Governor Mary Fallin held a late afternoon session with state Capitol reporters today (Tuesday, January 11), just 29 hours into her historic tenure as the state’s first female governor, and shortly before a convicted murderer’s hour of execution, an event she said would “occur tonight as scheduled.”
Fallin said she had spent her first full day in office studying budget information, continuing consideration of candidates for state budget/finance director, and, at noon hour, addressing a group of freshmen state legislators. It was 20 years ago this month, in 1991, that she was “in the same boat,” new to the legislative process and governance after election to the state House.
Fallin did not give the working news media any surprising revelations, but repeated a determination to put workers comp and lawsuit reforms at the top of her agenda, as part of the determined push for a more business-friendly environment in Oklahoma.
She hinted that details of the budget and other matters might not be forthcoming before her State of the State speech on Monday, February 7. She also said the new state revenue report bore encouraging news for budget planning.
Fallin met with her personal staff throughout the day, and with both Speaker Kris Steele and Senate President Brian Bingman.
Fallin revealed her daughter Christina would no longer work as a lobbyist, but concentrate on her senior year at the University of Oklahoma. The governor said, “As a mother, that was my decision, but she agreed and understood.”
Fallin defended her selection of Glenn Coffee as secretary of state. She asserted legal precedents were clear that the former Senate President Pro Temp could assume the post – paid for with non-appropriated funds – in keeping with a formal attorney general’s opinion.
Responding to questions about the hiring of three former legislators by Insurance Commissioner John Doak, Fallin said she was not familiar with the details of the situation and, in any case, “he is independently elected by the people.” Asked if she intended to seek new bans on state employment for former legislators, Fallin said she would discuss the matter but it was “not one of our core agenda items.”
One reporter pointed to reports circulating today that the closing section of her inaugural address was similar to stories printed elsewhere. She responded that the story concerning a survivor of the Pearl Harbor attack was “inspiring” — one she had heard many times and felt was appropriate to share.
Near the end of the half-hour session, Fallin told the group of journalists she intended to give the go-ahead at 6 p.m for the long-delayed execution of Jeffrey David Matthews, who had already exhausted his supply of “stays” in sentencing.
In her inaugural address on Monday, Gov. Fallin promised she would pursue conservative public policies. She pledged to fashion a pro-jobs and pro-growth agenda, devoting the bulk of her speech to steps she plans to take the state economy to a new level.
She focused much of her energy and language on jobs. Fallin said, “Our nation is slowly emerging from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Our state has fared better than most during these difficult economic times primarily because of the strength of our energy and agriculture industries. But, we have been impacted and too many Oklahomans are either unemployed or underemployed. That’s why my administration will focus on policies that create jobs, that build a better and more productive business climate and that get Oklahomans back to work. It is crystal clear in my mind from my experience as a public official, we do not need more government, what we need is better government – and more efficient and effective government services.”
Fallin returned to the theme later, saying, “in Oklahoma what we need are more jobs, not more taxes – let me add – more private sector jobs. We must make certain Oklahoma’s business climate can attract new capital, new investments, which produce new jobs and retain existing jobs. And while we want new companies to locate in Oklahoma, we also want Oklahoma companies to grow. For them to do that, we must make improvements in our regulatory environment, tort reform and our workers compensation system, so that employers can create more jobs rather than dealing with red tape and government bureaucracy.”
Fallin aligned herself, at least in part, with critics of some business incentives and tax credit programs, saying, “plenty has been spoken and written about incentives. Here is the bottom line: tax incentives that produce jobs … stay; Incentives that do not produce jobs … go.”
When she turned to budget and spending challenges for the coming legislative session, Fallin reflected, “Our state is now confronting yet another challenging budget year. But with that challenge comes the opportunity to seriously examine how we conduct the people’s business. It is time to ask the probing questions, the ‘why’ questions – why have we done it like this for years and why can’t we consider a different approach – a new approach – a modern approach. And, yes, we must be courageous and willing to move forward each time we find a better way, a better solution for the benefit of the people of Oklahoma. We will undertake new methods and we will constantly strive to improve what we do and how we do it. And let there be no misunderstanding – we will act, because the status quo is unacceptable. My administration will be focused on creating jobs and growing our state economy, not our state government.”
Fallin’s comments on education policy were arguably the most strongly delivered words in her inaugural comments. She directly linked her education agenda to the economic growth theme, saying: “If we are going to lay the foundation for long term prosperity and job growth, we must not overlook the importance of education. We must do better in Oklahoma. Too many children are dropping out of school. Too many students are ill-prepared for college. Too much money is spent on administration and not enough money is spent on educating our students.”
Gesturing toward Janet Barresi, the new state schools superintendent, Fallin said, “As your Governor, I will work hand in hand with the our new State Superintendent of Public Instruction and the newSecretary of Education to examine our current system and determine – with the insights of parents, administrators, teachers and students – what can be done to seriously and legitimately address the shortcomings in our public education system and, in many school systems, reverse years of decline.”
She concluded the focus on education by saying: “We have pockets of excellence in education across our state – in K-12, CareerTech and higher education. But what we need is a canvass of excellence throughout all of Oklahoma. We cannot fall short in creating that canvas or reforming education, because the price is too high. That is why in my administration, mediocrity will never be acceptable. The measuring bar is moving … and it is moving up.”
To achieve these goals, the new governor, the first woman to hold the state’s chief executive post, said she looked forward to working with legislative leaders, all of them men:
“As your Governor, I can assure you I will work with the leaders in the Senate and House to pursue common sense policies and programs capable of delivering greater efficiency and higher value to our citizens.”
Her prepared text included references to Senate President Pro Temp Brian Bingman and House Speaker Kris Steele. In her remarks as delivered she retained those comments and included the minority (Democratic) leaders, Sen. Andrew Rice of Oklahoma City and Rep. Scott Inman of Del City.
Addressing the legislators directly, she said wants their help “to put forward a pro-jobs, pro-growth agenda and build squarely on my vision of a vibrant business climate – a climate of enterprise where ideas flourish, new companies are created, existing companies are expanding and businesses from around the globe are locating to Oklahoma because this is where they can succeed.”
Fallin covered other issues in the most widely-covered speech of her two-decade career in public office, including affirmations of her love for Oklahoma, restatement of the honor she accords to the U.S. military and its personnel, and extension of a warm farewell to her predecessor.
She expressed “appreciation on behalf of the people of Oklahoma to Brad and Kim Henry for their eight years of dedicated service to our state. Governor and First Lady, please accept our thanks for your service.”