Chris Wright, News On 6
TULSA, Oklahoma -- Dozens of ultra-conservative Republicans gathered in Bartlesville Monday night to protest their own party for putting the state's struggling economy ahead of other social issues, such as abortion, immigration and gun laws.
The demonstration was prompted by comments made last week by new House Speaker Kris Steele. He said improving the economy would be his top priority this session. Activists want to make sure that social issues like gun control, abortion, and immigration reform receive equal attention.
Steele says legislators can accomplish that.
"I believe we can advance a balanced agenda that will take in and incorporate the ideas that are important to all Oklahomans," he said.
Other lawmakers said they don't mind the added scrutiny.
"I find this very encouraging, said Republican Randy Terrell. "What you're seeing tonight is democracy in action. We all ought to be thrilled and excited by it. These folks are here reminding folks in this building who put them in here."
For the first time in state history, Republicans in Oklahoma will control the House, Senate and the governor's mansion after Oklahoma voters in November ushered in huge gains for the GOP, including all eight Democrat-held statewide seats on the ballot.
"We want to send a strong message that we don't want (the lawmakers) to be puppets on a string," said Charlie Meadows, with the Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee. "The people who put them in office care deeply about these issues."
Monday night, Meadows, dressed as Santa Claus, and other protesters singled out so-called RINOs, or Republicans In Name Only, blaming them for dividing Oklahoma's Republican party. They waved American flags and signs that said, "Hello!?, Did You Learn Nothing On Nov. 2?" and "Listen To Us."
Those who attended Monday night's event said legislators should get used to seeing them, because they aren't going anywhere.
"We're going to be talking to them, writing letters, emailing, visiting and holding them accountable for the decisions they make," said Paul Blair, with Fairview Baptisit Church.
Governor-elect Mary Fallin was scheduled to speak to the Republicans Monday night. The party will begin work on setting its agenda Tuesday.
The Associated Press contributed to this story