Ernest Istook

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Ernie Istook
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Oklahoma's 5th district
In office
January 3, 1993 – January 3, 2007
Preceded byMickey Edwards
Succeeded byMary Fallin
Personal details
Born (1950-02-11) February 11, 1950 (age 73)
Fort Worth, Texas, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
SpouseJudy Istook
EducationBaylor University (BA)
Oklahoma City University (JD)

Ernest James "Ernie" Istook Jr. (born February 11, 1950) is a retired American lawyer and politician who served as a Republican member of the United States House of Representatives from Oklahoma's 5th congressional district. He held his congressional seat for 14 years, completing seven terms in the House.[1] Currently, Istook is a Distinguished Fellow at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., and also a talk radio host. In 2010, Istook became a Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School leading a study on Propaganda in American Politics.[2]

He was a member of the Appropriations and the Homeland Security committees. He was the Republican gubernatorial nominee in 2006, running against incumbent Democratic Governor Brad Henry. Istook lost the gubernatorial race by a very wide margin, getting only 33.5% of the vote to Henry's 66.5%.

Early life and career[edit]

Istook's grandparents immigrated to the U.S. from Hungary through Ellis Island and spoke Hungarian at home. He graduated from Castleberry High School in Fort Worth, Texas in 1967 and received a bachelor of arts degree from Baylor University in Waco, Texas in 1971. He eventually moved to Warr Acres, a suburb of Oklahoma City.[3]

He worked full-time as a radio news reporter first at KOMA (now KOKC) and then at WKY in Oklahoma City while attending law school, receiving a law degree from Oklahoma City University School of Law in 1976. He was also a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity.[4] After graduation, he established his own law firm, and practiced law for 15 years.[5]

Istook also was director of the Oklahoma State Alcoholic and Beverage Control Board (1977–1978),[4] was legal counsel to popular Oklahoma Governor David L. Boren (1978), and was a member of the board of the Metropolitan Library System (1982–1986), chairman of the Warr Acres city council (1982–1986),[5] director of the Warr Acres Chamber of Commerce, and an Oklahoma state representative 1987–1993.[3]

U.S. House of Representatives[edit]

Congressman Istook official photo

1992 election[edit]

In the 1992 Republican primary, Istook challenged and defeated incumbent Deputy House Minority Whip Mickey Edwards in a three-way primary that also featured former federal prosecutor Bill Price.[6] Both Istook and Price used Edwards' involvement in the House banking scandal to chip away at his support.[7]

Istook narrowly defeated his Democratic challenger, Laurie Williams, in November, winning by only six points. He never faced another contest nearly that close, and was reelected six more times[8] from what has long been considered the most Republican district in Oklahoma. The Democrats didn't even put up a candidate against him in 1994.

Although Istook lives in Warr Acres, he was listed on the House roll as "R-Oklahoma City".

Political views[edit]

As a member of Congress, Istook focused on issues surrounding national defense and homeland security, transportation, education, labor, social services and religious liberty.[2] He is anti-abortion and supports the position that abortion should be prohibited except when the mother's life is in danger. He does not support federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. Istook opposes gay marriage and the adoption of children into same-sex homes. He has favored several constitutional amendments including an amendment banning same-sex marriage and an amendment to restrict burning the U.S. flag.

He introduced the Religious Freedom Amendment, a Constitutional Amendment to permit school prayer, in 1995 and (slightly modified) in 1997.[9] On June 4, 1998, the House voted 224–203, with 7 abstentions, in favor of it, but it failed as a Constitutional amendment, needing a 2/3 majority to pass. He reintroduced it in 1999,[10][11] and again with different text in 2001, renamed the Religious Speech Amendment,[12] and in 2003.[13] The other efforts did not make it out of the House Subcommittee on the Constitution.

