Senators take oaths of office, as era of Republican governance nears
By Patrick B. McGuigan
Tuesday morning at the state Capitol in Oklahoma, departing Senate President Pro Temp Glenn Coffee of Oklahoma City presided at an historic ceremony as 23 members of the upper chamber of the Legislature took the oath of office. Those sworn in were either re-elected or elected for the first time this year.
The new senators promised to uphold the state and federal Constitutions at the dawn of an unprecedented new era of Republican dominance of the government of the Sooner State.
The GOP controlled the Senate for the first time the last two years, holding a majority of 26 to 22. In the November election, the party gained six seats and now have a 32-16 advantage.
Republicans control the House 70-31 and, for the first time in state history, all 11 of the statewide elected non-federal posts.
Oklahoma state Supreme Court Vice-Chief Justice Steven W.Taylor administered the oath to the Senators. Taylor was recently chosen by his colleagues as the next chief justice. One member, Democratic leader Andrew Rice, had taken the oath previously.
Moments before he gaveled the session to order in his last official act as Senate leader, a reflective and joyful Coffee told CapitolBeatOK, “When I got here 12 years ago, there were 15 Republicans. As I leave, there are 16 Democrats.”
As he opened the session moments before the oath-taking, Coffee recalled a quip attributed to Napoleon (“Not a great politician, but a great general”) that goes like this: “Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever.”
Coffee said he had been honored to serve in the Senate. He congratulated President Pro Tempore-Designate Brian Bingman, a fellow Republican from Sapulpa. Bingman will be formally installed in his new post early next year.
Coffee also introduced the president of the past Senate, Lieutenant Governor Jari Askins, who attended the ceremony.
In a comment provided to CapitolBeatOK, Sen. Bingman said, “I think it is very fitting that our members were sworn in on Statehood Day. We have a tremendous history and heritage to build upon, and I’m looking forward to working with all of our members in the coming session.”
Re-elected senators who took the oath Tuesday included Sean Burrage of Claremore (D); Roger Ballenger of Okmulgee (D); John Sparks of Norman (D); David Myers of Ponca City (R); Anthony Sykes, of Moore (R); Tom Ivester of Sayre (D); Harry Coates of Seminole (R); Randy Bass of Lawton (D); Bill Brown of Broken Arrow (R); Mike Schulz of Altus (R, the designated floor leader); Cliff Branan of Oklahoma City (R); Cliff Aldridge of Midwest City (R); and Constance N. Johnson of Oklahoma City (D).
New members of the Senate include Mark Allen of Spiro (R); Josh Brecheen of Coalgate (R); Eddie Fields of Wynona (R); Frank Simpson of Springer (R); Kim David of Wagoner (R); Rob Johnson of Kingfisher (R); David Holt of Oklahoma City (R); Rick Brinkley of Owasso (R); and Ralph Shortey of Oklahoma City (R).
The gallery was packed with friends, family and supporters of the Senators, and with several notable guests, including incoming Schools Superintendent Janet Barresi, Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones and Attorney General Scott Pruitt.
On the floor and still a member of the Senate was departing Floor Leader Todd Lamb, who was elected lieutenant governor on November 2. Yesterday, Lamb announced his “irrevocable resignation” from the Senate, effective the date of his swearing-in early next year.
The newly-installed senators introduced spouses, children, parents, friends and political supporters. Symbolizing the dramatic changes brought to Oklahoma politics and policy by the election, Sen. Bracheen became the first Republican in history from the “Little Dixie” district previously represented by Sen. Jay Paul Gumm, a Democrat.
In the midst of a joyful and relaxed session, Coffee recalled that late Supreme Court Justice Marian Opala, who died last month, never missed the ceremonial commencement of the legislative sessions throughout his long career on the state bench.
The Senate will formally organize on Tuesday, January 4, 2011. The first session of the 53rd state Legislature will begin on Monday, February 7.