Our Lives: Ex-reporter earned praise as a reformist lawmaker
BY TIM STANLEY World Staff Writer
Thursday, December 15, 2011
12/15/11 at 5:09 AM
Having always been on the other end of the pen, Mandell Matheson admitted that it was a major adjustment.
But even though he didn't always agree with what was being written about him, the newsman-turned-legislator accepted that the coverage came with the territory.
Private individuals who take on public office must expect criticism in the press, Matheson, a former Capitol correspondent for The Tulsa Tribune, told the Tulsa World once.
Sometimes it might not seem fair, he said, "but I don't think it's excessive, and, usually, I don't think it's intentional."
He had bigger worries as a legislator, he added, such as trying to educate fellow lawmakers and the public about the issues that were important to him.
Over his three terms, from 1973 to 1979, the Democratic state representative for Tulsa County tackled a number of those issues, and although he didn't win them all, he was proud of those he did.
Among the successful bills he sponsored or co-sponsored were a bond issue reform bill and a bill to regulate lobbyists.
Mandell L. Matheson of Tulsa, who, after leaving office, worked for 20 years as a lobbyist, died Saturday. He was 73.
Plans for a memorial wake will be announced later this month. AdamsCrest Cremation Service handled arrangements.
A 1956 graduate of Oklahoma City's Capitol Hill High School, Matheson was a native of Alex in Grady County, where his father worked in the oil fields.
He was still in school when he began his newspaper career, taking pictures for local papers.
In 1968, after serving in the Marines and working for a year as an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper, Matheson returned to journalism with The Tulsa Tribune.
His reporting, particularly his stories spotlighting pollution by oil companies, drew high praise, and he was soon assigned to cover the Capitol for the paper.
Getting to know the Legislature well would benefit Matheson when he decided to run for office himself.
In 1972, in his first race for the District 72 seat, the political newcomer upset 14-year House veteran John McCune.
During his three terms, Matheson rose to assistant majority floor leader, sponsoring various bills and helping explore penal reform in the wake of a McAlester prison riot.
His bond issue reform bill required that public entities tell voters how bond money would be spent.
He also sponsored a successful bill that allowed optometrists' patients to take their prescriptions and have their glasses made wherever they chose.
Although re-election to a fourth term was almost certain - he was projected to make House speaker within two more years - Matheson decided that it was time to walk away. He was feeling burned out, he said.
"Mandell was proud of what he accomplished, but when it was time, it was time. And once he was out, he never seriously considered running again," said his wife, Karen Matheson.
A reformer when he arrived on the scene, Matheson left, as he put it, a "more pragmatic reformer." But despite the necessary compromises, he had gained a renewed respect for the system.
"What I've discovered is that democracy is a highly inefficient form of government," he said. "It's noisy; it's inefficient; at times it's confused. And it's worth it."
Pete Silva, Tulsa County's chief public defender and a good friend of Matheson's, said he was always "taken with Mandell's intelligence. He was a peaceful guy, never one to force his opinions, but if you asked, he had just a wealth of knowledge on a variety of subjects."
In a statement, House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, said Matheson was "a familiar face here at the Capitol, both during his service and afterward. He served this state well and will be remembered fondly."
Matheson's survivors include his wife of 26 years, Karen Matheson; three brothers, Jerry, David and Philip Matheson; and one sister, Gayle Watkins.
Original Print Headline: Former reporter earned praise as a reformist lawmaker
Tim Stanley 918-581-8385
Mandell Matheson: Having worked as a reporter, legislator and a lobbyist, Matheson learned to appreciate public service. "What I've discovered is that democracy is a highly inefficient form of government," he said. "It's noisy; it's inefficient; at times it's confused. And it's worth it."