Current lawmakers can learn a little from outgoing House speaker

The Oklahoman Editorial Published: November 18, 2012

As speaker, Steele pushed for major changes at the Department of Human Services, the state's largest agency. He advocated for reforms in the education, workers' compensation and civil justice systems. A change in the public pension system, requiring cost-of-living adjustments to be fully funded when they're approved, decreased the state's unfunded liability by $5 billion.

There were smaller victories, too. He was House author in 2009 of the bill creating the Silver Alert program, which alerts authorities if a senior citizen or a person with dementia goes missing. Steele pushed for agency consolidation as a way to save the state millions of dollars, and as speaker improved transparency in the House by, among other things, requiring conference committees to meet publicly.

There were any number of defeats along the way as well. His effort to create a House ethics committee to oversee members' conduct got shot down during the 2012 session. So did efforts to pass a bond issue to pay for improvements to the state Capitol. Politics got in the way — GOP members didn't want to be seen as contributing to the state's debt.

Republicans who hold supermajorities in the House and Senate need to focus on the macro, not the micro. They have failed to do so with the Capitol bond issue. As they settle in for 2013 GOP lawmakers should remember something Steele told us back in 2006, after his Medicaid bill got to the finish line: “There's not a lot of problems out there that we can't solve when Oklahomans get together.”

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