The race is on for next year’s House and Senate leaders (Capitol Update)

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.

It is a sign of the times that there is a leadership race going on in both chambers of the Legislature. The Senate race is not surprising since the current President Pro Tempore, Sen. Mike Schulz, is serving the last year of his final term in the Senate. Candidates are current Majority Leader Greg Treat of Oklahoma City, Sen. Roger Thompson of Okemah, and Sen. Rob Standridge of Norman.

In the House, however, Speaker Charles McCall is just finishing his first term as Speaker and has three more terms left in the House. So, it’s surprising that McCall has drawn four opponents for Speaker: Rep. Chad Caldwell of Enid, Rep. Tommy Hardin of Ardmore, Rep. Todd Russ of Cordell and Rep. Charles Ortega of Altus. Having said that, perhaps it’s not surprising considering the divisions in the House Republican caucus, the tremendous array of problems on the Legislature’s plate, and the lack of movement on most of those problems.

Legislative bodies are always relatively unpopular with the public while most individual legislators remain well liked. But when things are not going well with the state, which no one would deny is the case in Oklahoma with its budget problems, educational crisis and prison overcrowding to mention a few issues, the visible leadership takes the brunt of criticism. The visible leadership is the governor, the speaker and the president pro tempore. It’s hard to know where the fault should lie, but the House has been the focal point of the legislature’s inability to raise revenue because it must pass a revenue-raising bill first. So, the House’s failure becomes the Speaker’s failure. It’s part of the job description.

Because the public is increasingly aware of the condition of the state, it’s likely House members have started hearing complaints from some constituents about Speaker McCall by name. Some members may agree with their constituents, and some may just see an opportunity for a change. Those who are running for Speaker likely have a genuine disagreement with the Speaker’s policies or the way he’s doing the job. But there can be no doubt that the turmoil created by both difficult issues and factions in the party caucus has made Speaker McCall appear vulnerable enough that more people than usual have been willing to jump into the race.


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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