By Patrick B. McGuigan
Members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives gathered Tuesday (November 16) for a festive day that included formal swearing-in ceremonies, followed by orientation workshops today (Wednesday, November 17).
In the midst of the busy week for new members and renewed contacts with returning members, Oklahoma House Speaker-elect Kris Steele on Tuesday said he was impressed with the quality and seriousness of the new group of legislators.
“Many of them have life experiences that will be beneficial to those of us who have been here for awhile, and to the new members,” Steele told reporters.
“At the same time,” the Speaker-elect continued, “the younger members obviously bring energy and enthusiasm from which we can benefit. We have two 21-year-olds in the Republican ranks, and a 23 year-old Democrat. I know they will contribute to our work. They will bless us with their energy, enthusiasm and a fresh perspective.”
Looking back at the 2009-10 work of the Legislature, Steele said, “My mentor, Chris Benge, is not coming back, and I will miss him. One of my best friends, Tad Jones, is also leaving. So, the good is mixed in with the bittersweet for me.”
Responding to a question about the effect of term limits on the legislative process, Steele said, “You become like a family in many ways. And there are so many distinctive personalities that it’s natural that you begin to value the experience of each of those individuals. Term limits has benefits, yet we lose some of that wisdom when the experienced members leave.”
One reporter asked if an old rule still applied, “The new members still get the worst offices.” Steele laughed and said he could not disagree with that assessment.
Pressed for a time frame about naming committee chairmen and members, the Speaker-elect said members have until Friday to indicate their preferences and interests, and that he projected “some announcement will come pre-Thanksgiving.”
All but a few of the lower chamber’s 101 members took their oaths of office on Tuesday. Steele presided over the swearing-in session, which opened with a prayer from Dr. Jim Hewett of Steele’s home church, Wesley United Methodist. Hewett prayed for “wisdom and sensitivity to circumstances” in consideration of illegal immigration, among other things.
Steele praised his predecessor, the departing Speaker . After a long ovation for the Tulsa Republican died down, Steele quipped in Benge’s direction: “And now, if you could please quit telling me what to do.”
Vice Chief Justice Steven W. Taylor administered the oaths, as he did earlier in the day for the Senators. Taylor was recently selected by colleagues as the next chief justice of the state’s Supreme Court.
Most House members then were granted time to introduce spouses, family members, friends and supporters. State Rep. Jabar Shumate introduced his girl friend, to loud applause in the chamber. When the cheers died down, he told the young woman, “This whole House is trying to get me married.”
Several members allowed their children to make brief remarks to the Chamber and the packed gallery of guests. One child named Abby (granddaughter of state Rep. Charles Ortega of Altus delivered a brief and eloquent message thanking members for “letting me come here.”
One of the four new Democratic members of the House, state Rep. Will Fourkiller of Adair County, delivered a humorous and efficient introduction of guests gathered in every corner of the gallery above the House floor. When Fourkiller finished, Steele inquired: “How did you get so many tickets?”
Legislators such as Mike Reynolds and Sally Kern, both Oklahoma City Republicans, thanked God for allowing them to continue in public service.