The great-granddaughter of an original Oklahoma homesteader, Mary Fallin is no stranger to trailblazing. Inspired by her family’s tradition of public service, she has achieved many historic firsts. Fallin, who was the first woman in 84 years to represent Oklahoma in Congress and just the second ever to do so, has been a leading figure in state politics for more than two decades. After taking her seat in the U.S. House, she said, “I am very humbled. I also know it is a great responsibility and a great honor to serve in Congress, whether you are a man or a woman. Especially being a woman, I am very proud to be able to break the barrier and hope there will be other women who will follow in my footsteps.”1
Mary Newt Copeland was born in Warrensburg, Missouri, on December 9, 1954, to Newton and Mary Jo Copeland, who later had a son as well. After Newton’s service in the U.S. Air Force, the Copelands settled in their hometown of Tecumseh, Oklahoma, a small town about 40 miles southwest of Oklahoma City. Newton worked for the Oklahoma state employment security commission, and Mary Jo worked for the Oklahoma department of human services.2 Both parents served as mayors of Tecumseh; Mary Jo was the city’s first female mayor.3 While in high school, Mary Copeland served as a page for the Oklahoma state house. “I just found it very intriguing, and I liked being around the political side and the issues as a page,” she said. “Of course, as a very young girl and coming from Tecumseh going to Oklahoma City to the state capital was a really big deal for me.”4 Copeland attended Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, and then Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, where she graduated in 1977 with a degree in Family Relations and Child Development. In 1984, Copeland married Joseph Fallin, a dentist, and the couple raised two children, Christina and Price, in Oklahoma City. The Fallins divorced in 1999, and Mary Fallin married Oklahoma City lawyer Wade Christensen in 2009. The couple has six children combined through previous marriages.
After a career in real estate management for a hotel chain, Fallin ran for a seat in the Oklahoma state house in 1990. She first sought public office to oppose an education reform bill that required new taxes. She campaigned while pregnant with her son and gave birth just more than a month before the general election, which she won. Fallin served four years in the Oklahoma legislature and passed 16 bills, including the state’s first anti-stalking law.5 In 1995, she became the first woman and first Republican lieutenant governor.6 As lieutenant governor from 1995 to 2007, Fallin presided over a closely-divided state senate and became instrumental in workmen’s compensation reform and anti-union legislation.7
When Representative Ernest Istook decided to leave his U.S. House seat and run for Oklahoma governor in 2006, Fallin abandoned plans for a fourth term as lieutenant governor and ran for the open seat that encompassed Oklahoma City and farming communities to its east. She finished first in a six-way primary for the Republican nomination and easily won a subsequent runoff election. In the general election, she defeated Democrat David Hunter, a surgeon, by more than 20 percentage points.8 Elected to the 110th Congress (2007–2009), Fallin became just the second woman to represent Oklahoma in Congress. Representative Alice Mary Robertson was the first, serving in the 67th Congress (1921–1923).9 A freshman legislator in the minority party, Fallin served on the Natural Resources, Small Business, and Transportation and Infrastructure Committees. In floor speeches, Fallin advocated for small business owners and additional oil exploration in the United States.10
Fallin was easily re-elected to the 111th Congress (2009–2011). She won a seat on the Armed Services Committee, and she retained her position on the Small Business and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committees. She maintained the themes of her first term: small business development and domestic energy production. She also served in the leadership of the conservative Republican Study Committee. Fallin strenuously opposed Democratic Party policy priorities like healthcare reform and spending to stimulate the economy. In both of her terms, she introduced and won House passage of a bill that supported women’s business centers run by the Small Business Administration. Each time the Senate did not act on the measure.
Fallin chose not to seek a third U.S. House term but ran for governor of Oklahoma in the 2010 election. She garnered a comfortable majority in a four-way Republican primary and went on to defeat her Democratic opponent, Jari Askins, by more than 20 percentage points in the general election.11 When she took office in January 2011, Fallin became her state’s first female governor. “It’s a very historic time and I take great pride in this big step forward for Oklahoma,” she said. “But in the end, I believe the voters looked at my experience and vision when electing me.”12
1Jim Myers, “Fallin Joins Congress, State History,” 5 January 2007, Tulsa World.
2Women of the Oklahoma Legislature Oral History Project, “Oral History Interview with Mary Fallin,” Oklahoma State University, Edmon Low Library Special Collections and University Archives (7 October 2008): 4; Gloria Trotter, “Mary Fallin’s Journey,” 6 January 2011, The Tecumseh Countywide News and The Shawnee Sun.
3Trotter, “Mary Fallin’s Journey.”
4Women of the Oklahoma Legislature Oral History Project: 5.
6“History of the Office of Lieutenant Governor,” Office of Lieutenant Governor, http://www.ok.gov/ltgovernor/Office_of_Lieutenant_Governor/History_of_Lieutenant_Governor/index.html (accessed 1 August 2012).
7Women of the Oklahoma Legislature Oral History Project: 17–18.
8Politics in America, 2008 (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2009): 828; “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present,” http://clerk.house.gov/member_info/election.html.
9Office of the Historian, “A historic trio of women Members,” http://history.house.gov/HistoricalHighlight/Detail/36080?ret=True.
10Congressional Record, House, 110th Cong., 1st sess. (10 January 2007): H276; Congressional Record, House, 110th Cong., 2nd sess. (17 July 2008): H6694.
11Oklahoma State Election Board, “2010 Election Results,” http://www.ok.gov/elections/Candidates_&_Elections/Election_Results.html (accessed 2 August 2012).
12“Gov.-elect Fallin Speaks About Being Oklahoma’s First Female Governor,” 5 January 2011, http://www.ok.gov/triton/modules/newsroom/newsroom_article.php?id=223&article_id=233 (accessed 2 August 2012).