Askins won the Oklahoma Democratic Party's 2010 gubernatorial nomination by defeating Attorney General Drew Edmondson but was defeated in the general election by Republican Congresswoman Mary Fallin.
Askins was born on April 27, 1953, in Duncan, Oklahoma. She graduated from Duncan High School in 1971. She then attended the University of Oklahoma to receive a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism in 1975. While at OU, she was a member of the Alpha Chi Omega sorority. Askins received a Juris Doctorate from the University of Oklahoma College of Law in 1980. After graduating from OU, she entered into private practice.
In 1982, Askins was appointed Special District Judge of Stephens County, Oklahoma. She served from 1982 to 1990, winning reelection in 1986. Under the administration of Governor of Oklahoma David Walters, Askins entered the executive branch of government. She was the Chair of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board from 1991 to 1992, serving as the Board's first female chair. Askins served as Deputy General Counsel to Governor Walters from 1992 to 1994. Her last assignment under Governor Walters was as the Executive Director of the Pardon and Parole Board from February to November 1994.
Before Governor Walters was succeeded by Republican Frank Keating, Askins ran, and was elected to, the Oklahoma House of Representatives, beginning her term in 1995. She served six terms in office (12 years, the maximum combined service allowed in the Oklahoma Legislature as the Representative of the 50th House District, which includes her home town, Duncan.
During her final term (2005–2006), she was elected and served as Democratic House Leader, the first woman to lead a caucus in the state's legislature.
After reaching the maximum 12 years as state representative (Oklahoma has mandatory term limits), Askins filed in the Democratic primary election to replace outgoing Republican Mary Fallin as Lieutenant Governor of Oklahoma. In the primaries, Askins faced former State Senate President Pro Tempore Cal Hobson, lobbyist Pete Regan, and Jim Rogers. In the Democratic primary on July 25, 2006, Hobson received 18.17% of the vote, Regan received 29.05%, Rogers received 12.56%, and Askins received 40.22%.
Askins, in accordance with Oklahoma state law, faced Regan in a runoff for the party's nomination. In the run-off election on August 22, 2006, Askins received 95,087 votes (53.81%) to Regan's 81,622 votes (46.19%). Askins became the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, and she was elected on November 7, 2006. Her opponent was Republican Speaker of the House Todd Hiett. Before serving as lieutenant governor, Askins served in all three branches of the government of Oklahoma: legislative (state representative), executive (Chair of the Pardon and Parole Board), and judicial (Special District Judge).
On December 28, 2006, Mary Fallin resigned her office effective January 2, 2007 in order to be sworn into Congress. Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry appointed Askins (who was at that point the Lieutenant-Governor elect) to serve the final days of Fallin's term. Askins then took office for her full term on January 8, 2007.
As lieutenant governor, Askins served on various boards and commissions, including chairing the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Commission and the Oklahoma Film and Music Advisory Commission. Governor Brad Henry also named her as "Oklahoma's Small Business Advocate".
Askins announced on January 4, 2009 that she would run for Governor in 2010 to succeed term-limited Brad Henry. She was the first candidate to declare an intention to run.
As announced on July 27, 2010, Jari Askins won the Democratic primary against current Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson and was on the November ballot for governor, facing Republican candidate Mary Fallin. Fallin won the election and became the first female governor to serve the state of Oklahoma. The Askins vs. Fallin race and the simultaneous Diane Denish vs. Susana Martinez race in New Mexico were the third and fourth cases of woman vs. woman gubernatorial races in U.S. history.
Askins has been inducted into the Oklahoma Women's Hall of Fame. According to her campaign website, she is an active member of the First Christian Church of Duncan, a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregation.