Kris Steele elected speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives
By Patrick B. McGuigan
State Rep. Kris Steele of Shawnee was elected Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives today (Tuesday, January 4). The final vote in early afternoon fell along party lines, 69-30. One member from each side of the aisle was missing. The margin was in keeping with the 70-31 split between Republicans and Democrats in wake of the unprecedented GOP surge in the November 2 election.
Steele grew emotional at the start of his acceptance speech, telling his wife Kellie, “my greatest blessing is sharing life at your side.” He welcomed members of his extended family and what he characterized as his “church family” from Shawnee’s Wesley United Methodist Church.
After effusive words of praise for his wife and daughters, whom he called, “my three girls,” Steele delivered a brief address thanking members of the House for electing him. He promised a multi-issue conservative agenda aimed at tightening the state budget, reforming public sector pension programs, enhancing the state’s pro-business reputation and creating greater educational opportunities for Oklahoma children.
Oklahoma Supreme Court Chief Justice Steven W. Taylor administered the oath of office to Steele. The chief justice took his own oath for the court’s top job on Monday.
The new speaker took the oath with his family at his side, his wife holding a family Bible open to Proverbs Chapter 3, verses 5-6, which reads “Trust in the Lord with all our heart, on your own intelligence rely not; In all your ways be mindful of him, and he will make straight your paths.” (New American Bible)
In the lead-up to Steele’s formal election, Democratic State Rep. Scott Inman of Oklahoma City was nominated as speaker by state Rep. Eric Proctor of Tulsa, with Rep. Chuck Hoskin of Vinita seconding. Proctor’s address was laced with sometimes biting humor aimed at Rep. Mark McCullough, a Republican from Sapulpa.
Proctor stated his admiration for Leader Inman as a young man who “acts older than Rep. [David] Dank. He praised Inman for what he called “kindness and openness,” saying the Democratic leader would be “faithful to God, family and this state.” Hoskins said the leader of House Democrats will “rise to speak for the children and working men and women of Oklahoma.”
State Rep. Dan Sullivan of Tulsa moved for the House to recognize the member who first took their oaths in November were duly elected. After that the chamber moved to formal consideration of Steele’s election
In nominating Steele, state Rep. Sue Tibbs of Tulsa noted, “I have a few years on Kris.” Yet, she said, “I have learned a great from him by observing his life and career over the last 10 years.” She detailed his work on increasing “access and quality of health care,” including better access to prescription medicines for senior citizens, lower costs and improved safety for Oklahomans in long-term care, and expanded health savings accounts for government employees.
Tibbs praised Steele’s stewardship of the Kelsey Briggs-Smith Act, which led to his induction into the Child Advocacy Institute Hall of Fame.
Drawing a Scriptural analogy, Rep. Tibbs referenced the difference between “wheat and chaff” and said she believes Steele “falls into the ‘wheat’ category.” She said when she met Steele and learned he was a minister, she believed “sometimes he was Baptist, then Methodist. And between you and me, I think he acts a little Pentecostal, as well.” She want on to praise her friend as a man with “a true servant’s heart.”
She praised Steele’s character and determination, noting a childhood accident “left Kris paralyzed in much of his body, and he was not expected to walk or perform the normal life functions we all take for granted. Kris would not accept defeat, even as a child. He was determined – he was disciplined – and he refused to quit until he overcame all odds to gain full use of his limbs and be able to function independently.”
The seconding speech for the incoming Speaker came from state Rep. Charles Ortega of Altus. He remembered that when they met in 2008 he came to believe Steele was “just a plain guy with a hard working ethic and a passion for the people he served.” He praised his friend as a man of “integrity, character and stature.”
Ortega continued, asserting his belief, “Kris Steele is driven by compassion for his fellow man. Some people would confuse compassion for weakness. But compassion is merely having the ability to put others before yourself and having the strength and courage to keep it that way.” He affirmed Steele’s advocacy of constitutional governance, and the new Speaker’s belief that “government should be transparent and efficient.”
Ortega predicted, “Budget conditions will force us to make some very difficult decisions, and we must have a leader that will guide us through this challenging time.” Ortega asserted an election such as this “is as serious as it gets.”
After his election, Steele was accompanied from his place on the floor the few feet to the well of the House by state Reps. Ann Coody of Lawton, Charles Key of Oklahoma City, Jadine Nollan of Sand Spring, Leslie Osborn of Tuttle and Marty Quinn of Claremore.
The session formally electing House leadership had begun with prayers of Pastor Larry Sparks, a Shawnee minister. Petitioning “Almighty God,” Rev. Sparks asked, “More than finances, give us faith.” He continued, “More than riches, give us righteousness.” He asked “the one and only true God,” to “anoint each of these politicians.” The preacher called for “unity in political diversity.” He begged God to “remind them that they are servants, and not celebrities.”