OKLAHOMA Republicans who typically oppose affirmative-action programs are nonetheless leading the way to greater diversity in state government.
Gov. Mary Fallin is the state's first female governor. State Rep. T.W. Shannon will soon be the first black speaker of the Oklahoma House. And he just appointed the first woman to serve as House floor leader — state Rep. Pam Peterson of Tulsa.
Peterson is a staunch conservative noted for seeking to reduce and provide alternatives to abortion, but her resume also includes work on Department of Human Services' reform and the battle against human trafficking.
More importantly, Peterson is known for her willingness to take the heat on tough issues. In 2010, she debated against a bill allowing open carry of firearms, warning its unintended consequences could include an increase in privately owned businesses banning firearms on store property. Peterson, a concealed-carry permit holder with an NRA “A” rating, noted this would effectively reduce the ability of citizens to protect themselves.
Although she supported subsequent versions of the gun proposal, the episode demonstrated her willingness to carefully critique issues and take a stand even in the face of heated opposition from interest groups. That's a good quality for a floor leader, who largely determines what bills are heard on the House floor, and it speaks well of Shannon for appointing Peterson.
Citizens may not always agree with Peterson, but they will know where she stands and that she conscientiously weighs policy decisions.
Bridges in a hurry
Coming soon to a location near you, perhaps: bridge repair that doesn't inconvenience motorists for nearly as long as usual. The state Department of Transportation is implementing a rapid bridge-building program on a project-by-project basis. Under this program, all or parts of the new bridge will be constructed not far from the original bridge, then moved over and assembled. First in line is a State Highway 51 bridge that spans Cottonwood Creek west of Mannford. Normally this job would take nine months to complete and traffic would be diverted for the entirety of that. But under the rapid-building program, work will last six months and motorists will be redirected for just 21 days. The rapid-building program is likely to cost more than traditional projects, but our sense is taxpayers will be glad to trade that for added convenience.
Debate has been vigorous regarding the design of a future downtown boulevard, and much more will be said before a decision is made. The boulevard will follow the path of the old Interstate 40 Crosstown Expressway. Should traffic move quickly along the new boulevard, to better help motorists get into and out of the city? Or should it move more slowly, and thus be more friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists? How much will the end product foster retail and residential growth? All these issues and more are being bandied about. The fact that about 400 people turned out this week to voice their concerns to designers — who tweaked an earlier proposal after public feedback — is a sign of just how important the boulevard is to residents. More public meetings are planned in the months ahead. Some folks are sure to be disappointed no matter the final design, but they won't be able to say they weren't included in the process.
Riding the metro
Metropolitan-area clout is increasing in the Legislature, one of the predicted results of redistricting after the 2010 census. But the decline of traditional rural dominance of the state House and Senate was happening already. Incoming House Speaker T.W. Shannon is from Lawton. He's named two Tulsans to key leadership posts. Another top job went to a Norman legislator. The Senate is run by a man from Sapulpa. Recent House speakers have been from Shawnee, Tulsa and Harrah. Prior to that, speakers hailed from such places as Okemah, Frederick and Stillwell. The first speaker, “Alfalfa” Bill Murray, was from Tishomingo. Other early speakers included men from two towns that no longer make the map. Despite declines in rural dominance, the last speaker who actually lived in Oklahoma City was J.D. McCarty. He left office in 1967 and was one of only four men from either Oklahoma City or Tulsa to be speaker.