Largent's congressional departure may be slowed

Saturday, September 29th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Citing the terrorist attacks, U.S. Rep. Steve Largent says he may not be able to resign as planned to begin his campaign for governor this year if the Legislature does not act on his request for an early special election to replace him.

Democratic legislative leaders have expressed no interest in accommodating Largent, who renewed his request on Thursday.

``It's not been a part of our discussions,'' Rep. Danny Hilliard, D-Sulphur, House majority leader, said Friday as he prepared the agenda for the resumption of a special session on Oct. 2.

Gov. Frank Keating has added a special election in the 1st Congressional District to his special session call, but House Speaker Larry Adair, D-Stilwell, said earlier this month he has no plans to move the legislation.

Adair said legislators ``have more pressing matters to deal with.''

Oklahoma Democratic Party chairman Jay Parmley criticized Largent for planning to end his term early, saying Largent never informed voters when he was running for re-election that he might leave early to seek another political position.

``Steve Largent led the people of the 1st District to believe that he was going to be their full-time representative, not a part-time political opportunist who jumped ship when he got a better offer,'' Parmley said.

Largent said he hopes to resign on Nov. 29 or at the end of the current session, whichever comes later.

But he said he would have to reconsider if his successor had not been chosen at a time when Congress could be called into session to deal with an emergency.

``If they are flying a lot of airplanes into buildings between now and then and we've got ground forces in Afghanistan _ the worst imaginable scenario _ I have always said I have to do what is in the best interest of the 1st Congressional District, Oklahoma and the country,'' Largent said.

Under Oklahoma law, a special election to fill a congressional seat can only be called by the governor after an incumbent resigns.

Mark Nichols, manager of Largent's gubernatorial campaign, said he had been informed that the election process takes 100 to 120 days and if Largent resigned on Nov. 29, the general election to replace him could not happen until late February or early March of next year.

Congressional leaders expect to finish this session's business in the coming weeks. But a recess is being considered, meaning members could come back at the call of the chair.

State Rep. John Sullivan and Sen. Scott Pruitt, both Tulsa Republicans, first lady Cathy Keating and Democratic candidate Doug Dodd are running to succeed Largent.

Nichols said lawmakers changed the law in 1994 to allow for an early special election date to choose the successor to then-Sen. David Boren, who was resigning to become president of the University of Oklahoma.

Largent suggested that the change be made permanent so it wouldn't be an issue every time a member of Congress wants to step down early.