Don Nickles
Chair of the Senate Budget Committee
In office
January 3, 2003 – January 3, 2005
Preceded byKent Conrad
Succeeded byJudd Gregg
Senate Minority Whip
In office
June 6, 2001 – January 3, 2003
LeaderTrent Lott
Preceded byHarry Reid
Succeeded byHarry Reid
In office
January 3, 2001 – January 20, 2001
LeaderTrent Lott
Preceded byHarry Reid
Succeeded byHarry Reid
Senate Majority Whip
In office
January 20, 2001 – June 6, 2001
LeaderTrent Lott
Preceded byHarry Reid
Succeeded byHarry Reid
In office
June 12, 1996 – January 3, 2001
LeaderTrent Lott
Preceded byTrent Lott
Succeeded byHarry Reid
United States Senator
from Oklahoma
In office
January 3, 1981 – January 3, 2005
Preceded byHenry Bellmon
Succeeded byTom Coburn
Member of the Oklahoma Senate
from the 20th district
In office
January 2, 1979 – January 3, 1981
Preceded byRoy Grantham[1]
Succeeded byWilliam O'Connor[2]
Personal details
Donald Lee Nickles

(1948-12-06) December 6, 1948 (age 75)
Ponca City, Oklahoma, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
SpouseLinda Lou Morrison
EducationOklahoma State University–Stillwater (BA)

Donald Lee Nickles (born December 6, 1948) is an American politician and lobbyist who was a Republican United States Senator from Oklahoma from 1981 to 2005. He was considered both a fiscal and social conservative. After retiring from the Senate as the longest-serving senator from Oklahoma up until that point, he founded the Nickles Group, a lobbying firm.[3]

Early life

Nickles was born and raised in Ponca City, Oklahoma, the son of Coeweene (Bryan) and Robert C. Nickles.[4][5] He attended Ponca City public schools graduating from Ponca City High School in 1967. 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 Kansas Army National Guard and the Oklahoma Army National Guard from 1970 until 1976.[6][7][8][9][10] A formative experience was the distress his family suffered following the death of his father, Robert, in 1961, when Nickles was twelve years old. The family had to sell off part of the family business to raise cash to pay the required estate tax.[9]

In 1978, aged 29, his election to the Oklahoma State Senate was the beginning of his career in public office. Two years later, at the age of 31, he became and remains the youngest Republican ever elected to the U.S. Senate.[11][12][13]

U.S. Senate


Nickles with President Ronald Reagan in 1986

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.[14] 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[15] 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.[16]

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.[17]

Nickles was one of three Senators to vote against the confirmation of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and one of nine to vote against the confirmation of Stephen Breyer to the Supreme Court.[18]


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.

Post-Senate career

On October 7, 2003, he announced that he would not run in the 2004 election.[19] Republican Tom Coburn was elected to succeed Nickles.[20]

Nickles went on to found the Nickles Group, a government consulting group in Washington, D.C. He also serves on the boards of directors of a number of public companies, such as Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy.[21]

Nickles was one of the politicians featured in the film Traffic, giving his opinion on the war on drugs.[22]


Nickles and his wife, Linda, have four children.[23]

