However, Mullin said bipartisanship is becoming more difficult. Democrats and Republicans still have common ground, but he said he’s increasingly concerned about a movement on the Democrat side that he describes as “openly embracing socialism.”

“That’s not what our Founding Fathers envisioned,” Mullin said. “That’s changing the foundation of our country, and when you’re trying to change the foundation of our country, I can’t support that.”

But, it was his friendships with Democrats that actually led former President Donald Trump to nickname Mullin “Tough Guy.”

When President Barack Obama was in office, Mullin began sitting with his Democratic friends during the State of the Union addresses because when Democrats stood and applauded, no one would notice that he wasn’t. Mullin was still sitting in his customary spot among Democrats when Trump gave his first joint address to Congress. When Mullin gave Trump standing ovations, Trump couldn’t help but notice Mullin was the only one standing amid a sea of Democrats.

“President Trump thought that was funny, and he said a few things I won’t repeat about it, and then that’s when the whole term came in, ‘Tough Guy’,” Mullin said.

The two men bonded over that and their business backgrounds and developed a friendship. When Mullin’s son suffered a serious injury in January 2020, Trump took a special interest in the recovery and personally traveled to Bakersfield, Calif., where Mullin’s son was undergoing treatment. Mullin said Trump spent a tremendous amount of time with his son and continued to call to check on his recovery.

“That’s the side that a lot of people don’t know about him,” Mullin said. “He’s very family-oriented and has an extremely big, caring heart. I think we have that in common.”

Trump recently endorsed Mullin in the U.S. Senate race ahead of his Aug. 23 runoff against fellow Republican T.W. Shannon.

Coweta Assembly Pastor Steve Lee has known Mullin for almost 25 years. When Mullin volunteered with the church’s youth group, he would come straight from work in his company uniform, driving a Mullin Plumbing van. Sometimes a customer would have an emergency, and Mullin would have to leave.

Mullin and his wife, who are godparents to Lee’s children, were always willing to pitch in, whether that was by driving the church bus, giving youth wrestling tips or quietly donating money so that struggling families could afford to send their children to church events.

“He knows who he is,” Lee said. “He’s confident in that. I think sometimes people mistake confidence for arrogance, (but) that’s two different things. He just knows what he believes in. He’ll fight for that. He’ll fight for what is right. He really fights for his people and families.”

While Mullin now attends a church closer to home, the two remain friends and Lee said Mullin remains “super strong in his faith.”

“I know many a time when he was at the Capitol where he’s just had to step back and take some moments to pray through some things and make sure he’s doing what he feels is right,” Lee said.

A Cherokee Nation citizen, Mullin said there’s no appetite in Congress to intervene in the state’s ongoing dispute with tribal leaders regarding the U.S. Supreme Court’s McGirt ruling, which found that large swaths of Oklahoma remain reservation land.

“It’s not a good situation we found ourselves in, and it’s dividing the state,” Mullin said of the dispute.

He said Congress would never choose between tribes or between the tribes and the governor.

“It will never move, so what has to happen with McGirt is we are all going to need to come together for the best of Oklahoma,” Mullin said. “That means that everybody’s gotta give a little because at the end of the day, I get that the tribes are sovereign, but every tribal member that lives in Oklahoma is also Oklahoman.”

Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhinews.com.

Trending Video