taxes and easy commutes, but they have to be marketed and sold to companies looking for locations.
He looks forward to a real debate about budget reform, including reducing the percentage of tax revenues that are automatically dedicated to agencies without legislative consideration and scrutiny of existing tax incentives. Some incentives are creating jobs, he said, “but a lot of them are not.”
Pinnell believes the state’s budget problems must be tackled early in the legislative session, not in the final days or hours. A hopeful sign, he said, is that the Legislature has authorized interim studies that can be drawn upon for quicker action next year.
TULSA, Okla. – Appearing more-or-less relaxed in slacks and a button-down shirt and clutching a cup of coffee, the boyish Matt Pinnell, only 37, smiles as he greets the Red Dirt Report team at an eatery on Tulsa’s south side.
Pinnell starts off by noting the dark-red “46 Star Flag” T-shirt one of us is wearing and proudly noting that his campaign colors for his signs and such reflect the distinct look of Oklahoma’s first flag, which can now be seen on specialty license plates across the state.
Although very brand conscious, Pinnell said that the blue-and-white, standard-issue plates that say “Explore Oklahoma” and “TravelOK.com,” were not rolled out in the best way possible, alluding to criticism after the design was released to the public.
“I don’t think our brand is the ‘Twitter bird,’” cracks Pinnell, referencing The Hunger Games-esque, half-baked scissortail flycatcher design featured on the newly-issued plates, replacing the Sacred Rain Arrow plates, that featured the long-embraced “Native America” slogan.
But Pinnell has big ideas. You have to start somewhere and Pinnell has been plenty of places, bringing his conservative message to all parts of the U.S. in a national capacity and, before that, to all parts of Oklahoma during the Republican rise to power in the past decade.
That said, Pinnell is hoping to be Oklahoma’s next lieutenant governor.
He noted how in 2013, he was contacted by then-Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus (now White House Chief of Staff for the Trump administration) to help turn things around on the national level, just as Pinnell had done while serving as the Oklahoma GOP chairman in the 2010 and 2012 election cycles. He was known, at that time, as the youngest GOP chairman in any state.
RDR archive photo of Matt Pinnell working as Oklahoma GOP Chairman. (Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report)
Pinnell went on to oversee all 50 of the state Republican party organizations and traveled to all 50 states, while getting a chance to explain that he was from Oklahoma.
But surprisingly, the reaction Pinnell would get from fellow Republicans was one of confusion to indifference.
“It wasn’t the best reaction,” Pinnell said. “A lot of it was that they didn’t know what Oklahoma was about. They didn’t know what was in Oklahoma. It revolved around having a football team, (Native Americans), I guess, tornadoes … and I started, from that process, getting a little of an itch.”
And that “itch,” Pinnell explained, was in his desire to help improve Oklahoma’s “brand,” thereby helping his home state’s lot when it came both to economic issues and building tourism in the state.
And it just so happens that the role of Lt. Governor, fit the profile of what Pinnell was looking to do.
“I want to help create a state that my kids will be proud of and will want to grow up in,” he said. “There’s nothing else I’d rather do.”
Pinnell, the only “announced candidate” so far, said that structural and procedural changes are needed moving forward to improve the situation plaguing the legislature, particularly when it comes to the state budget, or “budget woes,” as Pinnell puts it.
Perhaps separate sessions should be considered, so it does not come to “last minute” decisions being made.
“It’s got to be done better next session,” offered Pinnell, adding, “Private-sector job growth should be the leading goal of government policies at the State Capitol.”
BOARDS AND COMMISSIONS
Among the duties of the Lt. Governor, currently held by Republican Todd Lamb who is now running for Governor, is serving on 10 boards and commissions, including being chair of the Tourism Commission.
Noting that serving in that position is a “pretty big deal,” Pinnell said that tourism is the third-largest industry in Oklahoma, generating approximately $650 million for the sate.
“I believe it’s an undervalued department in our state,” he said, while acknowledging that tourism dollars won’t “fill the (budget) hole” but it can certainly do more than it is doing at the present time.
GET YOUR KICKS …
Having spent time visiting folks all across the country, he is well aware of the high number of “Baby Boomers” out there, many of whom are close to retirement or have already retired and are looking to “see America.” And what is more “American,” at least when it comes to getting out “on the road,” than exploring Route 66, which stretches from Chicago to Santa Monica, California.
“I Tweeted this stuff out yesterday,” Pinnell says, excitedly. “You have 75 million Baby Boomers that control about 70 percent of all disposable income in the United States.
“How do you profit from the Baby Boomers that are retiring?” he asked, and then adding that “99 percent of them will travel this year.”
And so, how does Oklahoma – which has “the longest, drivable stretch Route 66” in the country, especially with the nostalgic interest in “Small Town America” and dropping interest in traveling overseas due to concerns about terrorism, he noted.
“It’s a gold mine,” states Pinnell, his smile getting bigger, as he talks about Route 66’s continued potential for attracting tourists. “And ‘Small Town America’ is a growing industry.”
“A lot of the time it just takes one big idea to move city folk into the country for a weekend. For a bed and breakfast. Look at Pawhuska, with the Pioneer Woman. Busloads of people from in-state and out-of-state coming to Pawhuska. And look at Tishomingo with Blake Shelton’s restaurant Ol’ Red. A lot of times it’s just one idea.”
Adds Pinnell: “And those dollars add up.”
DUTY CALLS … AND A FISHING TRAIL?
And while Pinnell says that if he gets his paid position as Lt. Governor, he would likely face a steep budget shortfall and would not be able to pursue avenues such as Michigan’s “Pure Michigan” tourism campaign. Instead, he says, it would be his duty to be “ambassador of the state,” touting Oklahoma’s positives, including tourism, a job-friendly environment, all while working to attract more taxpaying citizens to the state.
Coming up with creative ways of attracting those folks comes in the form of fun activities, like noting the length of “shoreline” in Oklahoma, which, when stretched out, is longer than Florida’s coastline. And with our great fishing, Pinnell would like to develop a “Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail” for fishing in Oklahoma.
“Oklahoma should be the first state in the country to have a fishing trail,” he said.
And that’s just one idea of many Pinnell is considering and bringing to the table as his campaign moves forward and across the state in anticipation of the 2018 election.
Interestingly, Pinnell’s wife, Lisa, patented an invention she came up with called a Binxy Baby Shopping Cart Hammock, which fits in the buggy seat while the parent or guardian is shopping.
So, with employees, a warehouse in Bixby, not far from their Tulsa home, and dealing with Amazon distribution, Pinnell and his wife already have their hands full, along with four lovely children, working on Binxy Baby full time.
And with that small-business experience, Pinnell would certainly have the credentials to serve as the Small Business advocate on the future governor’s cabinet.
Back to state government, Pinnell said all state agencies need to be audited.
“Every agency needs to be looked at from top to bottom,” he said.
And more needs to be done to improve Oklahoma’s image in education (Tulsa is the largest city in the nation without a four-year university) and other areas that are important for people who may want to move here – or stay here.
But he turns it back to small businesses and more jobs, something he could focus on expanding, if elected.
“Our revenue problems can be fixed by private sector job growth,” Pinnell said.
Additionally, he said, public policy changes must be made to improve education. And Democrats and Republicans have to come to an agreement on how to get there.
“Let’s sit around a table and figure it out,” he said. “Because it will be a big issue on the campaign trail.”