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Oklahoma's bridges, roads drive lobbyist's passion

Bobby Stem has served the Association of Oklahoma General Contractors for seven years; the past five as its executive director.
BY PAULA BURKES pburkes@opubco.com Published: November 25, 2012
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Bobby Stem has no need for a white board in his new offices at 636 NE 41, which as of June is the new headquarters of the Association of Oklahoma General Contractors.

Stem, who serves as executive director of the trade association, simply brandishes a blue dry erase marker and starts jotting planning notes directly on his glass office wall.

Planning has been an integral part of Stem's job for seven years, including two years as a lobbyist for the AOGC and the past five as its director.

Six years ago, state leaders — with the association's input — devised a rolling eight-year plan to ensure Oklahoma's bridges remain structurally sound, dangerous shoulder-less two-lane roads are widened, and safety cable barriers are erected on others.

“Gary Ridley, Oklahoma's transportation secretary, and I meet every other Wednesday for breakfast,” Stem said. “I bring five sausage biscuits, and he brings five, so no one can accuse either of us of buying favoritism.”

Joking aside, Stem lauds the state Legislature for automatically funding the Oklahoma Department of Transportation — and for the master plan, which he said helps his 280 association members, from large construction companies to one-man backhoe operators, make future decisions regarding payroll or equipment rentals and purchases.

“Every now and then, I have to say ‘time out,'” Stem said. For example, he said he celebrates the City of Oklahoma City's recent purchase of electrical vehicles, but lobbies Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, and other federal lawmakers about the absence of fuel tax revenue, which funds improvements to the country's roads and bridges.

Electrical vehicles also weigh more than traditional vehicles, and do more damage to roads, he said.

Stem, 41, recently sat down with The Oklahoman to talk about his professional and personal life, including growing up with a single mom and without knowing his father. This is an edited transcript:

Q: Can you tell us about your roots?

A: My mom was born in the little town of Seville, Spain, and sailed on the Queen Mary to America in 1963, at age 9, with her two sisters, her mom — my grandmother (who was widowed after her husband was killed in a winery accident) — and my great-grandmother. A Houston oilman vacationed in Spain, fell in love with my grandmother and convinced her to come to America, where they married.

I was raised in Tulsa. My parents split up when I was very young. My mom remarried, had my sister Jeni, and was a single mom, by the time Jeni was 5 and I was 11. She worked very hard at Sheffield Steel by day and, until 11 at night, as a waitress at El Chico. I'd walk my sister home from school; we'd do her homework, then I'd do mine. She'd go to bed at 9 and I'd wait up for mom, count out her tip money and fill out the bank deposit slip for the next day. When I was 13, my mom went back to school at then Tulsa Junior College on Wednesday nights and, 12 years later, graduated first in her class from Northeastern State University with a bachelor's in Spanish education. She teaches Spanish at Sand Springs High School and loves it.

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PERSONALLY SPEAKING

Position: Executive director, Association of Oklahoma General Contractors.

Birth date: July 18, 1971.

Family: Kim (married 10 years; they met at Life Church); daughters Rayna, 19, and Annebella,6.

Education: Oklahoma City University School of Law, juris doctor, 2002; University of Central Oklahoma, bachelor's in political science, 1994.

Civic contributions: Chairman of the board of Epic 101 Charter Schools and funds a UCO scholarship honoring his late teacher Leroy Crozier by donating his salary as an adjunct government professor there.

Favorite pastime: Time spent on the water at Grand Lake; He and Kim have a place on Monkey Island.

On the nightstand: “Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit” by Daniel Quinn.

On the iPod: The Beatles, Citizen Cope and Fun.

Dream dinner party guest list: John F. Kennedy, U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, and Frank Sinatra. He'd serve his favorite food: stone crab flown in from Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab Restaurant in Las Vegas.

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