In this congressional district, where lifelong Democrats are still stronger than a nascent Republican Party in the growing suburbs, Rep. Dave McCurdy (D-Okla.) is learning the new rules of the politics of oil.
The freshman congressman has played by the old rules: any member of the Oklahoma congressional delegation who likes his job votes for oil. McCurdy, with a 100 percent rating from the Independent Petroleum Association of America, has toed the line.
On Nov. 2, however, McCurdy faces an opponent financed almost entirely by independent oil. Howard Rutledge, 50, a former Vietnam prisoner of war and now the GOP nominee, boasts: "I've got most, no, all the major independent oil men backing my campaign."
The neighboring congressional district's Rep. Glenn English (D-Okla.) not only voted oil right down the line, but used his vote on a key budget issue as leverage to get a letter from President Reagan promising never to place a windfall-profits tax on natural gas.
But, like McCurdy, English has a Republican opponent, Ed Moore, whose campaign chest has been filled by independent oil men.
"This is a totally new network of power in the Southwest," an incredulous McCurdy commented. He said that, unlike such groups as the American Medical Association, the National Rifle Association and the Realtors, all contributors to his campaign, the oil men "see me as a liberal, which is just phenomenal."
Another member of the Oklahoma delegation, Rep. Mike Synar, a maverick Democrat, put it this way: "Oil men have the political loyalty of a copperhead."
To judge from the legislative results in the 97th Congress, the contributions have reaped significant benefits for the independent oil industry.
All 52 House freshmen Republicans, many of whom won with oil support, had 100 percent favorable voting records from the Independent Petroleum Association. The freshmen Republican senators had almost the same record, despite the fact that many were elected from Midwest and Northeast states where voting in support of oil can be a political liablity.
The importance was inclusion in the 1981 tax cut of $11 billion in oil tax reductions, much of it targeted to the independents. Of equal significance, these breaks endure despite repeated Democratic threats to take them back as Congress had to raise taxes by $99 billion over three years.
In fact, the funneling of oil money this year into the GOP campaigns of Rutledge and Moore, neither of whom appears likely to win, is part of a much broader development.
"The oil people are not disagreeing with Mr. McCurdy's position relative to oil," said Douglas R. Cummings, owner of Cummings Oil Co. in Oklahoma City and a $1,000 contributor to both Moore and Rutledge. "We just don't like the package. Not only are we oil people, but most of us are pretty conservative.
"I feel that as long as Tip O'Neill is speaker of the House, we are going to see leadership that is too liberal," Cummings said. "A Republican House would get rid of Tip O'Neill. I'd be pleased to see that done, as you can well imagine."
Oil, particularly independent oil, is in the forefront of an ideological drive to the right. This drive has resulted in a major source of GOP money, but it goes beyond that.
In a kind of political wildcatting spirit, a network of independent oil men and political action committees, or PACs, in Dallas, Houston, Midland, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Denver and southern California are willing to pour money into high-risk races.
Although a large proportion is being funneled into close contests, it is also flowing to GOP candidates who appear to have little chance of winning.
In this respect, the oil men and their PACs are showing a far higher willingness to put money on challengers than the business community as a whole. The Independent Petroleum Association, the key independent oil organization, has a policy of endorsing only conservative challengers to liberal incumbents.
The Chamber of Commerce, which is willing to target almost any race where a Republican has a chance of winning, is not touching the challengers to either McCurdy or English. Individuals with ties to the independent oil industry, however, already have kicked in a total of more than $115,000 to the two races.
Similarly, in the hard-core Democratic district of House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr., independent oil men and their relatives gave O'Neill's challenger, Frank L. McNamara Jr., $24,500 early on. There is so little chance that O'Neill will be defeated that the financing of the challenger is a form of political harassment.
It is big-bucks harassment, however. The oil money has financed a very expensive fund-raising drive using conservative mailing lists that had raised $495,954 for McNamara as of Aug. 25.
