Mike Schulz From the Farm to the Capita
Mike Schulz rode a John Deere tractor at a young age. His father, Denzle Schulz, worked at the United States Department of Agriculture and was a cotton farmer in southwest Oklahoma. Young Schulz was raised working the fields, chopping and irrigating cotton. He recalls standing on his parents’ 80-acre farm while airplanes cruised across the sky from the Altus Air Force Base. Today, as he sits at their own farmhouse built in the 1930s, surrounded by soft white cotton bolls, he fondly remembers the passion his dad instilled in him.
“He put me on a John Deere tractor when I was eight years old. Not sure he knew the passion that started in me when he did that,” Schulz recalls with teary eyes.
The once young apprentice is now a farmer by trade. But what Schulz and his father did not foresee was that one day the farmer’s son would serve in public office. In January, Schulz became president pro tem of the Oklahoma Senate, a life event he calls “God’s deal.”
“This is God’s deal, not my deal. He has directed me to where I am today. I have really felt His hand and His direction in this. Without His nudging, it probably would not be the path I would have chosen, but I’m following His plan,” Schulz says with a smile.
The president pro tem is the upper chamber’s top leadership position. In addition to leading the Republican majority caucus and setting its agenda, the pro tem oversees the operations of the Oklahoma Senate.
Schulz’s father passed away in 2005 from lung cancer. He used to ask his son what he would be when he grew up.
“I always told dad I would be a farmer, and that is still my life calling. But dad never got to see me serving in the state Senate,” Schulz says.
He stays busy maintaining a 1,000-acre farm operation near Altus where he grows cotton, wheat grain, sorghum, sunflower, mung beans, soy beans and canola. As he begins his service as Senate president pro tem, Schulz looks forward to leaving a legacy that will positively impact the state of Oklahoma while empowering farm operations.
“Anyone who enters public service wants to leave it better than when they found it. I want to work to create an environment in which all businesses can thrive. The reflection of that would be better schools, transportation systems and well-run communities,” Schulz says.
The Call to Serve
Schulz was born in Cheyenne, Okla. His parents, Denzle and Diana, moved to Altus when he was 3 years old. At age 15, Schulz worked for an irrigation farmer during the summer. This experience further reinforced his desire to farm. He graduated from Altus High School in 1982 and four years later walked away from Oklahoma State University (OSU) with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture. Upon graduation, Schulz went back home and worked full-time at a neighbor’s farm while building his own farm operation on the side.
In 1991, Schulz married his childhood friend, Reenie, whose family is from Michigan. Reenie and her family had moved to Altus due to a new assignment for her dad, who served in the U.S. Airforce and was stationed at the Altus Airforce Base. The couple has two children, 22-year-old son Benjamin who is married to Emily and 20-year-old daughter Abby. Benjamin is pursuing a degree in agricultural marketing from OSU and Abby currently attends Western Oklahoma State College and desires to become a pediatrician.
While Reenie and Schulz raised their children, Schulz took a position with the Oklahoma Farm Bureau as field representative. In this role, Schulz was charged with keeping a 13-county Farm Bureau boards informed about regulations that impact farming. He is a graduate of the Agricultural Leadership Class V from 1992. Collectively, these opportunities exposed Schulz to ways of becoming more involved in the political process.
“I learned that decisions made in Oklahoma City and Washington, D.C. affected my ability to farm,” Schulz says. “I wanted to become more involved. Each step along my journey made me realize it was not that hard to be engaged.”
In 2000, Schulz entertained the idea of running for office. He ran for the state House of Representatives in 2002 but did not win. In 2006, he won a seat in the state Senate during a special election, a victory former Oklahoma Sen. Don Barrington says was hard to attain.
“Mike wasn’t supposed to win that election, but he got out there and worked really hard. It is a testament to his strong work ethic,” Barrington says. “He has been a great addition and an advocate for rural Oklahoma. He is passionate about our state and wants to see Oklahoma move forward. You sense that in his demeanor.”
Schulz initially served in the minority, but in 2010 he became majority floor leader. He replaced President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, who left due to legislative term limits.
On the state’s Organizational Day, January 3, 2017, Gov. Mary Fallin commended Schulz on his new role of Senate president pro tem.
“Mike Schulz is a dedicated leader who previously earned the respect of his fellow senators as majority floor leader. I look forward to working with him as Senate president pro tem to make Oklahoma a stronger, more prosperous state for our residents to work and raise a family,” Fallin says.
The Road Ahead
A longtime member of Southwest Rural Electric Association based in Tipton, Okla., Schulz has two years ahead of him before he is term limited. His goal is to leave a lasting legacy in the Republican Caucus.
“Anyone who enters public service wants to leave it better than when they found it,” he says. “I want to work to create an environment in which all businesses can thrive. The reflection of that would be better schools, transportation systems and well-run communities.”
For the last 10 years serving in public office, Schulz admits each legislature is different and brings unique challenges. One challenge he identifies going forward is the number of new members in the House and in the Senate. According to Schulz, only 25 percent of today’s legislators served prior to 2010.
“We have a lot of new and qualified people. I look forward to the opportunity of putting a vision in place, establishing long-range goals and watching these new members finish strong six to eight years from now,” Schulz says.
His ultimate goal is to create a solid foundation for future generations of leaders. Glenn Coffee, an Oklahoma attorney and former president pro tem, has full confidence is Schulz’s ability to lead the Oklahoma Senate.
“Mike exemplifies what is great about Oklahomans. He’s a hard worker, always willing to do his part and more to get the job done. He is a strong leader,” Coffee says.
Schulz’s leadership skills and hard work ethic began on the farm where he is deeply rooted—perhaps when his dad placed him at a John Deere tractor for his first ride. Schulz is quick to acknowledge, with his faith, life has been the greatest ride.