Creating a More Open Government

By Rep. Mike Sanders

On Jan. 3, the Oklahoma House of Representatives seated its 56th Legislature during what is formally called Organizational Day.

The Oklahoma State Constitution mandates this as a day for the House to convene and certify all elected members and then finalize the election of the House Speaker and Speaker Pro-Tempore.

Speaker Charles McCall, a Republican from Atoka, was formally sworn in to lead the House for the next two years. It was a great privilege to be among those chosen to lead him to what is called “the well” of the House, a podium, where he took his oath of office. It was another honor to be able to make the first motion to let the official House Record reflect McCall as the new speaker.

After serving the last four years with McCall, I have developed a great respect for his soft-spoken and respectful leadership style all while doggedly pursuing conservative principles that promise to move our state toward prosperity and family centered principles. McCall is a man of impeccable character and a true servant leader. I am humbled to serve as part of his leadership team this year.

The House also formally elected Rep. Harold Wright, R-Weatherford, as speaker pro tempore. Wright is another fine leader who has served the House well during his tenure and who I know will continue to show tenacity towards a strong conservative agenda.

This year, I am serving as majority leader for the House. In this all-inclusive role, I will be helping to guide policy, steer the House agenda and will be heavily involved in crafting the initiatives of the Oklahoma House Republican Caucus. I also will be communicating major pieces of legislation proposed by House leadership to the public. Among those mentioned by Speaker McCall on Organizational Day are plans to raise teacher salaries and continued corrections reforms.

I also plan to be heavily involved in the budget process this year. That started this week. The House asked five state agencies that represent about 80 percent of state appropriations to come to the House for a series of public hearings. The hearings are designed to give citizens and lawmakers – particularly the 32 newly elected members – a chance to see how agencies spend taxpayer dollars and how they develop public programs. This process will help lawmakers prioritize spending in a year when we face another budget deficit. I look forward to attending these hearings.

On a final note, the bipartisan House Rules Committee has been tasked with investigating the wrongful termination settlement agreement paid to a former House employee under former House leadership.The committee has been granted “special authority” to investigate the settlement, the allegations that led to the settlement and the House process for dealing with allegations of sexual harassment. In addition, the committee will review the authority of the House to use operational funds to settle claims and will also review all prior sexual harassment allegations against current House members.

Speaker McCall promised that all findings by the committee will be made public, and the House will take any available actions against lawmakers warranted by the investigation.

Unfortunately, sexual misconduct is something that occurs everywhere. It happens in our schools and workplaces. But, it must not be tolerated. Speaker McCall has assured us that the House of Representatives will be a safe and professional place to work, free from discrimination and harassment. I’m confident this will be the case. In fact, you have my solemn vow on that.

I would like again to wish everyone a New Year. Blessings to you and your families.

As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or (405) 557-7407.

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