New Year’s Resolution: Kris Steele, the right hand, and the other hand

In the 12 years I worked with Ed Kelley, now editor at The Oklahoman, I often heard him say: “The Legislature can do, maybe, one big thing every session.”

Whether or not that is exactly right, it’s apt shorthand from a seasoned and observant journalist.

Which brings us to the year ahead, particularly the upcoming session of the Oklahoma state Legislature.

For the first time in state history, Republicans will control every statewide elected position. Governor Mary Fallin will work with both the blessing and the bane of having the House of Representatives and the Senate in the hands of the Grand Old Party.

In the past two weeks, there have been news stories and online commentaries featuring a handful of conservatives claiming that House Speaker-elect Kris Steele is not “true blue” enough. They point to a couple of issues they define as central to conservative governance.  

Steele’s critics have ranged from respectful to decidedly not, including a couple of lawmakers.

Members of any majority caucus in any legislative body will rarely agree on everything. They won’t always see eye-to-eye, and that’s nothing new.

Some rumblings are matters of principle from men like Rep. Mike Reynolds of Oklahoma City. In a couple of cases, however, the legislators complaining the loudest are trying to change the subject
— away from their own problems with the law or with ethics strictures.

Kris Steele is a highly committed conservative Republican who is pro- family, pro-life, pro-gun and pro-God. His voting record proves it and he does not have to prove his bona fides to anyone.

His move to trim staff at the state House created consternation, leading most to miss the fact that in making such cuts now he is leading by example in what will undoubtedly be a contentious new round of state agency budget reductions.

Republicans are really and truly in charge of Oklahoma government for the first time in history, and they do have something to prove: That they can govern.

Of all the themes that dominated this historic election year, the economy and jobs were paramount. Mary Fallin’s campaign could not have been clearer about her focus on “jobs, jobs, jobs” – and voters liked that clarity.

With the possible exception of an envisioned new round of anti- smoking legislation, Steele’s priorities so far — for that matter the same can be said for incoming Senate Pro Tempore Brian Bingman – resonate well with Fallin’s executive “to do” list.  These three seem right in the middle of the mainstream of that “leave me alone” tide that animated the conservative surge of 2010.

Not to slight Governor-elect Fallin or Senator Bingman, in this interim period Steele is most clearly articulating what might be called “one big thing” – right-sizing a government that is entering its third straight fiscal year with a significant gap between revenues and spending projections. Last Thursday (December 2), he empowered a staunch conservative to guide a fresh and vigorous round of scrutiny of government programs and expenditures.

That’s not all. Steele is talking nearly every day about disastrously- out-of-whack government pensions and retirement systems, education reforms across the board, taxes and budgets and Corrections reform.

Each of these concerns include moral components, to be sure, yet what unites them thematically is his focus on the size, scope, efficiency and legitimacy of state government actions past, present and future.

Early in my tenure in Washington, D.C., Ronald Reagan clashed with U.S. Rep. Philip Crane, who had opposed him for the Republican nomination in 1980.

As usual, the amiable former actor with a steely interior defused tension, at least somewhat, with a humorous jab at his friend Crane.  Explaining his comparative moderation one day, Reagan quipped to reporters: “Sometimes the right hand doesn’t know what the far right hand is doing.”

Let peace reign in the House of Oklahoma conservatism. And let Steele be steel.


Note: Tulsa Today’s Capitol Editor,  McGuigan is also editor of CapitolBeatOK (an OKC based online news website) and senior editor at The City Sentinel, a weekly newspaper.