Swap of President Obama's portrait causes flap in Oklahoma House

BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Modified: March 12, 2010 at 12:20 pm •  Published: March 12, 2010

The portrait of President Barack Obama that hangs in the House chamber will be secured in its spot, Speaker Chris Benge said Thursday.

The statement came after debate over a health care measure was sidetracked by discussion over the photo’s location.

House Joint Resolution 1054, which would let Oklahomans decide whether to opt out of any proposed federal health care reform plan, overwhelmingly was approved by House members.

During debate on the measure, Rep. Mike Shelton protested that someone had switched the president’s portrait with a picture of Gov. Brad Henry along the back wall of the chamber.

Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, said it was the second time the Democratic president’s picture had been moved.

He said later a House Republican had moved it because the painting appeared in the background as a lawmaker spoke during Internet broadcasts of House sessions.

Benge said later he would handle the matter internally, but that members should not be moving the president’s portrait. As a precaution, both pictures will be secured to the wall.

"The pictures ought to be left alone,” he said. "It speaks to the respect that we ought to have for our executives.”

Benge, R-Tulsa, said he thinks the portrait swap was based on differing views on policy. Reforming the national health care system is a key objective of the president.

Before the health care measure was brought up in the House, Shelton said he noticed Obama’s picture had been moved so he took down a picture of former House Speaker Lance Cargill, which hangs on a wall next to his desk, and put it on the floor. Cargill, a Harrah Republican, stepped down as speaker in 2008 because of tax problems.

"With the situation Lance Cargill left this House of Representatives in with all the questions, I’m concerned about the reflection he has on me when he’s in my (Internet) picture,” Shelton said.

As members voted on the resolution, Rep.



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