Former U.S. Sen. James Inhofe has died at 89 (2024)

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James Inhofe • 1934-2024

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Former U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe poses for a portrait at his hangar at Tulsa Riverside Airport in January 2023. Oklahoma's longest-serving congressman died early Tuesday at age 89.

  • Mike Simons, Tulsa World Archive

Jim Inhofe is shown on election night, Nov. 8, 1994, with his wife, Kay Inhofe. He won a special election to become a U.S. senator.

  • Tulsa World Archive

Jim Inhofe is shown with his wife, Kay Inhofe, and their children on the night he won his first term as Tulsa mayor, April 4, 1978. Inhofe was mayor from 1978-1984.

  • Tulsa World Archive

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe talks to journalists while waiting for President Donald Trump to arrive in Tulsa in 2020. Inhofewon 28 out of 31 elections over his political career in Oklahoma and Washington, D.C., facing 57 opponents and never experiencing a runoff.

  • Tulsa World Archive

Caption: JIM INHOFE THANKS HIS WIFE DURING HIS SPEACH AT THE DOUBLETREE Photographer: MIKE SIMONS Title: STAFF Credit: TULSA WORLD City: Tulsa State: Ok Country: USA Date: 19961105 Category: C&S Source: TULSA WORLD

  • MIKE SIMONS

Jim Inhofe on November 4, 1986 when he won his first Congressional seat for the First District. Tulsa World file photo

  • John David Heckel / Tulsa World

Caption: Jim Inhofe talks to reporters on election night Photographer: Mike Simons Title: Staff Photographer Credit: TULSA WORLD City: Tulsa State: OK Country: USA Date: 19961106 Category: C/S Source: Tulsa World

  • Mike Simons

Caption: JIM INHOFE Speaks in Tulsa Photographer: MIKE SIMONS Title: STAFF Credit: TULSA WORLD City: Tulsa State: Ok Country: USA Date: 19961105 Category: C&S Source: TULSA WORLD election night

  • MIKE SIMONS

U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe is greeted by bystanders as he rides horseback during the Broken Arrow Christmas Parade, on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2010. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World

  • Cory Young

United States Senator Jim Inhofe signs in to vote at Brookside Baptist Church Nov. 4, 2008. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World

  • MIKE SIMONS

Sen. Jim Inhofe signs his new book, The Greatest Hoax during a book signing for visitors at Barnes & Nobles, at 41st Street and Yale Avenue, on Monday, Mar. 12, 2012. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World

  • Cory Young

Congressman Markwayne Mullin (left) chats with U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe after Inhofe endorsed him for reelection after speaking to a group of young professionals at Will Rogers Museum on June 1, 2016. JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World

  • JAMES GIBBARD

Senator Jim Inhofe makes remarks at a Republican Party watch party at the Stoney Creek Hotel and Conference Center in Broken Arrow, Okla., on Tuesday, November 3, 2020.

  • Matt Barnard, Tulsa World

Former United States Senator Jim Inhofe poses for a portrait at his hangar at Tulsa Riverside Airport Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023 in Jenks, Ok.

  • Mike Simons, Tulsa World

Senator Jim Inhofe waves to the crowd at the Bricktown Convention Center in Oklahoma City during election night. photo by Kelly Kerr

  • KELLY KERR

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe speaks at the Press Club in Tulsa, Okla., on August 27, 2007. JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World

  • JAMES GIBBARD

United States Senator Jim Inhofe speaks during a news conference about the I-44 Riverside Drive to Yale Avenue widening project Oct. 30, 2012. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World

  • MIKE SIMONS

Jim Inhofe makes his way between interviews with the media during the GOP watch party Tower Hotel in Oklahoma City on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014. JOHN CLANTON/Tulsa World

  • John Clanton

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe rides a horse in the Tulsa Christmas Parade in downtown Tulsa on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World

  • Cory Young

Sen. Jim Inhofe speaks about the re-opening of Riverside Drive as Jeff Stava(left) and Mayor G.T. Bynum listen Sept. 10, 2018. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World

  • MIKE SIMONS

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (right) is surrounded by representatives from the aviation industry as he arrives at the American Airlines maintenance facility, 3800 North Mingo Road, in Tulsa, Okla., on Friday, October 26, 2018. Inhofe visited the plant to tout a recent bill that will strengthen the aviation workforce. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World

  • Matt Barnard

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (right) talks with airplane mechanic Steve Harmening (left) at the American Airlines maintenance facility, 3800 North Mingo Road, in Tulsa, Okla., on Friday, October 26, 2018. Inhofe visited the plant to tout a recent bill that will strengthen the aviation workforce. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World

  • Matt Barnard

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe makes remarks during a Tulsa Regional Chamber forum at the Renaissance Tulsa Hotel, 6808 S. 107th East Ave., in Tulsa, Okla., on Friday, November 30, 2018. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World

  • Matt Barnard

Big Elk Employee Clint Mills asks Senator Jim Inhofe if he was for the Berlin Wall coming down, then how come he wants to put a wall up on the southern border between the United States and Mexico Nov. 1, 2018. Inhofe spoke at Big Elk to announce the details of his bill that would fund Trump's border wall. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World;

  • MIKE SIMONS
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From February 2023: Jim Inhofe looks back on his career: 'I really wanted to make a difference, and I did'

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Randy Krehbiel , Tim Stanley

Former U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, a one-time Tulsa mayor who went on to become one of the country's most prominent Republican politicians, died just before 5 a.m. Tuesday after suffering a stroke over the holiday, his family said.

