New Speaker's passionate quest for prosperity
BY WAYNE GREENE World Senior Writer
Sunday, January 13, 2013
1/13/13 at 5:29 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY - Organization Day at the state Capitol is an opportunity for civic rites and lofty rhetoric.
It's the time every odd-numbered year when a new crop of lawmakers gets together to choose their captains, announce their goals and exercise their lexicons.
There are fine speeches to nominate leaders.
Then there are more fine speeches to second those nominations.
Then there are even more fine speeches from the winners.
In a Legislature that can get intellectually and oratorically ragged as the session rolls along, it's a moment for eternal verities and elevated words.
Tuesday's version was the same as always, only perhaps more so because it featured the election of T.W. Shannon as speaker of the House.
It was billed as a historic moment: Shannon is the first black man to hold what has been described as the most powerful office in the state Capitol.
But Shannon chose to make it about policy, not race.
He did quote Martin Luther King Jr. (to urge a resolution to factions in the House) and he did make an allusion to "We Shall Overcome" (to remind lawmakers of the state's history of dealing with challenges including the Trail of Tears, the Tulsa Race Riot, the Dust Bowl and the Oklahoma City bombing).
But Shannon spent little of his time talking about his black or his Chickasaw heritage, using his 15 minutes to talk about his dedication to conservative economic and social values and how he thinks they can transform Oklahoma.
"We have seen that dependence on government leads to poverty, addiction and human failure. I have seen it and I do not like it," Shannon said. "If I am committed to doing anything in my life, I am on a passionate quest to see people rise to a new level of prosperity, success and dignity. Prosperity will only come when individuals rise to the challenge of personal responsibility and hard work and replace an attitude of entitlement with an attitude of gratitude."
Shannon outlined an agenda of reforming and cutting taxes, ending excessive bureaucratic regulation, reordering state pension funds, treasuring human life, rethinking the state's asset portfolio and overhauling workers compensation - all of which he put within the context of building for future generations.
"There's a lot of policy issues I care about, but it all comes down to one thing and one thing only: Will our children inherit a more prosperous and civilized Oklahoma or one that's less?" Shannon said.
The controlling metaphor of his speech was "the picture on the box."
Shannon said that when he struggles to put together his children's some-assembly-required Christmas presents, he finds it helpful to set aside the instructions and look at the picture on the box.
Oklahoma is already on its way to being that "picture on the box" for other states to see how conservative values can produce a prosperous, low-tax, high-employment economy, he told the House.
"The picture is not quite complete but what's taking shape is a state that leads in job growth, has lower taxes, values human life and balances the budget," he said.
In the audience for Shannon's speech was U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, and the new House speaker referred to the Fourth District Republican as his "mentor."
Cole's political career took him from the state Capitol to the U.S. Capitol, and it wouldn't be hard to imagine Shannon trying to follow that same path.
Shannon didn't hesitate to plunge ahead into national politics.
At one point he offered President Obama a pithy pointer on how the United States can balance its budget as the state of Oklahoma does.
"Mr. President, if you're listening, I'll give you a hint: the key is controlling spending, not raising taxes," Shannon said.
Later, he laid down his marker in a strident defense of state's rights.
"Today we live in a country with an out-of-control federal government that is bankrupt both financially and morally," Shannon said. "As a result we have fewer freedoms, we pay more taxes than we should, and there is little hope of these things changing under our president and this current Congress.
"So let me say this: The state of Oklahoma will not go down the path of Washington, D.C. Not on my watch."
It's obvious, Shannon said, that he is conservative, and, on that point, he is correct.
But his speech - though forthright in its Republican doctrine - also sought to ease the partisan tensions of the Capitol.
He didn't blush about his beliefs, but he delivered them in a friendly, open fashion. For all its directness, the speech didn't have a partisan feel to it.
His repeated reminders to both sides of the aisle was that the House's business isn't the party's business. It is the people's business.
The people don't wake up thinking of themselves as conservatives or liberals, and the politicians in Oklahoma City could bene- fit from organizing their thoughts that same way, he said.
"If anything, they wake up and ask themselves, how can I provide a sense of prosperity for me and my family," Shannon said. "Ladies and gentlemen, that is the key. It's not really about labels, is it?
"It's about doing what's right to see the next generation prospers, regardless of party or philosophy. We can come together and find common ground. We can make Oklahoma that picture on the box for the rest of the country."
Original Print Headline: New speaker aims for prosperity
Wayne Greene 918-581-8308