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February 2, 2013

GOP leaders wrangle with growing caucuses

OKLAHOMA CITY — Fueled by tea party enthusiasm and bitter opposition to President Obama, Oklahoma voters in November pushed Republican control of the statehouse to historic levels. Armed now with veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate, Republican leaders will continue pushing that they call a pro-jobs, pro-business agenda while wrangling with increasingly conservative GOP caucuses determined to exert states’ rights and reject federal mandates.

For the legislative session that begins on Monday, Republicans enjoy a 72-29 advantage in the House and a 36-12 majority in the Senate.
New House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, and Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, both downplay any suggestion of a divided caucus, but it’s clear the increased majorities come with a broader spectrum of political ideology.
“My hope is that (Shannon) will rebuke his right-wing, ideological fringe, but I don’t know if he’ll do it. That has yet to be seen,” said House Democratic Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City. “It sounds to me like he is anticipating more fringe-type legislation progressing in the House, and if that happens that should be a concern for all of us.”
Shannon’s predecessor, House Speaker Kris Steele, drew the ire of the right wing of the House Republican caucus when he announced at the start of his term that he intended to focus primarily on improving the state’s economy and business climate and less time on abortion, guns and immigration. That provided a political opportunity for Democrats to join with disgruntled Republicans and derail some of leadership’s proposals.
Shannon placed some from ultra-conservative wing of the party certain committee chairmanships and even created a House Committee on States’ Rights in an effort to keep the GOP members together.
“We’ve worked very hard to make sure there is not a fringe,” Shannon said.

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