State Rep. Kris
Steele of Shawnee was elected Speaker of the Oklahoma House of
Representatives on Tuesday, January 4. The final vote in early
afternoon fell along party lines, 69-30. One member from each side of
the aisle was missing. The margin
was in keeping with the 70-31 split between Republicans and Democrats
in wake of the unprecedented GOP surge in the November 2 election.
Steele grew emotional at the start of his acceptance speech, telling his
wife Kellie, “my greatest blessing is sharing life at your side.” He
welcomed members of his extended family and what he characterized as his
“church family” from Shawnee’s Wesley United Methodist Church.
After effusive words of praise for his wife and daughters, whom he
called, “my three girls,” Steele delivered a brief address thanking
members of the House for electing him. He promised a multi-issue conservative agenda aimed at tightening the state budget, reforming public sector pension programs, enhancing the state’s pro-business reputation and creating greater educational opportunities for Oklahoma children.
Oklahoma Supreme Court Chief Justice Steven W. Taylor administered the oath of office to Steele. The chief justice took his own oath for the court’s top job on Monday.
The new speaker took the oath with his family at his side, his wife
holding a family Bible open to Proverbs Chapter 3, verses 5-6, which
reads “Trust in the Lord with all our heart, on your own intelligence
rely not; In all your ways be mindful of him, and he will make straight
your paths.” (New American Bible)
In the lead-up to Steele’s formal election, Democratic State Rep. Scott Inman
of Oklahoma City was nominated as speaker by state Rep. Eric Proctor of
Tulsa, with Rep. Chuck Hoskin of Vinita seconding. Proctor’s address
was laced with sometimes biting humor aimed at Rep. Mark McCullough, a Republican from Sapulpa.
Proctor stated his admiration for Leader Inman as a young man who “acts older than Rep. [David] Dank.
He praised Inman for what he called “kindness and openness,” saying the
Democratic leader would be “faithful to God, family and this state.”
Hoskins said the leader of House Democrats will “rise to speak for the
children and working men and women of Oklahoma.”
State Rep. Dan Sullivan of Tulsa moved for the House to recognize the
member who first took their oaths in November were duly elected. After
that the chamber moved to formal consideration of Steele’s election
In nominating Steele, state Rep. Sue Tibbs of Tulsa noted, “I have a few
years on Kris.” Yet, she said, “I have learned a great from him by
observing his life and career over the last 10 years.” She detailed his
work on increasing “access and quality of health care,” including better
access to prescription medicines for senior citizens, lower costs and
improved safety for Oklahomans in long-term care, and expanded health
savings accounts for government employees.
Tibbs praised Steele’s stewardship of the Kelsey Briggs-Smith Act, which
led to his induction into the Child Advocacy Institute Hall of Fame.
Drawing a Scriptural analogy, Rep. Tibbs referenced the difference
between “wheat and chaff” and said she believes Steele “falls into the
‘wheat’ category.” She said when she met Steele and learned he was a
minister, she believed “sometimes he was Baptist, then Methodist. And
between you and me, I think he acts a little Pentecostal, as well.” She
want on to praise her friend as a man with “a true servant’s heart.”
She praised Steele’s character and determination, noting a childhood
accident “left Kris paralyzed in much of his body, and he was not
expected to walk or perform the normal life functions we all take for
granted. Kris would not accept defeat, even as a child. He was
determined – he was disciplined – and he refused to quit until he
overcame all odds to gain full use of his limbs and be able to function
The seconding speech for the incoming Speaker came from state Rep.
Charles Ortega of Altus. He remembered that when they met in 2008 he
came to believe Steele was “just a plain guy with a hard working ethic
and a passion for the people he served.” He praised his friend as a man
of “integrity, character and stature.”
Ortega continued, asserting his belief, “Kris Steele is driven by
compassion for his fellow man. Some people would confuse compassion for
weakness. But compassion is merely having the ability to put others
before yourself and having the strength and courage to keep it that
way.” He affirmed Steele’s advocacy of constitutional governance, and
the new Speaker’s belief that “government should be transparent and
Ortega predicted, “Budget conditions will force us to make some very
difficult decisions, and we must have a leader that will guide us
through this challenging time.” Ortega asserted an election such as this
“is as serious as it gets.”
After his election, Steele was accompanied from his place on the floor
the few feet to the well of the House by state Reps. Ann Coody of
Lawton, Charles Key of Oklahoma City, Jadine Nollan of Sand Spring,
Leslie Osborn of Tuttle and Marty Quinn of Claremore.
The session formally electing House leadership had begun with prayers of
Pastor Larry Sparks, a Shawnee minister. Petitioning “Almighty God,”
Rev. Sparks asked, “More than finances, give us faith.” He continued,
“More than riches, give us righteousness.” He asked “the one and only
true God,” to “anoint each of these politicians.” The preacher called
for “unity in political diversity.” He begged God to “remind them that
they are servants, and not celebrities.”