Ford looks back on Senate career

Ford looks back on Senate career

By Nathan Thompson

After 12 years of serving the residents of Washington, Nowata and Rogers counties at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City, Sen. John Ford, R-Bartlesville, is stepping away from politics, but will continue to do what he can to make the lives of Oklahomans better.

Ford was first elected to the state senate in 2004. He was unable to run again because of Oklahoma’s term limits. Senate District 29 voters overwhelmingly elected Sen. Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville, on Nov. 8 to replace Ford with 65 percent of the vote.

Ford retired from ConocoPhillips in 2003 after a 34-year career.

“With the merger of Phillips and Conoco, if I would have stayed, we would have been transferred out of Bartlesville for the third time. So, I decided to take early retirement,” Ford said. “At that time, I started looking for what volunteer activities there were in the community. Through my interactions in the community, I found out that Jim Dunlap, our senator at the time, was also going to be impacted by term limits. As it turned out, some other people were looking at running (to replace Dunlap) and they ended up deciding not to. I was approached about considering doing it.”

According to Ford, he was always involved in politics, but never considered running for office. He met with several people along the way and made the decision to enter his name in the race.

“It was something I was interested in and thought I might be good at it,” Ford said. “Through my career at Phillips, I spent most of my time in marketing. Marketing is a lot like politics — you’re just dealing with people, dealing with relationships. You’re trying to find out what issues need to be changed or enhanced. So, it was kind of a continuation of what I had done at Phillips.”

During the first election, Ford said he had fun. There were three candidates in the 204 Republican primary — Ford, Max Lutke and Jim Gillett. Ford won the Republican primary with 52 percent of the vote.

“It was a very good primary. It was very issues-oriented and never negative,” Ford said. “I was fortunate enough to win it, and then in the general election, we had another issues-oriented campaign and it was not negative, and I think that is a function of Bartlesville. We are a very close community and the entire senate district wants something that is focused on issues and respectful.”

In the 2004 general election, Ford faced Democratic candidate Alan Gentges. Ford beat Gentges with 64.83 percent of the vote and was unopposed in 2008 and 2012.

During his tenure in the state senate, Ford said he built wonderful relationships with fellow senators on both sides of the aisle. In 2004, the Republicans were in the minority in the senate. In 2006, there was an evenly-split senate and in 2008, the Republicans took control of the Oklahoma Senate for the first time in history.

One landmark piece of legislation Ford c0-authored while he was in the Senate is a bill for voter ID. He said it took about three years for it to make its way through the legislative process. Both the House and the Senate were able to pass the bill, but then-Gov. Brad Henry vetoed it. Following the veto, Ford said the legislature crafted a state question using the language of his bill and took it to a vote of the people.

In 2010, the legislative initiative was placed on the ballot, where almost 75 percent of Oklahoma voters passed the voter identification law.

Where Ford has had the most impact, however, is on Oklahoma education reform. Ford served on the Senate Education Committee his first year in office, and then went on to chair the committee in his fifth through 12th years. During his tenure, reforms were made to the Teacher and Leader Effectiveness program, which is used to inform instruction, create professional development opportunities, and improve both the practice and art of teaching and leading.

He also was a champion of making processes where Oklahoma third-graders were able to read at grade-level before promoting to the fourth grade through the Reading Sufficiency Act. Ford was also a proponent of crafting new academic standards for Oklahoma schools following the repeal of Common Core.

Another initiative Ford was instrumental in was lowering the amount of state-mandated tests for students to take to earn a diploma. The state of Oklahoma eliminated the End-of-Instructions exams high school students must take and began the process for replacing them with one test.

One area, however, that Ford regrets he could not accomplish is getting Oklahoma teachers a pay raise.

“I would have loved to see us structure a pay increase for teachers,” Ford said. “I absolutely wanted to get that done, but wasn’t able to. Our teachers deserve it, and absolutely need it. My hope is that those who are still in office are able to get that done.”

Now that Ford is stepping away from politics, he said he is going to enjoy spending time with his family and his grandchildren — while continuing to work on initiatives with Oklahoma nonprofit groups.

“Other than continuing to spend a lot of time with our four grandchildren, I want to really focus on nonprofits,” Ford said. “Locally, I’ve been involved with the Bartlesville Regional United Way, where I’ve been on the board since 2007. We can do so much to help any nonprofit carry out their mission with greater success.”

Ford has recently been named to serve on the board of directors for the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits, an organization that equips and strengthens nonprofit groups with training, consulting and advocacy. The Center supports over 1,000 groups across the state.

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