Lieutenant Governor A 'Blank Slate' For Promoting State Businesses

Sunday, September 2nd 2007, 7:13 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma's lieutenant governor says serving as the state's second highest executive officer during Oklahoma's centennial year provides ``a fantastic opportunity'' to promote the state.

``We have enjoyed accepting applications and participating in events and ceremonies across the state as Oklahomans celebrate their heritage and Oklahoma's 100 years (as a state),'' Lt. Gov. Jari Askins said.

While attending those events, she makes it a point to visit nearby state parks, museums and other state attractions. As lieutenant governor, Askins serves as chairman of the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Commission as well as several other boards and commissions.

Askins plans to attend the Sept. 28 opening of the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival at the Epcot Center in Florida. Oklahoma is the first state to be invited by the Walt Disney World Resort to showcase its cuisine and heritage.

Company chief executive officers from around the world regularly visit the festival, which runs through Nov. 11. State officials are trying to arrange meetings with corporate leaders.

``We want to be able to promote and encourage them to expand if they're already in Oklahoma or come to Oklahoma if they don't have a presence here yet,'' said Askins, who has been appointed the state's small-business advocate by Gov. Brad Henry. ``We want them to do more than sell their products here, we want them to make their products here.''

She's contemplating the appointment of a children's cabinet to look into issues affecting youth, a pledge she made during her campaign.

Last week, two panels appointed by legislators to look into juveniles and gangs met for the first time in a joint meeting.

Askins has been in the office for nine months after winning the position following a hotly contested and expensive campaign in which she loaned her campaign $880,000.

Keith Gaddie, a University of Oklahoma political science professor, said Askins still may be trying to determine what she will be doing as lieutenant governor .

``The lieutenant governor's office in Oklahoma is a really neat office because it's a blank slate,'' Gaddie said.

For example, George Nigh, elected lieutenant governor in 1958, 1966, 1970 and 1974, was active in developing tourism and recreation for the state, as well as being an advocate for veterans.

Mary Fallin, who served from 1995 to 2007, focused on working with the business community and helping the aviation industry, such as inviting business leaders to an annual turkey hunt and hosting a yearly aerospace summit.

``For the current lieutenant governor, now that's she gotten used to the office she has her opportunity to find what she's going to make of it,'' Gaddie said.

Askins also serves as president of the Senate, which is evenly split between 24 Democrats and 24 Republicans. A Democrat, she would cast any deciding vote in the event of a 24-24 tie.

During last year's election, several candidates talked about the lieutenant governor having to be called several times to break tie votes. Askins was among the few who thought senators would work out their differences and she rarely would be called to the Senate.

Turns out she was right, though she said she spent ``quite a bit of time'' on the fourth floor, poised to come in to preside in the event of deadlock.

She didn't break one tie during this year's legislative session. The closest she came was in March during a proposal to raise Oklahoma's minimum wage. Senate Democrats and Republicans made an agreement that ended in the proposal's defeat.

She said the power-sharing agreement reached by Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Morgan, D-Stillwater, and co-President Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, will continue to hold next year.