A look at the new House leadership team (Steve Lewis 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.

House Speaker Jeff Hickman began naming leadership positions last week.  The top leadership position named directly by the Speaker is the Majority Floor Leader who is usually considered his right hand person.  From the standpoint of actual power, floor leader is the number two position in the House.  The floor leader prepares the agenda every legislative day controlling which bills will be heard and when.  He also controls the floor action with all recognitions for motions and bill presentations going through him.  The floor leader serves as both counselor to the Speaker and agent for carrying out his decisions and policies. 

Speaker Hickman chose as his floor leader Rep. Charles Ortega of Altus.  Rep. Ortega is beginning his 4th term.  Last session he chaired the Tourism and International Relations Committee and was an assistant floor leader.  He operates a main street business in Altus, Smiley’s Tire and Auto, that carries tires and a variety of automotive products.  Much like the Speaker himself, Ortega is unassuming and well-liked.  He appears to be non-ideological, taking a thoughtful, business-like approach to issues.  He has not been a prolific legislator or a frequent debater.  He’ll be an independent thinker providing good counsel for the Speaker’s team. 

As did Speaker TW Shannon last session, Speaker Hickman decided to split up the leadership duties once held by one person as Majority Floor Leader.  In addition to Rep. Ortega, Hickman appointed Rep. Jason Nelson, Oklahoma City, and Rep. Lisa Billy, Purcell, as Majority Leaders.  So, in some respects the floor leader duties will be the function of a 3-member committee.  Judging from the way this has worked for the past two years I would speculate that agenda and policy decisions will be shared with all three leaders having input and Rep. Ortega making the final decision.  But of course a lot depends on personalities and the strength of feelings on any given issue.  We’ll just have to see how it works out with this team. 

Rep. Nelson, like Ortega, is beginning his 4th term.  He worked in governor Keating’s administration as legislative liaison, and was a lobbyist for several years before being elected to the House.  With that background he has been more active and high profile as a legislator.  He took the lead in the House on reorganization of DHS and working through implementation and funding the Pinnacle Plan reforms of the child welfare system.  He’s also been active in education issues and juvenile justice.  He was the author of the scholarship program allowing vouchers for some special needs children to attend private schools that was ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court.  He also worked out the compromise legislation repealing common core.  He ran for Speaker but dropped out of the race and supported Hickman.  He’s a hardworking, smart legislator.

Rep. Billy is a seasoned legislator beginning her 6th and final term.  She’s a member of the Chickasaw Nation and served two terms in the Chickasaw Nation Legislature before being elected to the Oklahoma House.  She’s one of several Oklahoma legislators totally committed to pro-life issues and has carried anti-abortion legislation.  Last session she chaired the Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Higher Education and, prior to that, she chaired the Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Public Safety.  She was succeeded in that role by Speaker Hickman last year before he was elected Speaker.  She is a good thinker on corrections reform among other issues.  She’ll be a strong member of the leadership team.


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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