John Russell was a graduate of the Oklahoma Military Academy, in Claremore. He served in WW2. He then went to OU law school and served in the Oklahoma House during that time. At the young age of 26, he was named Speaker Pro Temp. He departed soon after, to serve in the Korean Conflict. In 1952 he was elected to the Oklahoma Senate. In 1956, he faced a primary challenge from Tom Payne Jr.
John W. Russell Jr. won the Democratic nomination in the 1956 Democratic Runoff Primary Election after recount of absentee ballots. This was challenged in District Court by Tom Payne Jr., and the court ruled invalid all absentee ballots, thus giving the nomination to Payne.
The State Supreme Court later ruled that the District Court had no jurisdiction in the election and declared Russell the winner. But the Election Board didn’t post either candidate on the November ballot.
On November 23, 1956, Governor Raymond Gary declared the office vacant since neither candidate’s name appeared on the General Election ballot and ordered a Special Election on December 22, 1956. This was won by Payne over his Republican opponent after Russell refused to be a candidate, maintaining the election was illegal. He contested the Governor’s authority for such an election in the Supreme Court.
Citing previous rulings, the Supreme Court said the Legislature was the sole judge of its membership and on January 15, 1957, the Senate voted unanimously to seat Payne.
State Sen. John Russell,; angered because the State Election Board won’t call off a special election in his senatorial district, threatened Saturday to punch the chairman in the nose.
George D. Key, Oklahoma City,; the board chairman, declared it is untrue he told Russell that a favorable Supreme Court decision in the Russell-Payne election lawsuit would automatically give the senator another term in office.
Russell, when told of key’s statement, took it to mean Key was calling him a “liar.”
“I don’t want him calling me a liar, or I’m going over there and punch him in the nose,” Russell! said.
The senator was in Sallisaw’ Saturday conferring with his attorney, Fred Green, on whether legal steps will be taken next week to halt the special election Dec. 22 in Wagoner and Okmulgee counties to fill a “vacancy” in the Senate post.
Gov. Raymond Gary called the election because no nominee name appeared on the Nov. 6 general election ballot. Russell Friday finally won a lawsuit which, in effect, gave him the nomination over Rep. Tom Payne Jr., in the July 24 runoff primary’. He said the State Election Board had told him that if he won the lawsuit, he would win the senatorship.
But Key, when contacted at Leedey, where he is visiting, replied: “Every word that Senator Russell said is wholly untrue. I never talked to Senator Russell in my life, and I never saw him until he made that ridiculous argument before the State Election Board.” Russell told the election board
|Speaker Larry Adair takes part in a Masonic
Rite with John Russell in 2002
One must be mindful that the Oklahoma Senate selects the Election Board Secretary, and Russell’s open accusations of the director probably was not well-taken by the senate leadership.
Gov. Gary used the experience to call for election process reform laws, so that absentee ballots are handled in a secure manner.
John Russell went on to practice law in Wagoner County, serving as County Attorney, then State District Attorney, until 1983. He was a Mason, and died in Ponca City, in 2015.