On economics, Istook opposed more federal funds for health coverage and supported welfare and Social Security reform,[14] including the creation of personal accounts within Social Security. He supported the Bush administration's tax cuts and wanted to make those permanent. He wrote a bill to relieve the tax burden for married couples, which was passed in February 2000 as the Marriage Tax Penalty Relief Act of 2000.[15] He favors expansion of free trade; he voted in favor of CAFTA. He wants the U.S. to withdraw from the World Trade Organization, wants the end of the estate tax, and supported Normal Trade Relations with the People's Republic of China to be made permanent. In 2004 Istook travelled to Beijing to speak with Chinese leaders and expand trade between the U.S. and China. In particular his visit focused on the opportunities for Oklahoma to trade in China.[16]

Istook voted to make the USA PATRIOT Act permanent and supports intelligence gathering by the military. Istook favors military recruiting on college campuses that receive federal aid. Istook endorsed the Bush administration and its handling of the War in Iraq and supports higher Defense Department funding.

Istook does not support a U.S. ratification of the Kyoto Protocol nor heavy taxpayer subsidies for alternative fuel sources. He supports drilling in ANWR.

Congressional committees[edit]

Istook served on several congressional committees during his time in the House. He was a member of the Appropriations Committee from the mid-1990s[17] and chaired a number of its subcommittees including Treasury, Transportation, and Special Agencies.[2] He also served on the Homeland Security Committee and was a founder of the re-established Republican Study Committee.[14]

Transit funding controversies[edit]

Istook is against the current federal funding level for Amtrak. For several years, he chaired the subcommittee on Treasury, Transportation, and Special Agencies, which oversaw transportation funding. In 2004, Istook denied special transportation funding (earmarks) requests for districts of 21 Republican House members because the other Republicans had written a letter supporting of funding of $1.8 billion for Amtrak. Istook took the view that their request for major funding increases for Amtrak took precedence over their requests for their districts, and viewed those requests as trying to "double-dip" into the Treasury.[18] Istook lost the chairmanship in 2005, in large part because others in the Republican party were still upset over his handling of this issue.

Istook introduced language into an FY2004 federal spending bill that would cut funding for transit authorities that sponsored advertisements contradicting current government policies and laws regarding marijuana. Judge Paul L. Friedman of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia later ruled that the "Istook Amendment", as it came to be known, was unconstitutional on grounds that it violated the First Amendment, stating "the government articulated no legitimate state interest in the suppression of this particular speech other than the fact that it disapproves of the message, an illegitimate and constitutionally impermissible reason".[19]

Jack Abramoff[edit]

Istook received $29,000 in campaign contributions from Abramoff and some of his clients, and wrote letters urging the Bush administration to reject a casino proposal that Abramoff's clients opposed. On January 9, 2006, Istook announced he would give $23,000 in Abramoff-related money that was donated to his re-election campaign or his PAC to the Boy Scouts of America. This is in addition to $6,000 in Abramoff-related donations given to the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation in December 2005.[20] His congressional campaign paid back $5,126 to Abramoff's Sports Suites LLC, for the use in 2003 of skyboxes by the congressman for an American Idol concert and a Washington Redskins game. Istook has denied any connection between the donations and his activities, saying in 2006, "I barely knew the man."[21]

Istook is identified in documents filed in June 2008 against his former chief of staff, John Albaugh, as "Representative 4". According to the documents, Istook called Abramoff in 2003 to thank him in advance for use of one of Abramoff's FedEx Field skyboxes for a fundraising event. Istook asked Abramoff which projects his clients wanted in the upcoming transportation bill. The government filing refers to an Abramoff e-mail saying Istook "had basically asked what we want in the transportation bill", and telling his colleagues at Greenberg Traurig to "make sure we load up our entire Christmas list". Four of Kevin A. Ring's clients later received at least $1 million each in the transportation bill.[22] On June 2, 2008, Albaugh pleaded guilty to one count of corruption and conspiracy.


2006 gubernatorial race[edit]

Oklahoma gubernatorial election 2006 results map. Red denotes counties won by Ernest Istook, Blue denotes those won by Brad Henry.

On October 3, 2005, Istook announced he would run for governor of Oklahoma against Democratic incumbent Brad Henry.[23] He was immediately the consensus frontrunner for the nomination, as a seven-term incumbent U.S. Representative whose district covered most of the Oklahoma City area, the state's largest media market.

