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.
"We're going to have to work real hard and hopefully start sooner on the budget," he said. "A lot of things tend to happen at the end of session a lot of times that we're not real proud of or excited what comes out. That's what happens when you let time get away from you."
Senate Republicans will hold a 32-16 edge in the Senate next year after picking up six seats in Tuesday's elections.
House Republicans will have a 70-31 advantage when the first session of the 53rd Legislature begins Feb. 7.
Among the eight seats they picked up in Tuesday's elections were five Democratic House members who had sought
"I am intentional about using the gifts and talents of each and every members," Steele said. "What I want to do is try to foster an environment that will allow us to work together."
Steele said he would like to get more House members involved in the budget process. In recent years only the speaker, president pro tem and budget committee chairman are involved in budget talks with the governor.
He said he also wants to change the conference committee process in the House in an effort to make the procedure more open to the public.
He said he plans to put in place a rule that will require a House conference committee report to be posted online for a full day before it can be considered on the House floor.
Currently, House rules require House conference committee reports to be posted on the calendar at least 24 hours for review, but that rule is waived in the last two days of session. As a result, votes are made on changes House members aren't aware of.
Steele said he also wants conference committee reports posted online to contain a link to previous versions of the bill so changes can be more easily spotted.