T.W. Shannon, the first black speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, also is drawing national attention because he is the only black Republican speaker in the country.
Oklahoma Republican Party Chairman Matt Pinnell said Friday that Shannon, R-Lawton, will be asked to speak across the country on behalf of the Republican National Party to show its diversity.
“We're trying to get Speaker Shannon on the surrogate list with the RNC to be speaking in other states and helping them with a more diverse Republican outreach in their states,” Pinnell said.
While Oklahoma Republicans are faring well, it's not the case nationwide. November's loss by GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has been blamed partly on his failure to attract black, Hispanic and Asian voters as well as not exciting young voters.
“We need to own that,” Pinnell said. “That's nothing to distance ourselves from, that sort of challenge. There's no doubt that we have work to do there on the national level. At the state level, we feel like that we're doing a very good job competing, especially with our youth vote.”
Shannon, 34, is a striking contrast to the Nov. 6 presidential election results, Pinnell said.
The Republican National Committee is excited about Shannon, who is expected to be officially elected House speaker in January, Pinnell said after hosting a Facebook town hall meeting with Shannon sponsored by the Oklahoma Republican Party.
He spoke by a streaming live video feed from the GOP headquarters in Oklahoma City and answered questions posed on the party's Facebook page.
Pinnell said it is interesting that Shannon is following his mentor, J.C. Watts, the former Oklahoma congressman. Shannon worked on Watts' staff.
“J.C. was really, if not the leader, one of the top-tier Republican African-Americans in the country and I have no doubt that T.W. Shannon is going to follow in his footsteps,” he said.
Pinnell, during the 30-minute Internet program, asked Shannon if he felt more pressure because of the national attention he is getting.
“It's an honor anytime you can hopefully change maybe the conversation,” Shannon said.
“But my real focus and the real burden I have is from the people of District 62 to make sure that I'm representing the values that they sent me to Oklahoma City to represent and now as speaker-elect, my focus expands a little.
Certainly we're going to be looking statewide about what are the issues that are most important to Oklahomans.
“We know that Oklahoma … is the reddest state in the nation,” he said. “We're a conservative state. We expect a conservative, pro-growth, limited government agenda and I think that's what we're going to have.
“Oklahoma has always been a place of opportunity,” Shannon said. “It's never mattered and it should have never mattered what you looked like or where you came from. If you're willing to work hard, if you're willing to adopt the values that are important to this area, you can do well in this state and that needs to be our message.”