BY ARNOLD HAMILTON
Or so it seemed Tuesday on what should have been a warm, fuzzy, Kumbaya-singing organizational day for the Oklahoma House.
Lawton’s T.W. Shannon was formally elected as speaker – the first African-American to lead the House – and Enid’s Mike Jackson as speaker pro tem in straight party-line votes.
Both delivered acceptance speeches that tossed some anti-federal government red meat to the Republican caucus’s Tea Party wolves, but otherwise it was standard stuff: love of God, family, country and all things conservative.
And Shannon, 34, struck a conciliatory – almost bipartisan – chord when he declared he views House Democratic Leader Scott Inman “as a competitor and a friend – not an enemy.”
Once the swearing-ins and speeches were over, the House took up some minor housekeeping business. Except … nothing in the House is minor.
A seemingly routine motion to approve $500 in postage and reimbursement of up to $350 in office expenses for each member devolved quickly into a sharp-tongued debate over the constitutionality of taking such action on organizational day.
As usual, Republican outlier Mike Reynolds led the charge, reading to colleagues from the state Constitution and interpreting it to mean they couldn’t vote to spend the money until Feb. 4 – the first full day of the 2013 session.
“This is a heckuva way to start the 54th Legislature,” said Democrat Richard Morrissette, an attorney who agreed with Reynolds’ assessment.
“This is clearly outside the bounds of what we’re supposed to be doing today.”
What should have taken about an hour took about two hours and 15 minutes. But the House is now organized. Sort of.
In his first hour actually wielding the gavel, Shannon learned that his party’s 72-29 vote domination will be both a blessing and a curse: You have the votes – in theory – to do anything you want and the opposition can’t stop you. But it’s also nearly impossible to herd all 72 of your caucus’s “cats” into the same cage at the same time.
You can bet Shannon’s leadership skills will be tested – earlier rather than later. And not so much by the Democratic opposition, but from within his own caucus.
– Arnold Hamilton is editor of The Oklahoma Observer