Expect changes in House leadership next session (Capitol Updates)

Steve Lewis
Steve Lewis

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol. You can sign up on his website to receive the Capitol Updates newsletter by email.

Last week’s elections produced few surprises and very little change.  The Republican Party extended its dominance in the legislature by “flipping” three Senate seats, meaning three seats formerly held by Democrats will now be held by Republicans.  The Republicans had already picked up one seat when Senator-Elect Marty Quinn won election without opposition to replace Democratic leader Sean Burrage.  The partisan mix in the Senate is now 40 Republicans and 8 Democrats.  In the House only one general election incumbent candidate was defeated, Republican Rep. Aaron Stiles of Norman.  To offset that loss the Republicans picked up the seat formerly held by Democrat Joe Dorman who was term limited.  The House mix remains 72-29 in favor of Republicans.

I would call it a mild surprise that Rep. Stiles was defeated, especially in such a strong Republican year.  But his Cleveland County district is truly a swing district.  Stiles defeated Democratic Rep. Wallace Collins in 2010.  Collins had defeated and been defeated by Republican Rep. Thad Balkman in previous contests for the seat.  Stiles never firmly secured the district.  In 2012 he won an 18-vote victory that was finally decided in court.  That said, it is quite a chore to defeat a legislative incumbent.  After the change in Speakers last year Rep. Stiles was appointed chairman of the Judiciary Committee by Speaker Jeff Hickman.  His loss will leave open that major committee chairmanship for next session.  I won’t speculate on who will be the next chair.

You can expect quite a bit of movement in House chairmanships next session.  Speaker Hickman left most of the leadership positions in place when TW Shannon left the Speaker’s chair to run for U.S. Senate last year.  But, having been re-elected by the caucus for a full term as Speaker, you can expect he will want to put his own team in place.  That doesn’t mean every chairmanship will change, but some surely will.  I think it worked out well last year when Hickman kept his predecessor’s team mostly in place to finish out the year.  Most of them had not supported Hickman in a tough and competitive Speaker’s race after Shannon resigned, but they all seemed to work well together to finish out the session.  Hopefully the relationships will carry over to the new session.  

Finally, Rep. Lee Denney of Cushing was elected Speaker Pro Tempore, the number two elected position in the House at the Republican caucus last week.  Lee has been an active legislator willing to take on some difficult issues.  As Chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Common Education the last few years, she has been a major voice in education policy during a particularly challenging time.  She also handled controversial “puppy mill” legislation which was close to her heart as a veterinarian, and she passed reforms in the state’s school bullying laws after losing the bill on the house floor in a previous session.  I’ll have to say it was a little surprising, but gratifying, to see someone who had been willing to take on controversy win a caucus race.  I hope it’s a trend.

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Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

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