Rituals: Sense and Sensibility in closing Senate tributes

In their final acts as elected officials, three members of the Senate on Friday acted to bid fond farewells to colleagues, extending olive branches to friends and foes before they left the Capitol at session’s end. It was the kind of ritual that marks the end of every legislative session, and included members in both political parties.

State Sen. Steve Russell of Oklahoma City, a passionate conservative and military veteran, reflected on examples of success, and shortfall, in the upper chamber’s representation of “We, the people.” 

He thanked Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman of Sapulpa for his “calm demeanor and steady leadership.” Stressing he admired the performance of former Majority Leader (and now Lieutenant Governor) Todd Lamb, Russell praised current Minority Leader Mike Schulz for what he deemed a “business-like and efficient manner.” He added he liked that when he shakes hands with Schulz, “his hands are calloused from hard work.” 

Russell thanked Senator Harry Coates of Seminole, and former Sen. Jim Reynolds of Oklahoma City for assisting his efforts to support the Seventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and its protections of a citizen’s right to trial by jury. 

He eventually named each of his colleagues — including Sen. Randy Bass, a former baseball star and Democrat who has been in stadiums where he was cheered by thousands, for modeling “humility.” Commenting on a rare moment when he garnered Tulsa Sen. Tom Adelson’s support on a gun rights question, Russell said, “I love it when I can convert a liberal on the Second Amendment.”

As for his close friendship with Tulsa’s Judy Eason-McIntyre, generally an ardent liberal, the conservative told her, “Thanks for softening an old soldier’s heart.” He praised each of his fellow veterans serving in the Senate, including Oklahoma City’s Al McAffrey, a Democrat. 

Gesturing to the press gallery, Russell thanked reporters for “covering our triumphs and our tragedies” and for “defending our First Amendment.” 

He concluded, saying, “I feel we have a moral obligation in life, to serve others.” He observed, “I now respect everyone who puts themselves before the public spectacle. I will never again look at politicians of either party the way I did.before coming here.”

Russell received a standing ovation from his assembled colleagues, including Adelson, who spoke next. 

Aldelson’s comments were humorous, even earthy at times. He said to Russell, “You make Clint Eastwood look like a girl.” 

Adelson recalled that one of his first political acts, before election to the Senate, was writing a fundraising letter that called Brad Henry “a great pubic servant; one guy wrote back to me saying he didn’t know what a pubic servant was but that he thought we needed more of them.”

Adelson issued broad advise to senators, saying, “Don’t ever bet on a horse owned by Sen. Bass or Sen [Richard] Lerblance.” He thanked Minority Leader Sean Burrage for his personal friendship and support in difficult times. Adelson wrapped up by inviting Russell to come by any time “to have a beer,” telling Sen. Cliff Branan they could join to drink a gourmet cup of coffee, and that Sen. Bryce Marlatt could stop by, “so long as you give me three days notice.” 

In 2011, Margaret Erling, an important state Capitol lobbyist, clashed over a couple of public policy issues with state Senator Judy Eason-McIntyre, who has often supported causes Erling seeks to advance.

Their argument last year centered around the “cutoff date” for children entering pre-K and Kindergarten programs. 

CapitolBeatOK covered the incident, and thereby lies a tale. 

Despite the clash in the final days of last year’s session, the pair soon reconciled. On Friday (May 25), in the waning hours of the 2012 legislative session, the two women approached CapitolBeatOK, asking for a photograph to be taken.

The two ladies, at this writer’s suggestion, posed in front of the official Capitol portrait of the late Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher, an Oklahoma civil rights legend and the first black woman to attend he University of Oklahoma College of Law. In the photo, Eason-McIntyre is holding a vase full of flowers Erling had delivered to her at the start the Tulsa Democrat’s last day at the Capitol.