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Luke Holland ticks all the boxes

Jim Inhofe’s longtime chief of staff seeks to replace him in the U.S. Senate


Luke Holland Illustration by Robert Ball

Luke Holland ticks all the boxes
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When Sen. Jim Inhofe, longtime Republican senator from Oklahoma, announced his early retirement in February, the 87-year-old endorsed 35-year-old Luke Holland to fill his seat. Holland spent more than 12 years working for Inhofe, including as his chief of staff, but hasn’t previously run for office and would need to defeat a crowded field to replace Inhofe.

What was your first job in politics? The first job I could possibly get, which was working with Jim Inhofe. I was truly at the bottom of the barrel and didn’t have any responsibility other than to drive Sen. Inhofe around and get him to meetings on time and sort the mail. I did that for a few months before I started working on policy issues.

What do you do as a policy or legislative staff member? You meet with folks from Oklahoma—hearing from our farmers, our ranchers, our oil and natural gas producers, our bankers, our manufacturers, everybody who has big problems. We hear firsthand their accounts, and then we try to move their agenda.

One of the first things I got to work on was legislation that blocked an Environmental Protection Agency regulation that would have applied refinery regulations to the agriculture industry. We heard all about it from the cattlemen and the Farm Bureau and other crop groups, and we were able to include a provision in an appropriations bill that blocks the enforcement of that rule against the agriculture industry.

You later became Inhofe’s chief of staff. What does that job entail? It’s a fun job, because you’re in the middle of everything. You get to advance the senator’s agenda, all of the things he’s focused on—reelection, protecting Oklahoma’s military bases, and increasing defense spending. It includes the biggest things we’re dealing with in Washington, like how do we help Ukraine, and the smallest issues affecting Oklahoma, like helping a Boy Scout camp get some new land they’re trying to buy from the forest service.

I was also responsible for managing the team. A lot of times we’re hiring kids right out of college. They don’t know anything, but they’re really sharp and they want to work hard and that’s what we look for. The issues come and go, but the people you’re working with, they’re permanent. There’s nothing more fun as a boss than hiring somebody who’s really talented and then just seeing them grow like a weed.

There’s nothing more fun as a boss than hiring somebody who’s really talented and then just seeing them grow like a weed.

Now you have a new job—candidate. What’s that like so far? There’s three pegs to the stool of campaigning. One, getting the message out there. Doing interviews, communicating what it is that I’m running for, who I am. People still need to be introduced to me. Two, events. Monday I was out in Woodward County, Oklahoma, which is about three hours west of Tulsa. It’s ranching country, and so the cattlemen had a meeting there. I went and got to spend time with them and meet folks and talk to folks. And third, fundraising. It’s a reality of politics that you can’t meet enough people in the course of a campaign to convince everybody to vote. So there’s a mass marketing appeal that has to come with it, and campaigns aren’t cheap.

You’ve called yourself an Inhofe conservative. He’s known for staunchly supporting military spending and Oklahoma’s oil and gas industry, and rejecting belief in climate change. What sets you apart from him? I’m a lot younger. And I’m not a pilot; I can’t fly an airplane upside down. But I can’t think of any issues we disagree on. What I bring to the table is a fresh message about what makes America the greatest country on earth. As a young person, I get what’s at stake, and I’ve got the energy and the drive and the passion to take that every day to the Senate so that we can move things back in the right direction.

How has your time as a staffer influenced how you’d tackle the job of senator? I know how to pass laws. I know how to build coalitions. I have relationships with the senators in charge of key committees that Oklahoma needs—the Armed Services Committee, the Agriculture Committee, the Environment and Public Works Committee. And I also know all the priorities for Oklahoma because I’ve been advocating for those for my entire career.

The 2020 presidential election and election law generally is still a fraught topic in Congress. Do you believe Joe Biden was rightfully elected president? I think that under our Constitution, Joe Biden was sworn in as president of the United States. That’s different from saying he was properly elected. The question that the Senate was faced with was one of: Do we certify the election of the states? And the answer is, yeah, because the states are in charge of the election. It’s about the electoral college. And so I guess by that definition, then yes.

