Political Report, Wayne Greene: Oklahoma needs more yank, less knay
BY WAYNE GREENE World Senior Writer
Sunday, November 11, 2012
11/11/12 at 7:54 AM
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If Congress were a third-grade classroom, the other kids would call Oklahoma "Shorty."
Harris County, Texas, has more people - and more congressmen.
So Harris County, Texas, has more natural political yank than the entire state of Oklahoma.
Yank is an important thing to have. It gets roads built. It gets people jobs. It fixes problems.
And small states naturally don't have much of it.
Oklahomans interested in making sure the state gets its fair share of federal services in return for taxes paid know there is a strategy to help the state overcome its stature problem - seniority.
In the congressional equation, time in office is a multiplier of dele- gation size.
Greene's Theorem: Influence = Delegation x tenure.
Historically, Oklahoma has used that strategy well.
U.S. Sen. Robert S. Kerr served 14 years in the U.S. Capitol and would have stayed a lot longer, if death hadn't intervened. His yank was so strong that he was called "the uncrowned king of the Senate."
If you've ever visited a U.S. Corps of Engineers lake in eastern Oklahoma or shipped goods down the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation system, thank Sen. Kerr.
U.S. Sen. Mike Monroney was in Congress for 30 years. He literally wrote the book on aviation safety, and as a result, Oklahoma City has a little place called the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center, the training facility of air traffic controllers and registry spot for all private planes in the nation. That's 7,500 federal employees who should understand the importance of congressional yank.
Carl Albert, Ed Edmondson, Tom Steed and David Boren piled up seniority and influence, and the state prospered as a result.
Currently, almost all of the state's congressional seniority influence is found in two men - U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe and Rep. Tom Cole. Inhofe is the ranking member of the highway-building, water project-authorizing Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. He is due to become the top Republican on the Senate Armed Forces Committee. Cole is a member of the congressional leadership and the powerful House Appropriations Committee.
On the other hand, U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn has eschewed that sort of clout.
He speaks with a national voice and gets a lot of attention from the media, but he shows little interest in using that influence to bring home federal funding. In fact, he specifically and pointedly criticizes those who do.
For principled reasons, Coburn has the exact opposite of yank. He has knay.
When he initially went to the U.S. House of Representatives, Coburn did something that was sure to limit his clout. He announced in advance that he would only be staying six years. He term-limited himself.
Oklahoma's two newest congressmen have done the same thing.
U.S. Reps.-elect Jim Bridenstine and Markwayne Mullin both announced publicly during the recent congressional campaigns that they would serve no more than three terms in the House.
That promises the constituents that they aren't interested in becoming nest-feathering careerists, and it gives Speaker of the House John Boehner absolutely no reason to put them on influential committees. They aren't planning on sticking around. Why waste a plum assignment on short-timers?
It'll be interesting to see how that affects the state's standing in Congress in the next two years.
If you hear that Bridenstine and Mullin have been assigned to the committees in charge of writing thank-you notes and polishing the silverware, we'll know that Oklahoma has a little more knay in Washington than it used to have.
I can understand and sometimes sympathize with those who rail against career politicians.
In the best of all possible worlds, I suppose, all congressmen would be part-timers - modern-day versions of Cincinnatus, who walked away from his plow to take supreme power in Rome when crisis threatened, then returned to the fields when the city was safe.
But we don't live in the best of all possible worlds.
Maybe those who take such a principled stand should consider not driving on the newly rebuilt Interstate 44 that Sen. Inhofe's influence brought the state.
Me? I'm going to drive on it. I've got places I need to be, Shorty.
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Original Print Headline: Oklahoma needs a little less knay, a lot more yank
Wayne Greene 918-581-8308
Robert S. Kerr (right) and Mike Monroney were both longtime Oklahoma senators. Tulsa World file