ALTHOUGH they did not win nationally, Republicans dominated Oklahoma elections. Now they face the question posed in the 1972 film, The Candidate: “What do we do now?”
How Republican officials answer that question will determine if their election benefits Oklahoma or if they merely hold power for the sake of holding power.
Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, was a big election winner. He now leads a Republican caucus controlling 75 percent of state Senate seats. That gives him the ability to advance issues without having to strong-arm every member of his caucus to join a party-line vote. That kind of flexibility provides enormous political capital to a legislative leader.
In the House, incoming Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, also leads a caucus with supermajority control of the chamber — 72-29.
Both men could wield enormous clout. In theory, Gov. Mary Fallin could even become an afterthought in setting state policy because both chambers have veto-proof majorities. It takes 32 votes in the Senate to override a veto and 68 in the House, aside from measures with an emergency clause (those require 36 and 76 votes respectively).
If Bingman and Shannon simply keep most of their caucus members united, the two men could reach agreements independently of Fallin and simply send bills to her desk. Should she veto any, an override could soon follow.
Realistically, that scenario remains unlikely. The GOP had supermajorities in both chambers at the start of the 2011 session, but infighting quickly splintered the House Republican caucus and made such power moves impossible. The same thing could easily happen again.
For public relations reasons, Bingman and Shannon are also unlikely to seek direct public confrontation with Fallin, who is very popular across the state. In that regard, Fallin is much better off than some of her predecessors, such as David Walters, who saw several vetoes overridden by fellow Democrats.
Still, to remain relevant Fallin would be wise to propose a meaningful legislative agenda and then actually build support for it — among citizens and lawmakers. The governor must avoid a repeat of last year when she rolled out a detailed tax-cut plan but then largely disappeared from public view. In a matter of days, that plan was being gutted in the Legislature.
The Republican legislative caucuses also would benefit from unveiling their own detailed agendas, providing citizens a concrete plan of action for the state. Too often in recent years, legislative leaders have endorsed vague goals such as “improving Oklahoma's business climate” or “supporting education” while providing limited specifics. Much was left to last-minute, behind-the-scenes negotiations.
No doubt, such negotiations will still occur even if the governor, House and Senate each unveil comprehensive agendas this year. But those agendas would provide a good starting point for discussion and, hopefully, validate citizens' decisions to elect Republicans to office.
Admittedly, a detailed agenda risks offending some voters, but that's preferable to stasis and inaction. Election of a historic Republican majority should foster meaningful reform, not make GOP lawmakers more fearful of the voters.
Oklahomans have given Republicans unprecedented power for one simple reason — to advance conservative policies that improve our state, not to simply boost a political party's numeric standing. GOP lawmakers should keep that in mind.