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Oklahoma's legislative leaders pledge to work with Democrats

A record number of Republicans will be serving next year in the Senate and the House of Representatives.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Published: November 7, 2010

A record number of Republicans will occupy both chambers of the Legislature next year but they shouldn't drown out the concerns of the minority party, the expected leaders of both the Senate and the House of Representatives say.

Speaker-elect Kris Steele and Sen. Brian Bingman, expected to be selected this week as the designated president pro tem, both vowed to work with Democrats in a bipartisan manner.

"I served my first four years in the minority," said Steele, R-Shawnee. "I believe the rules exist to protect the minority, and I think it's very important that as our majority grows that we not lose sight of that."

Steele said he believes voters expressed confidence in Republicans and now it's up to lawmakers to respond.

"That's a vote of confidence that we should not take lightly or irreverently," he said.

House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, and Senate President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, could not seek re-election because of legislative term limits.

For the first time in state history, voters last week elected Republicans to fill all eight statewide positions on the ballot; legislators in traditionally Democratic districts in southeastern and southern Oklahoma were defeated as the GOP made record gains in the House of Representatives and Senate.

The full House of Representatives and Senate will meet Jan. 4 to officially vote on speaker and president pro tem.

Democrats controlled the Legislature for decades until 2004, when Republicans took control of the chamber for only the second time in state history. Republicans gained control of the Senate for the first time in history two years ago.

With last week's election of Republican Mary Fallin as governor, next year will mark the first time the governor and a majority of both chambers are Republican.

"We've got two years to perform," Bingman said. "If we don't, then the voters will revisit the people that they've elected."

Bingman, R-Sapulpa, who has enough votes to be elected president pro tem when Republican senators hold a caucus meeting Tuesday, said a significant budget shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year and trying to shore up the state's underfunded pension plans are difficult challenges.

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