Lance Cargill stepped down today as speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, saying news accounts about his personal issues were overshadowing the important work ahead for legislators.
"For several weeks, our policies heading into the session have been buried in the newspapers, while personal stories have remained on the front pages," the Republican leader said at a news conference. "I take full responsibility for that, and hope that a new speaker can shift the focus back to the future of this great state."
He quit as speaker after coming under widespread criticism for failures in the handling of his personal taxes. He will remain in the Legislature as a state representative.
"One of the responsibilities of a leader is putting the needs of the whole before the needs of my own," Cargill said. "For the future I will, with more inspiration than ever, fervently pursue my ideas from a chair at the back of the chamber. I remain confident that we can still make 2008 a year of solutions."
Taking over the powerful position on an interim basis will be state Rep. Gus Blackwell, R-Goodwell.
GOP representatives will meet at 8:30 a.m. Monday to begin the process of selecting the new speaker, Rep. Randy Terrill said.
The full House will likely vote on who will be the speaker that afternoon, possibly right after Gov. Henry's State of the State speech.
Cargill, a Harrah attorney, was first elected to the House in 2000 and served as House speaker for almost 13 months. His colleagues re-elected him for the post in October.
At 36, he was the nation's youngest House speaker.
His departure comes a week before the Legislature begins its 2008 session
Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat, said he doesn't think Cargill's stepping down will be disruptive to this year's legislative session.
"From my perspective, our administration is willing to work with whoever is in a leadership role in the House and Senate," the governor said. "It really doesn't matter to me. We have our goals, legislative leaders have their goals. What we all have to do is sit down and work towards those goals and develop a consensus."
Democrat House Minority Leader Danny Morgan released a statement on behalf of House Democrats. "There are good men and women who serve in the Oklahoma House of Representatives," he said.
Statement from Lance Cargill