It is not often in your travels that you get to witness an historic event. But I was lucky enough to be in Oklahoma this week when the 2009 legislative session started and it is the first time in the history of that state that the Republicans have a majority in the state senate as well as the house. Considering the political environment of the 2008 elections, this is no small feat.
Meeting the key players who made this happen like Senate President Glenn Coffee it is pretty easy to see why. He is a very smart and yet humble person with a laser focus on improving Oklahoma. From an education perspective, when I congratulated him on this victory, he gave me a firm handshake, looked me in the eye and said – “we will pass education reforms”.
This sentiment was echoed by Senate Education Chair John Ford and Vice Chair Clark Jolley. The Oklahoma House is no less enthusiastic with new Education Chair Ann Coody and Vice Chair Sally Kern. They are ready to get things done and, more importantly, ready to work with the Senate to make it happen. Speaker Chris Benge has made education one of his top priorities. I know that the first day people are always optimistic, but on this day the excitement was over the top.
No less important are Democratic Senator Judy Eason McIntire and Democratic Representative Jabar Shumate who are tired of the old solutions and want to fix Oklahoma schools now. Senator McIntire is in her final two years before hitting her term limits and told me she has been patient for too long. They keep telling her to wait and the schools will get better but she refuses saying “we cannot lose another generation of students”. She does not want to leave the senate until every child in Oklahoma has the chance for a great education. She is determined and not up for reelection – a formidable combination.
Being there for the opening ceremonies and seeing the excitement and determination to create a world class education system in Oklahoma was incredible. Education change doesn’t happen here in DC, it takes dedicated leaders in the states to create that change – so keep an eye on Oklahoma.