I remember talking to my dad right after the election, and he was very concerned about voter fraud. And I understand that. I’m really proud of the Republican Party for passing laws in over a dozen states to make their election laws look more like Oklahoma, the gold standard in election security laws. We have voter ID laws, which I think should be everywhere in America. That would really do a lot to improve people’s confidence that only legal votes are counted. Everyone wants it to be easy to vote one time and for your vote to be counted.

We’ve got to make sure that we’ve got really clear rules of the road to make sure that there’s confidence that the results are real. Federal laws aren’t the way to go, which is why it’s great that the state governments around the country that have had problems over the last couple of years are passing new election laws. If all these laws had been in place before the 2020 election, we’d be in a much different place right now. I don’t know where we would be, but it would be much different than it is today.

A major element of your platform is fighting socialism. What specific policies would you support or oppose to do that? The left is trying to impose government control everywhere that it can. They don’t want school choice. They want the government to control when churches can be open and when they can be closed and want to mandate things like masks or vaccines. It’s all about control. And that’s what socialism is all about, the government creeping into every little bit of our lives and controlling what we do and punishing people for disagreeing. I want to put a stop to that.

We’ve also been creeping toward government control through regulations and tax policy over the last few decades. There are federal regulations on everything from how you can drill for oil and gas to how to run a school and how to run a daycare. Every time the government says that you have to do this or that or you can only run your business in this way but not that way, it’s an assault on our freedoms. That’s not to say every single regulation is bad. We have to have rules of the road for, say, keeping airplanes from running into each other.

I want all of my positions to honor the Lord, because I’m accountable to him, ultimately.

What is the proper role of government? The foundational responsibility of our federal government is to defend the nation from foreign adversaries. We need to have the strongest military in the world. At the state and local level, that’s our law enforcement officers protecting us from crime. No. 2 would be to encourage the development of the private sector through the lowest possible tax policies that encourage people to generate wealth and to create businesses and to have opportunities. Also, infrastructure to support the private sector.

Another major part of your platform is boosting Christian values. How does your faith affect your politics? I want all of my positions to honor the Lord, because I’m accountable to Him, ultimately. The clearest one to me is being pro-life. I think abortion is the greatest black mark on American society right now. It needs to be stopped. I also believe that marriage should be between one man and one woman.

Those are social issues. But then how does my understanding of how God made us affect tax policy? Well, I think that God has given individuals lots of autonomy and freedom. I think the capitalistic system has brought more people out of poverty than anything else that we’ve ever tried. It brings together businesses that provide services with the people who need those services. Being free to do that is at the heart of what the Lord made us to enjoy.

Christian values and freedom are the bedrock of American society. When you have a moral society that is pursuing a Christian worldview, together with freedoms, it’s a beautiful thing.

With this emphasis on Christian values, how do you respond to concerns that Christian Americans may entangle faith and country or make an idol of the country in what’s sometimes referred to as Christian nationalism? I think that it’s something to be aware of, but I think that we are so far away from having anything close to that. It’s just not even really a threat right now. We are not a theocracy. We are a constitutional republic. We have a system that is frankly, I think, a gift from God. Our Constitution is such an amazing document that has resulted in such amazing flourishing of humanity here in America and been such a blessing to the rest of the world.

What about Oklahomans who aren’t Christians? Well, I would represent them too. And I totally respect their desire to practice whatever religion they want to. But I’m not going to back down from who I am or pretend that I’m somebody that I’m not, or that I’m not going to advocate for the things that I think are important. If people don’t agree with me, then they don’t have to vote for me. And I’m a strong Christian, but my priority is to fight for Oklahoma.


Esther Eaton

Esther reports on politics for WORLD from Washington. She is a World Journalism Institute and Liberty University graduate and enjoys bringing her parakeets on reporting trips.

@EstherJay10

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