Oklahoma's representation still carries clout in Congress

Jan 4, 2009

POLITICAL clout in Washington, D.C., is much on the minds of members of Oklahoma's congressional delegation heading into the new year and a new Congress.

As detailed in a recent article by The Oklahoman's Chris Casteel, six of the seven members — the Republicans — are deeper in the minority than they've ever been because of Democratic gains in November, raising some concern about how effective those members will be.

It's especially problematic for the four GOP members of the House, where procedural rules are steeply slanted in favor of the majority. Even in the Senate, where rules give considerable power to individuals, Oklahoma's two Republican senators will have to pick their spots.

By one estimate, Oklahoma's congressional “power ranking” is just 45th among the states, reflecting the GOP dominance in the state's House contingent.

Republicans Mary Fallin of Oklahoma City, Tom Cole of Moore, Frank Lucas of Cheyenne and John Sullivan of Tulsa will rely on key committee assignments to maximize their impact — although Lucas told Casteel he and the other Republicans will have to work harder because of the GOP's reduced strength.

The delegation's lone Democrat, Rep. Dan Boren of Muskogee, is in an unusual spot because he's more conservative than the House's leaders. That means bucking Speaker Nancy Pelosi at times, usually with other “Blue Dog” conservative Democrats.

Boren said that while seniority is important, overall effectiveness comes from cultivated relationships with members of both parties, which he expects his state colleagues will ably use. “Even though we're a super Republican majority,” he said in a meeting last week with our editorial board, “you go through the list, and there's not one person that is just going to be kind of out in the cold.”

In the Senate, Tom Coburn and Jim Inhofe will exercise blocking rights — rules permit even one senator to halt specific legislation — and they will work with the GOP minority to limit the agenda of the chamber's more liberal members.

Certainly, we expect Inhofe will continue to check economically dangerous government mandates on global warming, and that Coburn will continue to hawk wasteful spending.

Yet, we think Boren is right in that a legislator's ability to get things done depends on an individual being able to work with colleagues. A good example is Coburn's partnership with Barack Obama, when the president-elect was a senator, to bring greater transparency to federal spending.

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