Electing the House Speaker

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

I wish you all a healthy and blessed 2011. The Oklahoma House of Representatives kicked off the new year this week with the swearing in of the new House leadership. Speaker of the House Kris Steele and Speaker Pro Tempore Jeff Hickman both spoke on the need to fix the state’s unfunded pension liability of $16 billion, to increase transparency and bipartisanship through new procedural rules, and to overhaul the state workers’ compensation system.

I cannot yet predict how the procedural rules will change, but I do know that both the state pension system and workers’ compensation system are in need of large-scale reforms. According to official actuarial reports, the Oklahoma Retirement System has a combined unfunded liability of over $16 billion. Pension reform is critical to ensure we meet our current obligations and that our future obligations are manageable. The current workers’ compensation system is stock full of problems that create hardships for both workers and private businesses.

The unfunded liability of the pension system threatens to take tax dollars away from core government services. With our current revenue shortfall, this is unacceptable. The current workers’ compensation system hurts our state economically while underserving the workers that are supposed to benefit from it. I believe that we will enact meaningful reform to fix both of these broken systems this session.

I would like to congratulate the Okeene State Guaranty Bank on serving the community for 111 years. The bank began as a frame building as the Bank of Okeene on January 1, 1900, with a first day’s business of $4,798. The bank remains locally-owned and managed by the Durham and Graalman families.

As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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Speaker-elect Announces House Leadership Appointments

Contact: House Media
Capitol: (405) 557-7421

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma House Speaker Kris Steele today announced key leadership appointments for the 2011 and 2012 legislative sessions.

“Given the significant challenges facing our state, it is critical the Legislature focus on conservative, pro-growth policies that will move Oklahoma forward,” said Steele, R-Shawnee. “I believe that we have chosen a team of effective leaders who will ensure the upcoming legislative session is conducted professionally and efficiently to maximize our accomplishments.”

The leadership appointments for the Oklahoma House of Representatives are as follows:

Assistant Majority Floor Leaders:
Mike Jackson, R-Enid
Gary Banz, R-Midwest city
Dennis Johnson, R-Duncan
Lisa Billy, R-Purcell
George Faught, R-Muskogee
Leslie Osborn, R-Tuttle

Assistant Majority Whips:
Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher
Steve Martin, R-Bartlesville
Randy McDaniel, R-Edmond
Marian Cooksey, R-Edmond
Fred Jordan, R-Jenks
Dennis Casey, R-Morrison
Corey Holland, R-Marlow
Paul Wesselhoft, R-Moore
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Sanders Receives Committee Assignments

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma House Speaker-elect Kris Steele has appointed state Rep. Mike Sanders as a member of two committees and one appropriations subcommittee for the 2011 and 2012 legislative sessions. Sanders was named vice chair of the House Human Services Committee and Assistant Majority Whip in late November.

Sanders said he was especially pleased to serve on the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Public Safety.

“Public safety is near and dear to my heart,” Sanders, R-Kingfisher, said. “I think that there are lawmakers that would prioritize other areas of the budget over public safety and it will be my job to ensure our rural firefighters and members of law enforcement get the support they need to keep our communities safe.”

Sanders said he will continue to keep the farmers’ and ranchers’ best interest in mind while serving on the House Agriculture, Wildlife and Environment Committee.

“This committee will examine legislation that affects rural communities,” Sanders said. “I am honored to serve on it.”

Sanders said the House Energy and Utility Regulation Committee will be important to boost the natural gas and domestic oil industry in the state.

“I plan to look for ways to promote natural gas and domestic oil,” Sanders said. “These resources are a cornerstone of the state’s economy.”
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Merry Christmas, Western Oklahoma

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

“It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags! And he puzzled three hours, ‘till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas ... perhaps ... means a little bit more.”

Christmas has a rich and diverse history, but at its heart is the sharing of bread, communion. That’s why there is a Christmas meal and a Christmas service. It is a day on which we celebrate Jesus Christ, who has shown us the way to live as families and as communities.

The Christmas tree, gift-giving, mistletoe, and all sorts of symbols and traditions are associated with the holiday. These are all parts of Christmas as well, but we should never lose sight of the real meaning. How The Grinch Stole Christmas does a great job of pointing it out.

So, this Christmas, I will focus on my family. My son, Davis, is almost 2 and is starting to figure out what the Christmas tree is and who Santa Claus is (although he was pretty scared the first time he met the big guy). Davis, my wife, Nellie, and I will spend time with our families.

I would be remiss if I forgot to thank our military men and women who fight for us in distant lands and who may miss out on coming home for the holidays. I would also like to thank our farmers and ranchers for the food they provide, members of law enforcement and firefighters for the protection they provide, and our teachers for the job they do in the classroom.

