Sunday, November 7, 2010

Working with House Speaker Chris Benge

Last week the House of Representatives’ Republican caucus met for the first time since the recent election to elect new officers and prepare for the upcoming legislative session. The 70 person caucus contains members from every part of Oklahoma, including districts which have never before elected Republican representatives.

Since the next Legislature will take office next week, a number of the colleagues with whom I have worked in the past few years will be leaving the Legislature, including House Speaker Chris Benge who is term limited.

I have enjoyed the opportunity to work with Speaker Benge. I have found him to be one of the most honorable legislators. He was not one of the legislators who would play the political games which all too many politicians play. He treated legislators with respect. If he told us that he would support our idea then that is what he would do. If he opposed your idea then he was strong enough to accept responsibility for opposing it. I observed that he was not one of the politicians who would pass the buck by making it appear as if he were for your issue while secretly having it killed.

Benge placed a high priority on fiscal responsibility issues. His desire to guard the taxpayer dollar meant that he was extremely supportive of ideas for cutting government spending. He maintained that support even when our ideas came under heavy attack from those seeking to maintain the status-quo.

Benge’s support was extremely vital at the end of the 2009 legislative session when members of the opposition party launched a very aggressive attack against our effort to save millions of taxpayer dollars through streamlining the State’s IT infrastructure. Under Benge’s leadership the House passed the measure. The savings from this proposal are now set to come online at a time when state policy leaders will be required to cut millions of dollars of state spending.

I enjoy the opportunity to watch governance systems and learn from the mistakes and successes of policy leaders. I very much benefited from observing the system Benge used to develop and implement policy. Using the infrastructure put in place by previous House Speaker Lance Cargill, Benge utilized the talents of a team of energetic and intelligent policy professionals to maintain a communication pipeline with legislators, issue stakeholders, state officials and the office of the Speaker. This provided an efficient method for the dissemination of the enormous amounts of information that must be processed for the development and advancement of policy. It would have been easy for Benge to tear down his predecessor's infrastructure but instead he took advantage of it and used it in what I believe to be an effective manner.

One of Benge’s best long-term legacies will result from his courageous decision to allow the video broadcast of House proceedings. Because these feeds are archived, indexed and linkable they will greatly enable the citizens of Oklahoma to examine legislative actions for many years to come.

I developed the most respect for Speaker Benge in those times that I opposed his policies. It can be considered a risky event for a representative to vote against his own party’s Speaker’s legislation. However, I did this several times and was on more than one occasion one of just a very few representatives to do so. However, I never experienced retaliation for these votes and was never pressured to change my vote.

I am honored to have been able to work under the leadership of Speaker Benge and appreciate being able to learn from his example.

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