By Rep. Mike Sanders
After nine years as a representative – four of those spent as the chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation – I’ve had plenty of opportunity to interact with Gary Ridley.
First, I knew him as Oklahoman’s transportation secretary, then as a mentor and finally as a personal friend. I’ve worked with him plenty of times on projects to improve the roads and bridges in my district and throughout the state.
Secretary Ridley is the perfect example of a public servant, a statesman and a leader. He quickly grasps a problem and goes about working the solution – always with an eye for what will be in the best interest of the state overall, not just his department. He’s more than willing to listen respectfully to others, no matter whom they are, and accept input. At the same time, he’s always moving forward. Plus, he doesn’t care who gets the credit, only that the state gets served.
It is through his leadership that the state’s 8-year roads and bridges plan has remained on track even while various Legislatures have continually tried to raid transportation funding. It is also under his leadership that the state’s more than 3,000 structurally deficient bridges have been repaired along with constant work to improve the state’s network of rural roads.
Yet, Secretary Ridley is a team player. He has never put personal gain ahead of the needs of the state. He has always been willing to give up funding for other agencies, such as education, healthcare or public safety, but only as long as those decisions didn’t completely stall transportation. Transportation, after all is really the backbone of economic development, which in turn helps fund all of the services residents value in a state.
In the years since I first met Secretary Ridley, I became a huge admirer of his dedication to his beloved state and his example to others of how to be a true leader. When his retirement was announced in early June, I took it with a heavy heart. I know Transportation Director Mike Patterson will make an excellent secretary, carrying on the legacy of statesmanship that Secretary Ridley leaves, but Secretary Ridley will be greatly missed. In his more than 48 years at the Department of Transportation, he always put the future of Oklahoma at the forefront. We would all be so much better served if all public leaders followed his example.
As always, I’d love to hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or (405) 557-7407.