Freshman legislators start to settle in at the Capitol
It’s been a year of significant change for Oklahoma state government. For example, tax increases were voted into law after receiving super-majority support in both the House and the Senate. A new governor was elected and new statewide officials are taking office. And a whole bunch of new legislators were elected, all of whom bring different perspectives with them.
This will be the largest number of freshmen state lawmakers since statehood.
Eleven of 48 senators and 47 of 101 House members are new to the Legislature. And 103 of the 149 legislators — almost 70 percent — will have four years or less of experience. Only 14 members of the Legislature will have been in office six years or more. The Legislature has a natural turnover because of 12-year term limits imposed on every lawmaker, but last year's exodus included many who left politics early.
Representing the greater Oklahoma City metro area, five freshman senators and 12 freshman representatives took the oath of office following the elections last November.
House Assistant Majority Whip Rep. John Pfeiffer said the influx of new House members will be an issue to which GOP House leadership will pay attention.
“It’s an issue we’re already working on trying to address,” Pfeiffer said. “The challenges are a lot of these people don’t understand the legislative process, and it’s not anybody’s fault. Nobody does until you get in there and start doing it.”
“We’re very lucky,” said Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols. “If you were to have a bunch of new members and new leadership, there’d be a problem. But we don’t. All of the major influential (members of leadership) are back.”
Sen. Greg Treat, R-Edmond, the Senate president pro tem for 2019, said in a recent podcast that he was optimistic about the upcoming session. The state’s improving financial picture, he suggested, is likely to relieve some of the pressure lawmakers have felt in recent years.
“We have the opportunity, for the first time in a few years, to be proactive rather than reactive, to lead rather than react,” Treat said.
The freshman lawmakers in the OKC metro area include:
- Mary Boren (D-Norman)
- Carri Hicks (D-OKC)
- Julia Kirt (D-OKC)
- Brenda Stanley (R-OKC)
- George Young (D-OKC) (Young is a freshman senator but served as a state representative from 2014 – 2018)
- Kelly Albright (D-Midwest City)
- Chelsey Branham (D-OKC)
- Sherrie Conley (R-Norman)
- Andy Fugate (D-Del City)
- Denise Crosswhite Hader (R-Yukon)
- Robert Manger (R-Choctaw)
- Nicole Miller (R-Edmond)
- Garry Mize (R-Edmond)
- Ajay Pittman (D-OKC)
- Jay Steagall (R-Yukon)
- Marilyn Stark (R-Bethany)
- Danny Sterling (R-OKC)
Greater Oklahoma City Chamber Vice President, Government Relations and Policy Mark VanLandingham said that his team got a head start on working with the new elected officials by getting to know them during their campaigns. But that’s not all they have been doing.
“For the first time, we are holding a freshman legislators reception,” he said. “With all of the new faces in both chambers, one of our biggest challenges is just getting to know each other and this reception will help us do that and begin effectively working together.”