November 17, 2016
By Rick Green
Members of the Oklahoma Senate and House of Representatives took their oath of office on Wednesday, promising to uphold the Constitution and not take any illegal compensation.
Then they spent hours publicly introducing spouses, children, parents and others. Many prefaced their remarks by thanking God for the honor of being allowed to serve in the Legislature.
In some cases, the young children of lawmakers were allowed to say a few words or tell a joke like this one from Maguire Biggs, 6, daughter of Rep. Scott Biggs, R-Chickasha:
"What did the cookie say to the doctor?
"I feel crummy."
Some legislators were still familiarizing themselves with the public address system.
"Is this thing on? Is this on?" Rep.-elect Tess Teague asked after being introduced.
Teague, R-Choctaw, is one of 32 new members in the 101-person House. There are 13 new lawmakers in the 48-person Senate. The Republican Party dominates both chambers.
House Speaker-elect Charles A. McCall, R-Atoka, issued a statement noting the House "is the legislative body closest to the people."
"Now the hard work of governing begins," he said. "I am looking forward to working with members from both sides of the aisle to find common ground on the challenges facing our state so that our next 109 years will see Oklahoma as a competitive, prosperous place to live, work and raise a family."
Teacher pay raise
Senate President Pro Tem-nominee Mike Schulz, R-Altus, said there will be an attempt to raise public school teacher pay in the coming legislative session.
Oklahoma voters defeated State Question 779, which would have raised the state sales tax by one penny per dollar to fund increased education spending, including $5,000 teacher raises.
"First and foremost on a lot of people's minds is teacher pay," Schulz said. "The defeat of 779 — I do not believe — was pointed at teachers. I think it was more about Oklahomans feeling that was not quite the right way to do a pay raise.
"I do anticipate a lot of discussion continuing in our chamber, continuing in the House and in the governor's office on how we address this issue. I feel fairly positive we will discuss it and address it this session."
Rep.-elect Forrest Bennett, D-Oklahoma City, also views education as a priority.
"Me and everyone else and their dog are going to be working on education, hopefully, and trying to find the right kind of solution for the teacher shortage and the funding crisis."
In addition to lawmakers, lobbyists, family and friends, members of a nonpartisan group calling itself Let's Fix This were also present.
"This is turnout like we've never seen on a swearing-in ceremony and I think that really speaks to the fact that the public really wants to be involved from the very beginning," said Andy Moore, executive director of the organization.
"Usually the public waits until late in session when the bad news has already started coming out and I think we would like to avoid some of the bad news and get in and interact with some of our lawmakers and say this is what is important and we want to be a part of the solution."
Gov. Mary Fallin observed that swearing-in day and Statehood Day coincided this year:
"On this 109th anniversary of Oklahoma's statehood, let us commit ourselves to focus on moving our state forward, keeping in mind our shared pioneer culture and a history that stretches back even further than statehood, beginning with the Native Americans who originally settled the Oklahoma Territory."