In the July 2006 primary, he received 55% of the vote to become the Republican nominee. Oil businessman Bob Sullivan was second with 31%.[24]

Henry and Istook faced each other in the November general election. After a heated campaign, Henry defeated Istook, gathering 66.5% of the total vote—the biggest landslide in an Oklahoma governor's race in almost half a century. Istook even lost his own congressional district, as well as a number of areas that normally vote Republican. He only carried the three Panhandle counties of Beaver, Cimarron and Texas.[1][8]

Istook's campaign was managed by campaign manager Chip Englander, a political operative from California. National media attention was attracted when it turned out that Jordan Edmund, one of the campaign's workers from California, had been one of the congressional pages who received unwelcome attention in the Mark Foley scandal.[25]

Post-congressional career[edit]

Ernest Istook was a distinguished fellow at The Heritage Foundation and host of the conservative think tank's radio show, "Istook Live".[2][26][27] Istook contributed opinion columns to a variety of outlets including The Washington Times, Human Events[28] The Huffington Post,[29] and Newsmax. He has been a talk radio host. He has appeared frequently on national radio programs as a guest host and has filled-in for a number of talk radio hosts including Mark Levin, Jerry Doyle and on "America's Morning News". Istook has also been a guest analyst on national television including appearances on most major news programs.[30]

He became a Fellow for the Institute of Politics at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government in early 2010, during which he taught a study group on Propaganda in American Politics.[2] In 2014, Istook joined the Board of Advisors of the National Federation of Republican Assemblies.[31] He is a member of the Council for National Policy.

He now teaches History and Political Sciences classes at Utah Valley University in Orem, UT and practices law.[32][33]

Personal life[edit]

In 2008, Istook was appointed to the National Advisory Board for the national children's charity Operation Kids. He is also an active supporter of the Boy Scouts of America and served several years as a scoutmaster.[2]

Istook and his wife Judy (whom he met through his radio job at KOKC and married in 1973) have five children, two sons and three daughters, and seven grandchildren. Istook, who comes from a Southern Baptist background, is now a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church).

Electoral history[edit]

Oklahoma's 5th congressional district: Results 1992–2004[34]
Year Democrat Votes Pct Republican Votes Pct 3rd Party Party Votes Pct
1992 Laurie Williams 107,579 47% Ernest J. Istook, Jr. 123,237 53%
1994 (no candidate) Ernest J. Istook, Jr. 136,877 78% Tom Keith Independent 38,270 22%
1996 James L. Forsythe 57,594 27% Ernest J. Istook, Jr. 148,362 70% Ava Kennedy Independent 6,835 3%
1998 M. C. Smothermon 48,182 32% Ernest J. Istook, Jr. 103,217 68%
2000 Garland McWatters 53,275 27% Ernest J. Istook, Jr. 134,159 68% Bill Maguire Independent 5,930 3% *
2002 Lou Barlow 63,208 32% Ernest J. Istook, Jr. 121,374 62% Donna C. Davis Independent 10,469 5%
2004 Bert Smith 92,719 34% Ernest J. Istook, Jr. 180,430 66%
* Minor candidates notes: In 2000, Libertarian Robert T. Murphy received 2,658 votes (1%).
Summary of the November 7, 2006 Oklahoma gubernatorial election results
Candidates Party Votes %
  Brad Henry (Incumbent) Democratic Party 616,033 66.50%
  Ernest Istook Republican Party 310,273 33.50%
Total 926,306 100.0%
Source: 2006 Election Results


