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 will be a different legislature in 2019 for those interested in children and Oklahoma’s solutions to behavioral health issues without the presence of Sen. A.J. Griffin. From day one when she came to the Senate, A.J. brought with her a wealth of experience in and passion for working with kids. A.J. had been Executive Director of the Youth Services agency in Logan County.
In the Senate, she hit the ground running, even as a freshman. Other Senators more senior who were carrying legislation relating to children would ask her to explain the legislation more fully to them and even help handle it on the floor. She quickly gained the respect of the other Senators because they knew she knew what she was talking about. I once asked another Senator to carry a “kid” bill for me, and the senator told me to go talk to A.J. because that’s “in her wheelhouse.”
I raise this today because it was in the news that A.J. has resigned and taken a new job in the private sector even though she could have served 8 more years in the Senate. The news story quoted A.J.’s Senate debate on a revenue bill showing some frustration with the pace the state seemed willing to tolerate in attacking our challenges in behavioral health, health care, and education, all affecting children. People usually do what they do for more than one reason, but if frustration played a role in her decision to leave, she wouldn’t be alone. Others who left the Legislature have expressed similar sentiments.
Legislators made a lot of progress last year. Some would say it was a good start. Depending on the outcome of the elections, including the governor’s race, they could be poised to make a lot more. As A.J. knows, no one is indispensable. Others will take up the slack, and new leaders will develop. She has paid ahead for many years to come. And it’s a good thing for a person, when they want to, to turn the page and start a new chapter. We can only wish her the best. But it hurts to lose a “workhorse” who was both talented and experienced.