A month before he is to be elected House speaker, Kris Steele is facing a major challenge next week with members of the Republican caucus.
Several social conservative members are upset that Steele wants to focus on economic development, and took comments he made last week to mean he would dissuade them from filing bills cracking down on illegal immigration, expanding gun rights or supporting various pro-family issues.
Rep. Mike Christian, R-
Both issues are important to his south Oklahoma City district, Christian said, and his support played a key role in his winning office.
â€œIf it's not part of the agenda, then I don't know that I can support or vote for the speaker,â€ Christian said.
House Republicans are to meet in a closed meeting Monday and Tuesday in Bartlesville to draw up an agenda for the 2011 session, which starts Feb. 7.
Steele is taking a lot of heat from social conservatives for comments he made last week to The Oklahoman that changes in the workers' compensation system and lawsuit reform, along with reforming the state's tax structure, will be key topics during the session.
He said he wanted to keep lawmakers from being distracted from economic development issues.
In the Thanksgiving Day issue, Steele said House Republicans would meet later to set their agenda.
â€œWhat I was trying to communicate was my personal priorities,â€ he said this week. â€œI'm committed to exploring policy initiatives that will make Oklahoma business friendly. I want to work on initiatives and issues that will create a positive business environment in Oklahoma.â€
Steele, who traveled the state this year campaigning for House Republican candidates, said the economy and jobs were on many constituents' minds.
â€œThe things that I heard time and again were jobs, jobs, jobs,â€ Steele said. â€œWe want to make sure that Oklahomans ... have adequate and good and healthy, productive job opportunities.â€
Steele said he also supports social issues.
â€œI have a 100 percent anti-abortion voting record and I believe I have an A rating with the NRA (National Rifle Association),â€ he said. â€œI'm a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment.
â€œWe will continue to promote and champion traditional values for all Oklahomans. These economic issues and the fiscally conservative policies will not come at the expense of social conservative issues,â€ Steele said.
Rep. Randy Terrill, author of House Bill 1804, Oklahoma's anti-immigration law, wasted little time to criticize Steele. He issued a statement Thanksgiving night calling for Steele â€œto clearly, publicly and unequivocally repudiate the comments attributed to him in The Oklahoman and affirm that illegal immigration, Second Amendment rights, and pro-
â€œOtherwise, conservative members of the House Republican caucus should take note that our new leadership intends to
Terrill, R-Moore, said he is disappointed Steele has not responded to his satisfaction.
â€œThe speaker, still to this day, despite given multiple opportunities do so, has not clearly and unequivocally repudiated the comments that appeared in your paper,â€ Terrill said Friday. â€œThis snowball that was put in place on Thursday night clearly has now grown beyond everyone's expectations.â€
Terrill, who is disappointed he was not reappointed chairman of a key budget subcommittee for the next two years by Steele, said it appears to him next week's caucus meeting is a â€œsham.â€
â€œAt this point we have reason to question its authenticity and its genuineness,â€ he said.
A couple of social conservatives said Friday that Republicans, who hold a 70-31 majority in the House of Representatives, should not overreact to Steele's comments. They reaffirmed their support last month for Steele to be the next speaker; the full House of Representatives will meet Jan. 4 to vote officially on a speaker to succeed Chris Benge, who could not seek re-
â€œIt's too early for anyone to determine that they've been cut out,â€ said Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-
â€œI don't see his leadership being chipped away,â€ Reynolds said. â€œI see his leadership being formed by how he stands up to this kind of controversy because I believe he's going to face a lot tougher things than this in the next two years.â€
Rep. Paul Wesselhoft said the criticism of Steele's statements has been a rush to judgment.
â€œIt's all going to be worked out at the Republican caucus,â€ said Wesselhoft, R-