  1. ^ a b McNutt, Michael (12 November 2006). "A look back at what went wrong for Istook ; Henry's popularity made race tough, observers say". The Oklahoman.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Former Fellows: Ernest J. Istook Jr". Harvard University Institute of Politics. Harvard University. Retrieved 7 March 2011.
  3. ^ a b Zizzo, David (17 September 1992). "Istook Takes New Role For General Election". The Daily Oklahoman.
  4. ^ a b Pope, Charles (15 September 2003). "Train Doesn't Leave the Station Without This Congressman's OK". The Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
  5. ^ a b "Ernest Istook 109th Congress". Oklahoma's U.S. Congressional Delegation. Archived from the original on 2011-04-14. Retrieved 7 March 2011.
  6. ^ McGuigan, Patrick B. (7 September 1992). "Istook: From Long Shot to "Unity"". Daily Oklahoman.
  7. ^ Pianin, Eric (August 26, 1992). "Edwards Loses, Synar In Runoff in Oklahoma". Archived from the original on 2012-04-06.
  8. ^ a b Jenkins, Ron (9 November 2006). "Henry Scores Historic win Over Istook in Okla. Governor's Race". Insurance Journal. Retrieved 7 March 2011.
  9. ^ BTV168. "The Istook Constitutional Amendment on Religious Freedom Activity during 1995 &1996". Religious Tolerance. Archived from the original on 2022-10-07. Retrieved 2023-05-08.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  10. ^ Casteel, Chris (16 September 1999). "Miracle not in sight for prayer proposal". The Daily Oklahoman.
  11. ^ Search Results – THOMAS (Library of Congress)
  12. ^ Search Results – THOMAS (Library of Congress)[permanent dead link]
  13. ^ Search Results – THOMAS (Library of Congress)[permanent dead link]
  14. ^ a b "Rep. Istook Meets With Bush". US Fed News. 27 April 2005.
  15. ^ "Istook Says Ax the Marriage Tax" (Press release). Congressional Press Releases. 10 February 2000.
  16. ^ "Rep. Istook Leads Trade Talks With Top Chinese Officials in Beijing". US Fed News. 10 November 2004.
  17. ^ Barr, Stephen (26 October 1995). "Negotiations Fail on Curbing Nonprofit Groups' Lobbying". The Washington Post.
  18. ^ "Istook derails earmarks=The". Archived from the original on 2006-10-31. Retrieved 2006-07-31.
  19. ^ American Civil Liberties Union : Justice Department Refuses to Defend Congress in Legal Battle Over Law Censoring Marijuana Policy Ads
  20. ^ "Give tainted money back to donors". The Norman Transcript. January 11, 2006. Archived from the original on January 30, 2013.
  21. ^ "Istook wages uphill campaign for Oklahoma governor". Associated Press. 2007. Archived from the original on 2009-02-01.
  22. ^ Sam Hananel (June 2, 2008). "Former House aide charged in lobbying scandal". Associated Press. Archived from the original on 2008-06-10.
  23. ^ [1][permanent dead link]
  24. ^ Primary Election Results – July 25, 2006 Archived December 18, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  25. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2006-11-24. Retrieved 2006-11-24.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  26. ^ "Tuesday, July 10, 2012". Talkers. July 10, 2012. Archived from the original on 2012-09-29. Retrieved January 15, 2013.
  27. ^ "Heritage Action for America Launches 'Istook Live!' Radio Show". Entertainment Close-Up. July 13, 2012. Retrieved October 15, 2012.
  28. ^ "Ernest Istook". Human Events. Archived from the original on 8 April 2011. Retrieved 7 March 2011.
  29. ^ Istook, Ernest (19 August 2010). ""Solutions for America" Offered". Retrieved 7 March 2011.
  30. ^ "Profile: Ernest Istook, Distinguished Fellow". Talkers Magazine. May 2010. Archived from the original on 28 June 2011. Retrieved 7 March 2011.
  31. ^ "NFRA Announces National Advisory Board". National Federation of Republican Assemblies. Archived from the original on 30 May 2014. Retrieved 28 September 2014.
  32. ^ "Ernest Istook brings abundant experience and insights to UVU". Archived from the original on 2017-07-17.
  33. ^ "Provo Attorney Ernest Istook | Howard, Lewis & Petersen, P.C." Howard Lewis & Petersen, PC. Retrieved 2020-11-26.
  34. ^ "Election Statistics". Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives. Archived from the original on 2007-07-25. Retrieved 2008-01-10.

External links[edit]

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Oklahoma's 5th congressional district

Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by Chair of the Republican Study Committee
Served alongside: Dan Burton, John Doolittle, Sam Johnson
Succeeded by
Preceded by Republican nominee for Governor of Oklahoma
Succeeded by
U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded byas Former US Representative Order of precedence of the United States
as Former US Representative
Succeeded byas Former US Representative