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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

Inman said the 29 House Democrats are willing to work with Shannon on measures dealing with issues to improve the state.

“We'll help you get to 51,” Inman said to Shannon last week. “Because at the end of the day, we've all got to live together and hopefully cast off the fringe elements of both sides of the aisle and move this state forward.”

Shannon has said his goal is to be a voice of reason and to continue to push for a conservative agenda that also provides for economic growth in the state.

Shannon, the first black Speaker of the House and, at 34, the youngest to serve in the powerful post, said he will work to ensure that all voices are heard in his caucus.

Shannon said he hopes to pass legislation to improve Oklahoma's economy, and is aware that members of his caucus have a wide range of priorities that at times will be counter to the majority of the membership.

Shannon said the increase in Republican legislators in the House and Senate after November's election indicates voters want limited government and economic prosperity in the state.

Former House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, struggled during his two years in the leadership post with constitutional conservative members who last year resorted to working with House Democrats to derail or at least mire down the GOP leadership's measures. Some in that faction of the House Republican caucus take credit for Shannon's election last year as speaker-elect. Steele's preferred successor lost in a close caucus vote.

The feud in the House GOP chamber caucus has been characterized as a difference between those who support issues by The State Chamber, the largest group representing businesses, and constitutional conservative lawmakers who have been labeled anti-chamber.

“That oversimplifies what is a complex menagerie of thoughtful, passionate conservatives,” Shannon said. “When you have passionate, conservative representatives, they're more independently minded by nature. So yeah, there'll be great discussion, there'll be great debate, but hopefully we're setting the stage so that everybody can have a voice, have an input and come up with a really great product.”

Diverse group

Shannon said the Republican House caucus is more diverse than the House members who were elected in decades past. Most were men, older than 45 and came from rural areas.

“That's not the case anymore,” he said. “We've got members in the middle 70s all the way down to 21-year-olds and we've got everything in between. I think that's a benefit to the people of Oklahoma.

“I don't think there's a fringe element,” Shannon said. “I don't think there's a split. There are certainly differences of opinion.”