He was 89.

Services are pending.

At 36 years, Inhofe was the longest-serving congressman in Oklahoma history. He was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1986, before jumping to the Senate in 1994.

He was reelected for the final time in 2020 to a term running through 2026, but retired two years into it. He attributed the decision in part to the lingering effects of COVID-19.

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All told, Inhofe served 28 years as a U.S. Senator, his longest and most influential role.

While in Washington, he became known as a champion of conservative values, a reputation that he wholeheartedly embraced.

Inhofe relentlessly pursued highway and aviation funding, and was widely credited for the part he played in keeping Oklahoma's military bases not only intact but growing during a time when installations were closed or downsized in every other state in the nation.

He drew the ire of some fellow Republicans more recently, however, when he refused to back a delay of certification of the 2020 presidential election. He said doing so would have violated his oath of office.

Nationally, Inhofe was probably best known for his insistence global climate change is a hoax, or at least greatly overrated as a an environmental threat.

Most famously, Inhofe once brought a snowball onto the Senate floor as supposed proof of his position. In his view, fossil fuels were essential to Oklahoma’s and the nation’s economic well-being and that overrode all other considerations.

In his home state, Inhofe was known for running tough, effective campaigns that appealed to a sizable portion of Oklahomans. He won 28 out of 31 elections over his political career, facing 57 opponents and never experiencing a runoff.

His last election loss was in the 1984 Tulsa mayoral race, when he was narrowly defeated by Terry Young.

Inhofe's early political career had its ups and downs.

Losses in the 1974 gubernatorial race and a 1976 try for Congress nearly ended his career. Financial problems and a lawsuit against his own brother, coupled with the loss to Young, threatened to take him down during the 1980s.

Each time, Inhofe survived, grew stronger and, after winning a 1994 fight for the U.S. Senate, became virtually invincible.

Inhofe credited it to hard work and the fact that people always knew who he was and where he stood.

"I've had a lot of people tell me, 'Inhofe, I don't agree with you on everything, but I know where you stand,'" he said once.

Inhofe's two most important political campaigns were probably the 1978 Tulsa mayoral race and the 1994 Senate slugfest.

In 1978, Inhofe eked out a victory over Democrat Rodger Randle to reenergize a career hamstrung by consecutive high-profile losses. At the time, Inhofe said defeat would have meant his political end.

The 1994 contest matched Inhofe against fellow Congressman Dave McCurdy, a moderate Democrat who was said to have presidential aspirations.

"Dave McCurdy was very popular," Inhofe recalled later. "He was probably smarter than I was. He certainly was better looking. My job was to make sure people knew how he voted. We were able to do that, and that taught me a lesson: Always be honest about the other candidate's record."

Inhofe was often criticized for running negative campaigns.

But he saw it more as being bluntly honest. As he noted once, Oklahomans are conservative, and no one was more conservative than he was — especially a Democrat.

"No matter how moderate or conservative they say they are during the campaign, when they get to Washington, they're going to vote with the Democrats," he said.

Despite that, Inhofe maintained close relationships with many Democrats, including former Sen. Barbara Boxer of California.

According to one story, Inhofe helped Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy, weak with cancer, from the U.S. Capitol after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Born Nov. 17, 1934, in Des Moines, Iowa, James Mountain Inhofe moved with his family to Tulsa as a child.

He was a graduate of Central High School and the University of Tulsa, from which he held a degree in economics. He was an Army veteran.

Inhofe started his political career in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

Elected in 1967, he served one term before running successfully for the state Senate.

He became the 32nd mayor of Tulsa in 1978, succeeding Robert LaFortune.

Away from politics, Inhofe was well known for his love of aviation.

He was a licensed pilot and continued to fly recreationally until late in his life.

In a tragic turn, the hobby would also be responsible for his greatest personal loss. His son Perry Inhofe, also a pilot, died in 2013 when the plane he was flying crashed near Owasso.

A press release from his family says Inhofe died peacefully, surrounded by his wife Kay, and his three surviving children, Molly, Jimmy and Katy.

"The family is very grateful for the extraordinary care staff and doctors of the seventh floor neuro trauma intensive care unit of (Ascension) St. John hospital in Tulsa," the release states.

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Photos: Jim Inhofe's career, from Tulsa mayor to U.S. senator

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Former U.S. Sen. James Inhofe has died at 89 (2024)
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