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Oklahoma Governors 1975-1979: David Boren (1941—)

This Seminole native followed his father Lyle (OKLAHOMANS 2, Chapter 4), into public service. David Boren excelled at every level of endeavor. He earned his bachelor’s degree in history from Yale University, his master’s in political science at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar classmate of future President Bill Clinton, and his law degree from OU.

While still in law school, Boren won election as a Democrat to the Oklahoma House of Representatives. During eight years there, as recalled by biographer Bob Burke, he ran a law practice in Seminole, served in the Oklahoma Army National Guard, and chaired the Oklahoma Baptist University Department of Social Sciences.

In 1974, he ran for governor at the age of 32. His “Boren Broom Brigade” signs denoting his intention to “sweep out the old guard” of state politics seemed omnipresent around the state that summer and fall. Boren defeated two Oklahoma political giants—incumbent governor David Hall and legislative and rodeo announcing legend Clem McSpadden—in the Democratic primary and runoff.

Several thousand broom-wielding supporters rallied at the state capitol the night before the general election. They signaled their support for Boren’s fresh, articulate campaign, and agreement with his condemnation of the often-corrupt, and incompetent “good ole boy” network that had long controlled state government. He won more votes in that election than any other gubernatorial candidate in state history.

Once in office, Boren boldly advanced his reform program. He spearheaded eliminating the loathsome estate tax between spouses, and restored the federal income tax credit that Hall had repealed. He also led the elimination of numerous state offices. And he worked to guide the modernization of the state’s outdated workers compensation laws.

Not everyone agreed with the amended version of the latter. According to Republican legislative leader Kent Frates, the bill “was supported by insurance companies and large employers but opposed by small businesses and labor unions….Boren won a political victory but did not improve the benefits for injured workers, and raised the cost of insurance for many employers. Worker’s Compensation was not truly reformed until over thirty years later.”

Boren sounded a bellwether voice to federally deregulate natural gas prices. This spurred President Jimmy Carter’s appointment of him to a key national task force. It also helped pave the way for increased American independence from foreign energy sources, as well as the great Anadarko Basin deep gas boom in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Boren also crafted an ambitious, multi-faceted crime and prison reform program. Its many planks included public school counseling, treatment of learning defects, reducing the wait between arrests and trials, victims restitution programs, salary increases for law enforcement agencies, new and more efficient prisons, and a phalanx of new anti-crime laws.

His successes propelled him into the U.S. Senate in 1978 for a three-term, 18-year career. His 1987-1993 chairmanship of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence was the longest ever for that position. His moderate political philosophy has grown increasingly rare among Democratic national office holders, and as of 2020, he remains the party’s last U.S. senator from Oklahoma.

OU President

David Boren’s presidency at the University of Oklahoma from 1994-2018 generated many celebrated moments and accomplishments. Not least were historic building, fundraising, scholarship, and landscaping programs. The latter was helmed by Boren’s second wife, Molly, herself Oklahoma’s first female district court judge. Together, these efforts transformed OU into one of the most beautiful campuses in America and improved its academic standing. Boren also guided the school to the nation’s number one ranking in number of freshman national merit scholars.

Toward the end of his presidency, relations between Boren and his bosses, the school’s Board of Regents, as well as other state leaders deteriorated. A key factor was his controversial leadership of a statewide campaign to assess Oklahoma taxpayers with an additional sales tax to shore up declining education revenues. The regents did not authorize Boren’s actions, which generated significant opposition. Voters overwhelmingly rejected the proposal.

The regents quietly guided Boren into retirement. When his successor and longtime friend, OU graduate, and major donor James Gallogly assumed the presidency in 2018, he revealed startling news.

Inefficient administration and severe overspending had beset the university for years. OU was spending millions of dollars per annum on new student residential properties for which there were few tenants (and which had helped sink overall rental property values in the city of Norman). It faced a $30 million financial deficit in the coming school year. It possessed $1 billion in debt.

Gallogly fired all of Boren’s senior financial officers, some of whom had apparently misrepresented fundraising figures, and instituted an armada of corrective administrative and financial systems. Weathering accusations that he was attempting to “tarnish” Boren’s legacy, Gallogly soon announced the first salary raises in four years for all full-time OU faculty. Boren defended the school’s financial practices, but refused to be drawn by third parties into a public war of words with Gallogly.

Additional accusations by former OU students of moral misdeeds against him led the school to sever ties with Boren.

Kyle Harper, brilliant and charismatic senior vice president and provost under both Boren and Gallogly, summarized Boren’s positive impact as OU President:

“His tenure as President of the University of Oklahoma was transformational. In 1994, OU was a good public institution. Twenty-five years later, it is an outstanding public research university, known around the globe for its academic excellence and signature programs, such as severe weather, petroleum engineering, and Native American art, history, and culture.”

David Lyle Boren stands as one of the giants of Oklahoma history. Perhaps an appropriate valedictory for this larger-than-life statesman came in his gubernatorial inaugural address. He challenged Oklahomans to forge the way to a national “spiritual renewal.” He continued:

“Will America remain great? Comfort says, ‘Tarry awhile.’ Opportunity says, ‘This is a great spot.’ Timidity asks, ‘How difficult is the road ahead?’ I know how Oklahomans will answer. We answer, ‘Stand aside; Oklahoma cares enough to lead the way.’”


The above article is a bonus to the fascinating historical content found within our book

Oklahomans Vol 2 :

Statehood - 2020s

which can be purchased HERE.

View the inspiring 2-minute preview video HERE.


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