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Mary Fallin, crisis governor

MCALESTER, Okla. -- Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin's national reputation has been forged in crisis.


Gov. Mary Fallin speaks at the Oklahoma City National Memorial in Oklahoma City on Saturday, April 19, 2014, during a ceremony to mark the 19th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Fallin was thrust onto the national stage last year when a tornado ripped through Moore, Okla., killing 24 people and causing billions of dollars in damage. Seven of those killed were at an elementary school.

It was not the first time Fallin found herself governing in moments of genuine crisis during her time in elected office -- as the state's lieutenant governor, member of Congress and governor since 2010. In 2011, just months after Fallin took office, another tornado devastated El Reno, Okla., killing nine people. Fallin became lieutenant governor shortly before the Oklahoma City bombings in 1995, which killed 168 people.

"Oklahoma has gone through this a couple times and we're resilient, strong, courageous people," Fallin told George Stephanopoulos from Moore last year.

Now Fallin is facing a very different type of crisis -- the legal and political fallout from a botched execution. Late last month, Fallin overrode a state supreme court decision to stay the executions of two men, including Clayton Lockett, who died of an apparent heart attack after his planned execution by lethal injection went bad on Tuesday night. The state supreme court  then backed down, reversing course to say that keeping the source of the drugs used in executions secret was constitutional. (In the wake of the Lockett incident, Fallin ordered a review of the execution and the state's procedures Wednesday.)

Fallin has been called a rising star in the GOP and will certainly get more national name recognition as she travels the country as chair of the National Governors Association.

She is extremely popular in Oklahoma. According to a January 2013 poll, the latest available, she has a 65 percent approval rating. She will face Democrat state Rep. Joe Dorman this year, but is heavily favored to win re-election.

Fallin has made cutting taxes one of her centerpiece issues, and signed a law this week lowering the state's top income tax rate to 4.85 percent from 5.25 percent. Job creation and kickstarting the state's economy have been the centerpiece of her term; unemployment in the state now stands at 4.8 percent. Fallin also opted the state out of a Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

“Within the state of Oklahoma, she’s very popular," said Brandon Lenoir, a visiting professor of political science at Oklahoma State University. "She touches on the populist issues that resonate with the base here in Oklahoma and she is running for reelection during a midterm at a time when the president's approval rating in Oklahoma is 29 percent.”

Last year, Fallin garnered national attention after she told the National Guard to stop processing benefits for gay couples, despite a Pentagon directive. Fallin also voiced her opinion in the so-called Baby Veronica case that made its way to the Supreme Court, which ruled that the Indian Child Welfare Act does not require adoptive parents to give back a child to a birth father who once gave up rights to the child.

The Baby Veronica case was returned to lower courts, and Fallin wanted the birth father to be extradited to South Carolina to face charges of not complying with court orders there. The charges against the man were later dropped.

Two parents of children killed in the Moore tornado filed a lawsuit against Fallin earlier this year, claiming she violated the state's public records act by denying access to documents about measures to ensure the safety of children in schools during severe weather or violence.

Before becoming governor, Fallin served in the U.S. House from 2006 to 2010. She was lieutenant governor from 1995 to 2006.

Katie Zezima is a national political correspondent covering the 2016 presidential election. She previously served as a White House correspondent for The Post.

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