So, if you’re feeling like a Grinch this holiday, with all the presents to buy and a possibly overwhelming number of relatives to see, remember, without those relatives, you’re life would be far less rich. I wish everyone a joyous Christmas and a wonderful New Year. As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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Inappropriate Raises

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

With everyone tightening their belts this holiday season and so many public employees concerned about agency budget cuts, I was disheartened to see how some outgoing statewide officials chose to spend taxpayer dollars. It seems that the attorney general, state auditor, and superintendent of public instruction decided to give high-level members of their staff raises this fiscal year on top of raises in fiscal year 2010. Both the attorney general and superintendent of public instruction decided not to run for re-election and will not have to answer to voters for their actions.

Attorney General Drew Edmondson gave four staff members’ raises in fiscal year 2011 after they received significant raises (ranging from 10 to 43 percent) in fiscal year 2010. State Auditor Sean Burrage handed out eight raises this fiscal year, including one to an individual who had received a 23 percent raise in fiscal year 2010. Most disappointing of all were raises in the Oklahoma Department of Education. Though too numerous to list here, I would give as an example the individual who received a 56.8 percent raise in fiscal year 2010 followed by a second raise this fiscal year.

In contrast, a few statewide officials showed some restraint. Labor Commissioner Lloyd Fields passed out only three raises this fiscal year and the highest raise given in fiscal year 2010 was 6.67 percent. Treasurer Scott Meacham did not give raises this fiscal year.

It is an abuse of the system when politicians who are leaving office irresponsibility give out large raises just before terming out in January. This is a waste of your tax dollars. I'm a big believer in rewarding people for hard work, but large raises on top of raises in tight budget years are clearly inappropriate.

Lastly, I would like to congratulate two area high schools for representing our district with pride and honor at the state championship for their respective classes. Congratulations to Hennessey High School Coach Shannon Watford, his staff, and his players, as they captured their first-ever state championship in Class 2A. Fantastic job, Eagles! Congratulations are also in order to Coach Jeff Myers, his staff, and the Kingfisher Yellowjackets, for being state runner-up in Class 3A. It was an incredible game that came down to the wire. I’m very proud of both teams.

As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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New Hats for the 2011 Session

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

Legislation is a team sport and my role on the team is changing this year. House Speaker Kris Steele has appointed me Vice-Chairman of the House Human Services Committee. I also won the acclamation of the members of caucus, who selected me to be Assistant Majority Whip. I am honored and humbled by both appointments and look forward to the challenges of my expanded role.

The House Human Services Committee addresses bills that affect children, families, vulnerable adults, and seniors. The committee has focused on Department of Human Services’ reforms in recent years. Over the years, DHS has dropped the ball when it comes to the most vulnerable members of our communities – foster children, the senior nutrition program, daycare facilities, and vulnerable adults. The agency is too bureaucratic and the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing much of the time. State Rep. Pam Peterson is the committee’s chairwoman. I look forward to working closely with her to implement new reforms. Governor-elect Mary Fallin will be selecting a new director and I look forward to helping that individual get a fresh start at correctly and efficiently managing the agency.

As Assistant Majority Whip, I will be responsible for the flow of information between House leaders and the membership. It will be my duty to get an accurate head count of support on major bills and talk to individual members about their concerns. It is also important though that I make sure that information flows upstream to the House Speaker and leadership. Its critical now more than ever since we now have 70 Republicans in the House. I have already served in a leadership position and am proud to once again bring a rural voice to the table.

I intend to use my expanded role to continue to push an economic development agenda and protect oil, gas, and wind energy industries. One of the most important pieces of that agenda is workers’ compensation reforms. I also plan to ensure that rural firefighters continue to get the support they need from the Legislature and that education dollars are spent in the classroom. Lastly, I want to continue to make state government more accountable.

As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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Emergency Management Conference Held at Capitol

Contact: State Rep. Joe Dorman
Capitol: (405) 557-7305

OKLAHOMA CITY – Four lawmakers and local, state and federal emergency management responders and officials took part in an emergency management conference in the House Chamber today.

State Rep. Joe Dorman said the point of the conference was to ensure a coordinated response to natural disasters.

“Here in Oklahoma we always have a natural disaster just around the corner,” Dorman, D-Rush Springs, said. “The conference brings the federal , state, and local components of emergency response together in the same room to ensure that they get to know one another and can coordinator their efforts when the next ice storm or tornado or wildfire hits.”
State Rep. Mike Sanders said that efficiency is achieved with the coordination of federal, state, and local responders.

“Government is at its best when the right hand knows what the left hand is doing,” Sanders, R-Kingfisher, said. “Firefighters are already a band of brothers, so it only makes sense that their efforts across the state would be coordinated.”

State Reps. Gus Blackwell and Eric Proctor also attended the meeting.

“I think this conference was an opportunity to narrow response times and improve recovery efforts,” Blackwell, R-Goodwell, said. “Ultimately, that means greater safety and less hardship for those Oklahomans affected by natural disasters.”

