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State House looks to move forward

By Randy Ellis and Michael McNutt Modified: January 29, 2008 at 6:23 am •  Published: January 29, 2008
State representatives are faced with finding a new leader in a hurry next week after House Speaker Lance Cargill stepped down under pressure Monday.

The 2008 legislative session begins Monday.

Republicans control the House but no GOP legislators there said publicly Monday they will seek the powerful position. Gov. Brad Henry said he can work with whoever takes over.

"It really doesn't matter to me,” the Democratic governor said.

Cargill, R-Harrah, quit after being widely criticized for mishandling his personal taxes. He said front-page news accounts of his personal issues were overshadowing the important work ahead.

The Oklahoman reported this month that Cargill failed to file his 2005 and 2006 personal income tax returns until getting a warning from the state Tax Commission. The Oklahoman also reported Cargill, an attorney, was late in paying property taxes on his Harrah law office six years in a row.

"It is unfortunate that it had to come to this, but Speaker Cargill brought his troubles on himself,” said Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City. "The people of Oklahoma have a right to expect exemplary conduct of those they send to the state Capitol, and he failed that basic test. Oklahomans should know that his resignation came after considerable pressure from members of his own party.”

Republicans plan to meet at 8:30 a.m. Monday to begin the process of selecting a new speaker. The full House likely will elect the new speaker that afternoon, possibly right after the governor's State of the State speech.

Cargill, 36, was first elected to the House in 2000 and has been speaker only about 13 months. He will remain a representative. At the time of his election to the leadership post, he was the nation's youngest House speaker.

"I want nothing more than for good ideas to be moved forward in this building,” Cargill said at the Capitol in announcing his resignation.

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Rep. Gus Blackwell
Looking for leadership in the House
Taking over on an interim basis is Rep. Gus Blackwell, R-Goodwell.

Blackwell said Monday he is unsure if he will pursue the position.

"I don't know if anyone knows for sure if they're running or who's running,” Blackwell said.

Other possible contenders are Rep. John Wright, R-Broken Arrow, who challenged Cargill for the speaker's post in a closed meeting in October, and Rep. Susan Winchester, R-Chickasha, who sought the post in 2006 but withdrew her name from consideration.

Cargill was set to serve as speaker through 2010. House Republicans in October elected him speaker-designate for 2009 and 2010.

Rep. Greg Piatt, House majority floor leader, said Cargill's resignation won't throw the House majority into disarray.

"There's a great deal of empathy toward the speaker and his family,” said Piatt, R-Ardmore. "That's where our focus is personally. You've got a pit in your stomach for him — what he's going through ... and how difficult that was for him.”

House Democratic leader Danny Morgan of Prague said his thoughts are with Cargill and his family.

"There are good men and women who serve in the Oklahoma House of Representatives,” Morgan said. "We look forward to working together with them to restore integrity to the House and pass legislation that is important to all Oklahomans.”

Some Democrats were less conciliatory.

"If the Republican speaker stepped aside because of unethical or illegal campaign activities, then there is obviously a dark cloud over the Republican caucus,” said Rep. Mike Brown, D-Tahlequah. "We must ensure that the integrity of the House is restored by guaranteeing that ongoing investigations not be hampered in any way. Full and adequate funding for ethics reform is a priority. The corruption at the state Capitol needs to stop right here and right now.”

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