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Oklahoma House speaker downplays talk of fringe element in his GOP caucus

Oklahoma House Democrats maintain House Republicans are ‘deeply divided' along ideological lines as Speaker T.W. Shannon prepares for this year's opening session that starts Monday.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Modified: February 2, 2013 at 11:57 pm •  Published: February 3, 2013

The first glimpse of how strong a grip House Speaker T.W. Shannon has over the largest-ever House GOP caucus should be shown Monday, the first day of the legislative session.

Members of the House of Representatives are expected to take up approving rules that will govern the lower chamber for the 54th Oklahoma Legislature, which will cover the next two years. Several conservative House Republicans are expected again to seek getting a rule passed that would let all or most bills filed by members to have a committee hearing. House GOP leadership now determines which bills will be taken up and which will be given a hearing.

“I don't see that as being an overwhelming outcry from members,” said Shannon, R-Lawton. “There may be some but I don't think that's the majority decision to do that.”

Shannon, elected speaker last month, downplays talk that a fringe element exists among House Republicans.

“We've worked very hard to make sure there's not a fringe, that everybody within our 70-plus member caucus has a voice at the table,” said Shannon, R-Lawton. “While certainly there are differences of opinion, I don't pretend that we're always going to agree — but my goal is that there wouldn't be a fringe element, that every voice is represented. They represent 37,000 people and they should have a seat at the table.”

Is GOP divided?

Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, and other House Democrats insist a contentious group exists among House Republicans, who outnumber Democrats 72-29.

Bills need 51 votes in the House to pass.

“Anytime you have 72 members in the House of Representatives … it is very difficult to herd those cats and even get to 51 with those 72,” Inman said, noting that House Democrats had difficulties when they had 70 members just 20 or so years ago.

Inman said the House Republican caucus “is deeply divided along an ideological fault line.”

Inman said House Democrats are willing to work with Shannon and other Republicans on policies “to get beyond those ideological arguments, those fringe elements of the Republicans caucus and to find solutions.”

“Speaker Shannon and I are good friends and we have a great working relationship,” Inman said. “He's a smart man who I think overall has got a great idea to where the state of Oklahoma needs to go. My hope though is that he will rebuke his right-wing ideological fringe but I don't know if he'll do it. That remains to be seen.

“It sounds to me like he is anticipating more fringe-type legislation progressing in the House and if that happens that should be a concern for all of us because you don't improve the state's image nationwide,” Inman said.

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