Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell isn’t a native Tulsan, but he’s about as close to one as it gets. He was three months old when his parents moved to town for his father’s job as an assistant U.S. attorney.
So Pinnell is about as Tulsa as it gets. He went to elementary (Council Oak), middle (Wilson) and high (Metro Christian) schools and graduated from Oral Roberts University. He did the things kids do in Tulsa; found his wife, Lisa, in Tulsa; has a Tulsa-born and -bred family of his own now.
If Pinnell is not the typical Tulsan — arguably there is no such thing — he is certainly a typical Tulsan.
“I have been very blessed to be raised in Tulsa,” Pinnell said. “I had a lot of opportunities growing up. A city can make a difference.”
Somewhere along the way he acquired the notion that one person can make a difference, too. Introduced to politics while in college at ORU, Pinnell became a key behind-the-scenes figure in the Republican Party, first at the local and state level and then with the Republican National Committee.
Then, in 2018, Pinnell stepped onto the stage himself and ran for lieutenant governor.
In Oklahoma, the lieutenant governor has few defined duties, but Pinnell is trying to give some weight to the office that wags sometimes call “lite gov.” With Gov. Kevin Stitt’s blessing, he has become more or less the state’s marketing director. As Stitt’s secretary of marketing and branding, he is shaping the nation’s and the world’s image of a state that historically hasn’t had much of one.
“I have told a lot of people that in a lot of ways lieutenant governor is my dream job,” Pinnell said. “These are passion projects of mine. Most people run for lieutenant governor to go do something else, but the position speaks to me. ... All of the things I said in my campaign that I wanted to do I’m in charge of.”
Pinnell seems to think the job is as much about sales as it is politics.
“I’ve always been a people person,” he said. “Being around people builds me up. I was a public relations-advertising major at ORU, so I have a sales and marketing background.”
Some of Pinnell’s initiatives have been better received than others, but he said the effort is working — and not just in a few places.
“We’re helping communities across the state,” he said. “Sales-tax revenue is so important to them, so tourism is vital to the survival of (many) small towns,” he said. “Success for me can be to turn an overnight trip into a weekend trip. That might not seem like a lot, but you do it enough and it makes a difference.”
15 Tulsans who did incredible things in 2019. Read each Tulsan of the Year story.