Tulsa legislator one of five to watch in 2013
BY RANDY KREHBIEL World Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 01, 2013
1/01/13 at 7:43 AM
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Majority floor leader of the Oklahoma House of Representatives is not a job for sissies.
The majority floor leader is like a train conductor, responsible for keeping the House on schedule, for deciding which bills are heard and when.
And it's the majority floor leader who most often gets an earful when a member is unhappy after a particular piece of legislation is sidetracked.
So it's a tough job.
So tough that Rep. Pam Peterson, R-Tulsa, turned the job down when it was offered to her by incoming Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon. But Shannon asked Peterson to take some time and think it over.
"Finally," she said, "I decided, 'OK, I'll do it.' "
Peterson may not have been an obvious choice, at least to outsiders. As a legislator, she has been active but not kept a particularly high profile. But she does have political and legislative experience well beyond her nine years representing southeast Tulsa in the Oklahoma House of Representatives and a reputation for being even-tempered.
"I've tried to be fair with people," Peterson said. "If I disagree with them, I try not to be disagreeable."
Peterson, 57, was born and raised in New York City, where her family was involved in Republican and conservative politics. In that time and place, "conservative" and "Republican" were not necessarily synonymous.
A defining moment for Peterson, in fact, was the 1970 New York U.S. Senate campaign, in which the Republican candidate, Charles Goodell, was also the nominee of the state's Liberal Party. Peterson's family backed the Conservative Party's James Buckley, brother of William F. Buckley.
In something of an upset, Buckley defeated Goodell, father of current National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell, and Democrat Richard Ottinger.
"I was at (James Buckley's) watch party at the Waldorf Astoria that night," Peterson said. "It was exciting to be part of something like that, a real grass-roots campaign."
Peterson came to Tulsa in 1973 to attend Oral Roberts University. She married after graduation in 1977 and moved to Minnesota, where her husband, Paul, was in medical school. They spent a few years on Long Island for his residency before settling in Madison, Wis.
Left-leaning Madison was something of a shock; Peterson's state senator was Russ Feingold, later one of the most liberal members of the U.S. Senate.
"I was a Republican in Madison," she says with a chuckle. "I said, 'I need to get involved.' "
She became an unpaid "liaison," as she calls it, on family and children's issues, testifying before often-unfriendly legislative committees and even serving on a task force appointed by then-Gov. Tommy Thompson.
In retrospect, Peterson sees those years as tremendously important to her development as an advocate and political activist.
"That was very good training for me in terms of understanding what works and what doesn't work," she said.
A professional opportunity for Paul Peterson, an orthopedic surgeon, moved the family back to Tulsa in 1991.
Pam Peterson resumed her political involvement, serving as a delegate to the 1992 National Republican Convention and working as a campaign volunteer for U.S. Sens. Don Nickles and Jim Inhofe and U.S. Rep. Steve Largent, among others, and managing the campaign of state Sen. Jim Williamson.
In January 2004, Peterson won a four-way race to succeed Rep. Hopper Smith in House District 67.
Peterson's experience gave her realistic expectations about the legislative process. It can seem slow, she said, but that is ultimately a good thing. It can be contentious, but that, too, is the nature of legislative bodies.
"You're dealing with 101 people who are all leaders," she said. "There are a lot of strong people in that room."
Peterson said she was surprised by Shannon's invitation to join his leadership team because she remained uncommitted during the bitter struggle between him and Rep. Jeff Hickman of Dacoma for the speakership.
"I told T.W. - and I told Jeff - that I would not endorse either one, and I would not undermine either one.
"I think that says something about T.W.'s leadership style that he selected me not knowing whether I voted for him.
"I will try to bring a fair environment in which to do the people's business," Peterson said. "That's what we're there to do."
Original Print Headline: Tulsa legislator will help lead House
Randy Krehbiel 918-581-8365
State Rep. Pam Peterson CHRISTOPHER SMITH / Tulsa World