January 3, 2005
Former United States Senator
Linda Lou Morrison (m. 1968)
Oklahoma State University–Stillwater (1971)
Senator (OK) 1981–2005
President Reagan's Remarks at a Campaign Rally for Senator Don Nickles on October 24, 1986
Donald Lee Nickles (born December 6, 1948) is an American politician and lobbyist who was a Republican United States Senator from Oklahoma from 1981 until 2005. He was considered both a fiscal and social conservative. After retiring from the Senate as the longest serving senator from Oklahoma, he founded the Nickles Group, a lobbying firm.
- President Reagans Remarks at a Campaign Rally for Senator Don Nickles on October 24 1986
- Early life
- Post Senate career
Nickles was born and raised in Ponca City, Oklahoma, where he attended public schools. To help pay for their education at Oklahoma State University, he and his wife, the former Linda Lou Morrison, operated Don Nickles Professional Cleaning Service in Stillwater. He was a member of Beta Theta Pi fraternity at Oklahoma State University, and earned a Bachelor of Arts in business administration in 1971.
After college, he went to work for Nickles Machine Corporation in Ponca City, a business started in 1918 by his grandfather, Clair Nickles. He became the company's vice president and general manager. He also served in the Oklahoma National Guard from 1970 until 1976.
A formative experience was the distress his family suffered following his father's death in 1961, when Nickles was thirteen. They had to sell off part of the family business to raise cash to pay the required estate tax. Nickles never expected to make a career out of public office. Instead, he intended to be a small business leader. While working toward his degree at OSU, he began a janitorial service company to help pay his way through college. In 1972, he completed his bachelor's degree in business administration and returned to Ponca City to work for Nickles Machine Corporation where he later became vice president and general manager. In 1978, his election to the Oklahoma State Senate was the beginning of his career in public office. At the age of 31, he became the youngest Republican ever elected to the U.S. Senate.
Encouraged by then-Senator Dewey F. Bartlett, Nickles ran for the Oklahoma State Senate in 1978 and won. After two years in the State Senate and displeased by the policies of the Carter administration, Nickles ran for the United States Senate in 1980 to succeed the retiring two-term Republican, Henry Bellmon. As an unknown in a field crowded with business and political bigwigs, Nickles was not initially given much of a chance. Indeed, Bellmon even tried to convince him to wait and to run instead for the United States House of Representatives.
Utilizing personal contact and passing out unique "wooden nickel" campaign button novelties, Nickles unique ties to local Amway distributors throughout Oklahoma gave him an interpersonal network which proved helpful. His platform was based on cutting the size of government, strong support of tax cuts, and his appeal to the prevailing conservative views of Oklahomans proved popular. In 1980 the term Christian right was still unfamiliar, but the movement was active and growing. Nickles beat two well funded oil millionaires (Jack Zink and Ed Noble) in the primary and won the primary run-off against Zink, who was also well known as a race car driver. He was later swept into office in the general election against Oklahoma City Mayor Andy Coats on the shoulders of the "Reagan Revolution" of 1980. At the age of thirty-one, Nickles was the youngest Republican ever elected to the United States Senate.
He sponsored legislation to cut taxes, reduce government spending, promote national defense, and reduce what he believed to be official hostility to religion. He sponsored the Defense of Marriage Act which allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages conducted in other states. As Republican Whip, Nickles called for the resignation of fellow Republican Trent Lott as Majority Leader after Lott made remarks praising Strom Thurmond that seemed insensitive to the issue of racial segregation. The National Federation of Independent Business praised Nickles for including in the Senate's 2005 budget a provision that would accelerate by one year a complete repeal of the federal estate tax Nickles was one of many Republican senators who in 1981 called the White House to express his discontent over the nomination of Sandra Day O'Connor of Arizona to the United States Supreme Court. Nickles said that he and other socially conservative Republican senators would not support O'Connor because of her "presumed unwillingness" to overturn the abortion decision, Roe v. Wade.
During a 1986 campaign rally at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, President Reagan accidentally called him Don Rickles, the American comedian. The president was later told about his mistake and found it very amusing.
Nickles quickly rose in the Senate Republican leadership, serving as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee in the 101st Congress; Chairman of the Republican Policy Committee in the 102nd, 103rd, and 104th Congresses; and Assistant Republican Leader from 1996 to 2003. After being term-limited out of the Assistant Leader position, Nickles served in the 108th Congress as Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. Nickles was also on Bob Dole's short list of vice presidential choices, before Dole finally decided on former Congressman Jack Kemp of New York.
In December 2002, Nickles became embroiled in the controversy surrounding Republican Leader Trent Lott. At Senator Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party, Lott had made comments that some took to be racially insensitive. As the controversy grew, Nickles went on national television and became the first senator in the Republican leadership to say that Lott should step down. Nickles believed that the controversy over Lott's remarks would distract from the Republican legislative agenda, and as he served as Lott's deputy in the Senate this statement was seen as the proverbial "straw that broke the camel's back." Despite many apologies for his remarks, Lott stepped down shortly thereafter. Declining to run for the position of Senate Majority Leader himself, Lott was succeeded by Bill Frist of Tennessee.
Nickles was re-elected in 1986, 1992 and 1998 and was the senior senator from Oklahoma from 1994 to 2005.
On October 7, 2003, he announced that he would not run in the 2004 election. Republican Tom Coburn was elected to succeed Nickles.
Nickles went on to found the Nickles Group, a government consulting group in Washington, D.C. He also serves on the board of directors of a number of public companies, such as Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy.
He was one of the politicians featured in the movie Traffic, giving his opinion on the war on drugs.
Nickles and his wife, Linda, have four children and several grandchildren.