“This was a great way to build on the state and local responses to natural disasters,” Proctor, D-Tulsa, said. “I look forward to taking part in this event annually.”

Presentations included an update on the new Incident Management Teams, county Incident Support Teams and local incident management; an overview on local incident command and leadership training; FEMA funding tips and background; and a rundown of several incidents that have occurred in Oklahoma.

Speakers included Mustang Fire Chief Carl Hickman and City of Moore Finance Director Jim Corbett; David Barnes, the Oklahoma County emergency management director and president of the Oklahoma Emergency Management Association; Albert Ashwood, director of the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management; Kerry Pettingill, director of the Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security; and Jon Hansen, the executive director of the Oklahoma Council on Firefighter Training.
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Sanders to Serve as Vice Chair of Human Services Committee

Contact: State Rep. Mike Sanders
Capitol: (405) 557-7407

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma House Speaker-elect Kris Steele has appointed state Rep. Mike Sanders as vice-chairman of the House Human Services Committee for the 2011 and 2012 legislative sessions.

“I am honored by this appointment, which expands my role in Department of Human Services reforms,” Sanders, R-Kingfisher, said. “The committee oversees bills that affect children, families, vulnerable adults and senior citizens.”
The committee chairs will be active in advancing legislation arising from the House Republican caucus agenda while also dealing with the thousands of other bills filed each year.

“Given the significant challenges we face as a state, it is important to appropriately utilize the talents and skills of all 101 members of this chamber,” said Steele, R-Shawnee. “I am confident that we have assembled a team of experienced leaders to serve as committee chairs who will develop and advance conservative, pro-growth policies that move Oklahoma forward.”

Sanders will serve alongside the committee’s chairwoman, state Rep. Pam Peterson (R-Tulsa).

“It is an honor to serve with Representative Peterson,” Sanders said. “I look forward to working with her on improving the adoption and foster care processes in the state as well as scrutinizing the rules and regulations regarding daycare providers.”
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Offering Thanks

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

As a state representative, I thought it would be appropriate to begin this column by offering my gratitude this year for the many individuals who trust me with their concerns and their problems. I am honored to serve the constituents of my district.

Thanksgiving is a time to appreciate the many blessings in your life. Family is one of the most sacred gifts we all enjoy, and so we spend this holiday with our loved ones. I am blessed to have such a supporting and loving wife as Nellie and am grateful for our son, Davis.

I am grateful for our troops and the military nurses and doctors who help get them back home to their families. These individuals sacrifice their own time with loved ones to help stabilize, among many places, the Middle East, an important step in reducing terrorism activity worldwide. I am thankful to our veterans, who along with our active-duty men and women have provided the protection under which we all live. Locally, our firefighters and law enforcement also protect us, and I am grateful to them.

I am thankful to live in country where “We the People” have the right to set the course of our government. We should never forget that we are blessed to live in a nation that is the envy of the world, and that we are blessed to live in a land where each voice (and vote) counts.

I am thankful for my neighbors, the local families who make western Oklahoma the best place to live anywhere in the world (at least in my opinion).

Most of all, during this time of year, I hope we will all remember local families in need, whether that means donating to a local food kitchen or simply checking in on a local widow to make sure she’s doing well.

I hope you enjoy our many blessings this Thanksgiving. As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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The Heroes Among Us

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

How many times a day do we use the phrase “thank you.” I’m sure most of us say “thank you” dozens of times each day. We say “thank you” when a store clerk hands us change. We thank our friends when they pay us compliments or do us a favor. But how do you thank someone who is willing to give up everything so that we may continue to enjoy our lives and live in freedom?

For hundreds of years, young men and women have volunteered to defend our nation during times of war and peace. Our military servicemen and women who served in the defense of this nation are the truest heroes America has ever known. Our nation is richer because of the dedication of these great Americans. They came from every corner of society. Yet they served all Americans with the same passion, dedication and courage.

When you ask men and women to give up everything to protect the rest of us, the words “thank you” seem pretty insufficient.

Today, we remember those courageous Americans who have given their lives so that others could live in freedom. We also honor all the service men and women who serve our military today, protecting our freedoms and our liberty from oppressors and terrorists. These men and women took an oath to defend America, and they uphold that oath with bravery, decency and valor.

Veterans Day honors all those soldiers who have served on active, Reserve or Guard duty. It honors those who have served during times of peace, as well as times of war. This day salutes those who served two years and those who have served for their entire careers.

Veterans Day honors those who have served in all the services ─ soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsman. It celebrates those who joined voluntarily and those who were drafted. It honors those who served in the front lines, the supply lines and guarding the shores back home.

This day is vitally important, because, even a small amount of recognition can go a long way with a veteran. My best wishes to you all for a meaningful and memorable Veterans Day. God Bless America.

As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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