Political action committee contribution records reflect the surface but not depth of the influence of oil money in Senate and House races. The Citizen/Labor Energy Coalition's most recent examination of 196 oil- and gas-related PACs, for example, shows that they had contributed $4.34 million to congressional candidates and had $2.76 million more to be distributed. About 75 percent of their contributions are to Republicans.
These figures, however, barely scratch the surface not only of money but also the role it plays in campaigns and in legislative decisions. Take, for example, the case of Arthur J. Wessely, who runs Wessely Energy Corp. in Dallas.
"Dallas and Houston and New Orleans have suddenly become much more politically aware," said Wessely, a key organizer of the Dallas Energy Political Action Committee (DALENPAC). "When a guy in Michigan votes, he affects the people in Texas."
Wessely has put his money where his mouth is. Federal Election Commission (FEC) reports covering 1981 and part of 1982 show that Wessely shelled out at least $31,000 to Republican political committees, energy PACs, GOP candidates and conservative PACs.
Among them are the National Republican Congressional Committee, $7,000; the National Republican Senatorial Committee, $4,000; the Conservative Victory Fund, $1,000; the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC), $5,000; DALENPAC, $10,000, and the Louisiana Energy National PAC, $1,000.
Among the candidates who have received the maximum allowable contribution of $1,000 from Wessely are McNamara, the GOP challenger to O'Neill; Moore in Oklahoma; Rep. Robin L. Beard (R-Tenn.), who is challenging Sen. Jim Sasser (D-Tenn.), and Bill Kennedy, a Republican challenging Rep. Fortney H. (Pete) Stark (D-Calif.).
In addition, Wessely's wife has given $1,000 to McNamara and a total of $10,000 to DALENPAC. Discussing oil contributions, Wessely said, "There has been a major shift, and I've seen it accelerate about four or five years ago. I know I was giving a lot more of my money to Democrats than I am today."
Wessely's contributions reflect more than just a shift to the GOP, however. They also indicate the flow of oil money to the Republican Party committees and to conservative organizations such as NCPAC and the Conservative Victory Fund--and to conservative Republican challengers.
At the One Energy Square building, just four miles north of Wessely's downtown Dallas offices, is Roy Guffey, 80, who has risen from a $4-a-day roustabout in 1926 to owner of Guffey Oil Co.
Guffey has come to believe that "most of the time, a majority of the voters are a bunch of damn thieves," voting to continue receiving some form of federal benefit instead of recognizing the threat of a national debt that exceeds $1 trillion.
In a recent letter to Lyn Nofziger, Reagan's former aide, Guffey wrote: "I am completely convinced that this nation as a constitutional republic (it was never intended to be a democracy as the liberals so glibly called it) cannot continue with a debt of a trillion dollars and more -- the dogs just won't hunt."
Guffey cannot, for example, comprehend the notion of paying a worker time-and-a-half for overtime: "It's impossible for a man to be worth more after the first 40 hours. If anything, they are worth less."
Like his friend Wessely, Guffey has backed his convictions with cash.
Over the past 18 months, according to the FEC, he has given the Republican National Committee $3,000; the National Republican Congressional Committee $3,150; the Republican National Senatorial Committee $1,500; the Conservative Victory Fund $2,000; NCPAC $9,800; Sen. Jesse Helms' (R-N.C.) National Congressional Club, $2,500; DALENPAC $1,000, and McNamara, O'Neill's opponent, $500. In addition, his wife has given NCPAC a total of $6,000.
There is a host of others, including H.E. (Eddie) Chiles, head of the Western Co. in Fort Worth whose "I'm mad" commercials are a part of the Sun Belt radio landscape, and his wife. The Chileses have given $10,000 to NCPAC, $2,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee, $2,000 to Moore and $2,000 to Rutledge.
This kind of commitment has turned the Southwest into a political gold mine, particularly for conservative Republicans challenging liberal Democrats in Frost Belt races.
Since early 1980, after then-representative Steve Symms (R-Idaho) raised more than $150,000 for his successful challenge of then-senator Frank Church (D-Idaho) on a swing through Texas, candidates and their fund-raisers--as many as 10 in a single week -- have been trooping through Houston, Dallas, Tulsa and Oklahoma City.