Jim E. Hamilton
Jim E. Hamilton was born in rural LeFlore County. In high school, he earned the Junior Master Farmer degree and served as state vice president of FFA. A graduate of Oklahoma State University, Hamilton earned his law degree at the University of Oklahoma and was admitted to the Oklahoma Bar in 1960. He then served in the U.S. Army and Army Reserve, finishing first in his class of artillery training at Fort Sill.
Hamilton opened a law office in Poteau, where he practiced nearly 50 years. His father, Clem, served 17 years as a state senator, and Hamilton followed in his father’s footsteps, eventually serving as President Pro Tempore. Later he served in the Oklahoma House of Representatives for 14 years—eight of those as chairman of the Appropriations Committee. The pair’s total of 40 years is the longest combined legislative service for a father and son since statehood.
While Hamilton was state senator, a U.S. Job Corps training center near Heavener, operated by the U.S. Forest Service, closed. Hamilton asked Gov. Dewey Bartlett if he would support using the buildings for a minimum security prison that would offer vo-tech training and educational opportunities to inmates. Congressman Carl Albert had agreed to work for transfer of the federal facility to the state of Oklahoma.
Gov. Bartlett asked Hamilton to meet with representatives from the Department of Corrections and Dr. Francis Tuttle, state director of Vo-Tech, to get their opinions. Dr. Tuttle said there was no other combination of Corrections and Vo-Tech at the same site anyplace in the nation. However, both agencies agreed to partner in the venture called Ouachita Correctional Center, now known as the Jim E. Hamilton Correctional Center and CareerTech Skills Center.
Corrections owns the prison, provides security, and offers GED educational opportunities. CareerTech provides job skill training to prepare inmates for employment upon release. Inmates completing their training earn a certificate of completion issued by the State of Oklahoma, which, at Hamilton’s request, contains no reference to their inmate status. The 40-year partnership has shown that inmates leaving prison with a job skill and a GED are 200 percent less likely to return to prison.
While in the legislature, Hamilton authored legislation creating the Oklahoma Osteopathic College in Tulsa (now OSU Medical Center) and co-authored legislation establishing Tulsa’s branch of the OU Medical School. He also wrote the Constitutional Amendment requiring a balanced budget for state government with 10 percent in reserve for emergencies (Rainy Day Fund).
Hamilton and his wife, Nancy, have been married 54 years and have a son, a daughter, and four grandchildren.
Senator Hamilton was inducted to the CareerTech Hall of Fame in 2011.