Last week, he was among more than 100 Republican lawmakers who planned to object to electoral college votes from certain states. It was Lankford who was speaking about his objection when the Senate went into recess and members fled to secure locations because a mob of Trump supporters had breached the U.S. Capitol. When the Senate resumed hours later, Lankford backed away from his opposition to certifying Biden’s win.
And Thursday, he apologized to Black constituents for his role in attempting to delay what they and millions of other Americans — including the overwhelming majority of Black Americans — desired.
“When I announced my support for an Electoral Commission to spend 10 days auditing the results of the 2020 Presidential Election, it was never my intention to disenfranchise any voter or state,” he wrote. “It was my intention to resolve any outstanding questions before the inauguration on January 20.”
He also wrote this:
But my action of asking for more election information caused a firestorm of suspicion among many of my friends, particularly in Black communities around the state. I was completely blindsided, but I also found a blind spot. What I did not realize was all of the national conversation about states like Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, was seen as casting doubt on the validity of votes coming out of predominantly Black communities like Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Detroit. After decades of fighting for voting rights, many Black friends in Oklahoma saw this as a direct attack on their right to vote, for their vote to matter, and even a belief that their votes made an election in our country illegitimate.
It is not surprising that Lankford had (and has) blind spots. They are common in humans. But the senator is known for his efforts to improve race relations — he backed a bill in favor of police reform and accountability after a White Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd, a Black man, setting off nationwide protests. Lankford’s position was notable in a state with a deep history of systemic racism, including voter disenfranchisement efforts aimed at Black people. So how could he have been so blind to what his actions were communicating?
“For Lankford to say he was not aware of that was disingenuous,” said Oklahoma state Sen. George Young (D). “I am not very impressed with Lankford’s apology letter.”
Young, like Lankford, is a former minister and says he had a friendly relationship with Lankford before either man was in politics.
Young called Lankford a “nice man,” in “the same way that many White men blind to race matters are nice.”
Black Americans regularly signaled nationwide that Trump’s efforts to overturn the election were harmful to Black people. Young, who represents a district that includes Oklahoma City, told The Fix on Friday that he has a hard time believing that Lankford didn’t know the implications of his vote.
Anyone following the news — including local Oklahoma media — or listening to Black lawmakers and activists knew that Trump was targeting states that had large Black populations in their urban centers, Young said.
“We said it from the beginning,” said Young, former chairman of the Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus. “It was not a secret. All the newscasters said the same thing: ‘It sounds like he’s going at minority voters in large minority areas.’ ”
After Lankford expressed support for Trump’s efforts, the editorial board of the Black Wall Street Times, a Tulsa-based news organization, called for Lankford’s resignation, asking readers to sign a petition supporting efforts to remove him from the Senate. The petition read:
Lankford was speaking on national television in an attempt to disenfranchise Black voters across the nation by trying to overturn a free and fair election. His actions up to and in that moment sowed doubt in our democracy, supported conspiracy theories, enhanced racist dog-whistles of voter suppression and propped up the bedrock of this coup attempt.
Lankford has built a reputation for engaging on issues related to racism more than most Republican lawmakers. He is on the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, a committee aimed at educating Oklahomans and the rest of the country about the impact of one of the largest massacres against Black people in American history.
But his acknowledgment that he did not know how hurtful his propagation of efforts to undermine the election was to his Black constituents won’t ease the sting on its own. It communicated that Lankford may not be regularly listening to the concerns of many of his Black constituents, which signals more than a blind spot to Young.