Boren in the Mix for Top University Spot

Posted July 18, 2011 at 8:59pm

Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.) is in the mix for a top post at a state university that would likely require him to leave Congress before the end of his term if he gets the job, Oklahoma sources said.

Boren announced earlier this year that he would retire from Congress at the end of his fourth term. But sources tell Roll Call he’s interested in the presidency at a local university, most likely Northeastern State University, and could depart Congress early if he is offered the gig.

In response to an inquiry from Roll Call, Boren issued a statement saying he plans to stay through the end of this Congress. But he did not deny his interest in a job that could prompt an early departure.

“It has always been my intention to serve out my term,” Boren said in the statement. “Nothing has changed.”

An early Boren retirement would require a special election for his eastern Oklahoma seat. It’s competitive territory, even though Boren has always easily won re-election.

At least one Republican has filed to run for Boren’s seat, state Rep. George Faught. A few  Democrats have expressed interest in running, including former state Sen. Kenneth Corn (R) and Muskogee County District 1 Commissioner Gene Wallace.

Oklahoma law dictates that the governor must call a special election within 30 days of a House vacancy, a state elections aide told Roll Call. A candidate must garner 50 percent of the vote in the special election primary to avoid a runoff and move on to the general election.

The 37-year-old lawmaker surprised Democrats and Republicans last month when he became the first House Member to announce his retirement without seeking another office.

If he took the university gig, Boren would follow in his father’s footsteps by leaving Congress early for academia. In 1994, then-Sen. David Boren resigned his seat to take a job as president of the University of Oklahoma.

Boren is not the only Democrat looking at a cushy university gig this cycle. Last month, North Carolina news outlets reported the University of Tennessee was talking to its former star quarterback, Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), about becoming athletic director.

The top job at Northeastern State University is newly available because the most recent president, Don Betz, announced last month he was leaving to head up the University of Central Oklahoma. The Oklahoman reported earlier this month that the university hopes to find a permanent replacement by Jan. 1.

The race to replace Boren is crowded whether the election is this year or next. Wallace, a longtime former aide to former Rep. Mike Synar (D), told Roll Call on Saturday that supporters have asked him to take a look at the seat.

“I would classify my interest as very high,” Wallace said. “If I can generate the support and raise the money to do so, then I’ll make a decision.”

Corn has opened an exploratory committee to look at the seat, but his consultant said while the former lawmaker is “still very interested in running,” he has not yet made a final decision.

“He’s in a very lucrative job right now, and he’s trying to decide the right thing to do,” said Corn’s consultant, Michael Carrier.

Faught announced last week that he would seek the seat. At least two other Republicans are looking at the race: attorney Dustin Rowe and plumbing company owner Mark Wayne Mullin.