See also


  1. ^ Kelley, Ed (November 9, 1978). "Helm Race Outcome Pends". The Oklahoman. p. 15. Retrieved March 31, 2020 – via
  2. ^ "New Senator". The Oklahoman. January 20, 1981. p. 93. Retrieved March 31, 2020 – via
  3. ^ "Nickles plans to launch lobbying, venture group". Retrieved December 20, 2014.
  4. ^ "Nickles, Donald Lee | the Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture".
  5. ^ Who's who in the South and Southwest. Marquis Who's Who. October 1984. ISBN 9780837908199.
  6. ^ Everett, Dianna. "Nickles, Donald Lee". Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History & Culture. Oklahoma Historical Society. Retrieved July 3, 2008.
  7. ^ Nickles, Don (November 18, 2004). "(speech at) 2004 Annual Dinner Awards" (PDF). Tax Foundation. Retrieved July 3, 2008. But we were self-employed and we had a little janitor service. Somebody found this in the phonebook and they circled it and it said Don Nickles Professional Cleaning Service. But we had that when we were going to school and we did quarterly estimated taxes and we were paying 40-some percent with this little janitor service. It was just my wife and I. She quit and it was a real small business. And the government was taking so much. Why should we keep growing that business if you're working half the time for government?
  8. ^ "Don Nickles" (Fee). Biography Resource Center Online. Gale Group. April 27, 2004. Retrieved July 3, 2008. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Michigan: Gale, 2008. Document Number: K1650002027
  9. ^ a b "OSU Achieving Greatness: Annual Report 2003-2004" (PDF). OSU Foundation. 2004. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 10, 2008. Retrieved July 3, 2008.
  10. ^ "Beta Theta Pi Quick Facts" (PDF). Beta Theta Pi fraternity. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 26, 2009. Retrieved July 3, 2008. Senator Donald L. Nickles, Oklahoma State '71
  11. ^ Holzinger, Albert G.; Alison A. Knocke (March 1989). "Business people in Congress". Nation's Business. Retrieved July 4, 2008. The impact of inheritance taxes on a family business played the decisive role in Don Nickles' decision to run for the Senate in 1980. In 1918, Nickles' grandfather founded Nickles Machine Corp. in Oklahoma. The business remained family-owned until 1961, when Nickles' father died and his mother had to sell part of the firm to pay inheritance taxes. This perceived inequity reinforced Nickles' already unfavorable opinion of the tax code, he says.
  12. ^ Barone, Michael; Grant Ujifusa (1998). The Almanac of American Politics. Washington, D.C. pp. 1154–58. ISBN 0-89234-080-0. ((cite book)): |work= ignored (help)CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  13. ^ Kyl, John (November 18, 2004). "(speech at) 2004 Annual Dinner Awards" (PDF). Tax Foundation. Retrieved July 3, 2008. Don's family had to sell off part of the Nickles Machine to pay the death tax. And because of his efforts countless other families have avoided similar heart-wrenching decisions.
  14. ^ "Republican leader's deputy calls on him to resign". The Guardian. December 16, 2002. Retrieved July 14, 2023.
  15. ^ "Nickles' death tax fight hailed". The Oklahoman. March 6, 2004. Retrieved October 12, 2014.
  16. ^ Greenburg, Jan Crawford. Supreme Conflict: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Control of the United States Supreme Court.2007. Penguin Books, pg. 222.
  17. ^ Jim Kuhn (2004). Ronald Reagan in Private. New York: Penguin Group. p. 146. 1-59523-008-4.
  18. ^ "U.S. Senate: U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 103rd Congress - 1st Session".
  19. ^ Stolberg, Sheryl Gay (October 8, 2003). "Oklahoma Republican Is Retiring From Senate". The New York Times. Retrieved July 4, 2008.
  20. ^ Morrison, Sara (January 17, 2014). "Tom Coburn Is Retiring From the Senate". Retrieved February 19, 2020.
  21. ^ "Fortress International Group Inc (FIGI.O) Officers". Reuters. Retrieved July 3, 2008. Donald L. Nickles has been a member of board of directors since February 2005 and currently serves as a member of the board of directors of Chesapeake Energy Corporation and Valero Energy Corporation. In 2005, after his retirement from the United States Senate, Nickles founded and is currently Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of The Nickles Group, LLC, a consulting and business venture firm headquartered in Washington, D.C.[dead link]
  22. ^ Richardson, Lisa (January 7, 2001). "Left, Right--the Cameos Come From All Sides in 'Traffic'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 19, 2020.
  23. ^ "NICKLES, DONALD LEE (1948– )". Oklahoma Historical Society. Retrieved February 19, 2020.

Other sources

Party political offices Preceded byHenry Bellmon Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from Oklahoma(Class 3) 1980, 1986, 1992, 1998 Succeeded byTom Coburn Preceded byRudy Boschwitz Chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee 1989–1991 Succeeded byPhil Gramm Preceded byWilliam L. Armstrong Chair of the Senate Republican Policy Committee 1991–1996 Succeeded byLarry Craig Preceded byTrent Lott Senate Republican Whip 1996–2003 Succeeded byMitch McConnell U.S. Senate Preceded byHenry Bellmon U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Oklahoma 1981–2005 Served alongside: David Boren, Jim Inhofe Succeeded byTom Coburn Preceded byTrent Lott Senate Majority Whip 1996–2001 Succeeded byHarry Reid Preceded byHarry Reid Senate Minority Whip 2001–2003 Preceded byKent Conrad Chair of the Senate Budget Committee 2003–2005 Succeeded byJudd Gregg Honorary titles Preceded byBill Bradley Youngest member of the United States Senate 1981–1987 Succeeded byDavid Karnes Preceded byDavid Karnes Youngest member of the United States Senate 1989–1993 Succeeded byRuss Feingold U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial) Preceded byAlan Simpsonas Former US Senate Majority Whip Order of precedence of the United Statesas Former US Senate Majority Whip Succeeded byJon Kylas Former US Senate Minority Whip