Legislature Preview: New speaker hopes to capitalize on diversity of Republican caucus
BY BARBARA HOBEROCK World Capitol Bureau
Monday, February 04, 2013
2/04/13 at 7:06 AM
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OKLAHOMA CITY - The man selected to lead the rambunctious House Republican caucus is the son of a retired social worker and retired educator.
While his counterpart in the House, Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, describes the House GOP caucus as deeply divided with fringe elements, House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, disagrees.
Oklahoma's 54th Legislature will convene Monday and must complete its session by no later than 5 p.m. May 31. Inman offered to use his members to work with Shannon to create a coalition to "get beyond the fringe element."
Republicans increased their numbers to 72 in the 101-member House following the November election.
"We have worked very hard to make sure there is not a fringe, that everybody has a voice," Shannon said.
He said calling the caucus ideologically split oversimplifies what is a "complex, menagerie of thoughtful, passionate conservatives."
He said one of the great benefits of the caucus is its diversity.
But his predecessor, former House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, ran into problems trying to harness, control and focus that diversity.
"My focus now is how do we move Oklahoma forward," Shannon said. "I don't try to focus too much on differences that divided us. It can open new wounds. I would rather focus on how do we continue to unite."
Shannon, 34, holds a law degree, is married and is the father of two. He worked for former U.S. Rep. J. C. Watts, R-Okla., and current U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla.
He is also the former chief administrator of the Chickasaw Nation. He and his wife run Shannon Strategies, a consulting firm, from their Lawton home.
He is the first African-American to be House speaker, something that he tends to downplay.
"I am certainly proud of it, but I was elected by the people of Lawton and now that I am speaker, my job is to look out for everybody," Shannon said.
He describes his leadership style as inclusive.
"I am not an ego-driven guy," Shannon said. "I don't have a lot of ego in this."
His issues this session will be: workers compensation reform; tax reform; coming up with a long-term plan to take care of the state's assets, such as the state Capitol; funding past education reforms; pension reform; and to increase the state's prosperity.
He said lawmakers need to be more thoughtful in ensuring they pass legislation that is constitutional. Courts have recently tossed out a number of laws, something Shannon said has a cost when it gets litigated.
He wouldn't say whether a bill declaring personhood at inception would get a hearing but said his caucus is pro-life, something that goes beyond protecting just the unborn.
Shannon does not favor across-the-board raises, but rather a system based on market driven principles. Several agencies are requesting pay increases. State employees have not had a pay raise since 2006.
In his spare time, he likes to travel, listen to music and go to movies with his wife.
State of the State
Gov. Mary Fallin is expected to give her State of the State address at about 12:40 p.m. Monday in a joint session in the House chamber. She is expected to continue her focus on jobs and improving the economy. A briefing on her proposed executive budget is set for 2:30 p.m. Monday at the Capitol. Her budget calls for additional funding for mental health services. To watch her speech live, go to tulsaworld.com/oeta.
Original Print Headline: House 'diversity' touted
Barbara Hoberock 405-528-2465