Oklahoma Supreme Court Chief Justice John Reif administered the oath of office to all 101 newly elected House members during a ceremony at the state Capitol Wednesday morning.
The state's lower chamber includes 32 new state Representatives, including seven new Democrats. The new members of the minority caucus include a former assistant to the mayor of Tulsa and a former schoolteacher.
State Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa, said his biggest priority is education, but he’s also concerned about economic development and state tax policy.
“The fact that we are faced with a budget shortfall of perhaps $600 million or more, at the same time another income-tax cut is looming, is not only ignorant, it is putting the most vulnerable Oklahomans, students, seniors and working families, at risk,” Nichols said in a statement. ““At this point, the only thing our budget shows is that we've put a priority on remaining 49th in everything. That's not what Oklahoma is really about.”
Nichols has been both a top aid to the mayor of Tulsa and the president of OU-Tulsa, and has worked as the chief operating officer of the education initiative Impact Tulsa.
State Rep. Mickey Dollens, D-Oklahoma City, lost his job as a school teacher earlier this year due to budget cuts. He said that reinforced his decision to run for office, and he also wants to improve mental health services and nursing home care.
House Democrats lost six seats in the general election, meaning they’re now outnumbered by Republicans 75-26 in the chamber. But the party did pick up two seats in the Oklahoma City metro. There are also now four members of the House’s Black Caucus.
Schulz-Era Starts In the Senate
On the other side of the building a few hours later, half of Oklahoma's state Senators took the oath of office as well.
The full chamber also reaffirmed a vote from April naming state Sen. Mike Schulz, R-Tulsa, president pro tem-nominee. The GOP holds a record 42 seats in the chamber, with just six Democrats.
During a press conference Wednesday, Schulz drew on the experience of former Senators who served before Republicans took control of the Senate for the first time in 2008.
"It was always the members of the class of 2004, and 2000, and people that actually served in the minority. They're always the first to rise and say 'We've got to protect the minority voice.',” Schulz said. “And I think it is imperative that we protect the minority's voice in this process. They have a key role to play in the process, and I think it's incumbent upon the majority to make sure that voice is heard."
Schulz also pointed out that 25 percent of the Senators are new members, making 2016 one of the largest freshman classes in the Senate’s history, eCapitol’s Shawn Ashley reports:
He called the new members, all of whom are Republicans, an "outstanding group of people. Very mature. Great backgrounds. Great experience, great life experience. Great expertise coming in. I am very excited not only to have them as a member of the Republican Caucus but as members of the Oklahoma State Senate. They bring a lot of wisdom into this body."
Schulz also announced two key leadership positions. State Sen. Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, will serve as the Floor Leader, and state Sen. Kim David, R-Porter, will serve as the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“Despite our recent and persistent budget challenges, there are real opportunities for innovative reforms to fund core functions of government that ensure Oklahomans get the best return on their tax dollars,” David said in a statement.
She's the first woman to ever hold that position, and takes over the key budget process role from former state Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, who was term-limited and could not run for reelection.