LEGISLATORS honor Bellmon with early birthday party

Saturday, May 19th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Former Gov. Henry Bellmon doesn't turn 80 until Sept. 21, but Oklahoma legislators decided to give him an early birthday party since they won't be in session then.

Lawmakers honored Bellmon Thursday with a resolution commemorating his service to the state and nation for more than a half-century. The resolution cited his service as a Marine in World War II and his award of the Silver Star.

It also recognized his election in 1962 as the state's first Republican governor, his later election to a second term and his two terms in the U.S. Senate.

State Sen. Gene Stipe, D-McAlester, who has served in the Legislature longer than any Oklahoman, said Bellmon has been contributing to this state in one way or another for decades.

``That's the kind of guy he is,'' Stipe said. ``He's always looking out for Oklahoma.''

Bellmon got a big laugh when he told lawmakers why ``legislators are like professional wrestlers.''

``They're overweight white guys pretending to hurt each other,'' he said.

Bellmon, who has Parkinson's disease, has remained active since leaving the Governor's Office for the last time in 1991 and sometimes lobbies on pet projects.

He said he has been working this session on a project with Sen. Ted Fisher, D-Sapulpa, chairman of the Senate Economic Development Committee, but is having trouble getting funding.

``Maybe that's what I should talk on,'' he said. ``We might still get that funding.''

Bellmon's congressional tenure was, at times, marked by controversy. He risked the wrath of conservatives by opposing an anti-busing amendment during a tense period of school integration. He also supported the Panama Canal Treaty, which guaranteed Panama's eventual control of the canal.

Bellmon has been called ``the father of the modern Republican Party in Oklahoma,'' but had good relations with Democratic legislators, particularly late in his second gubernatorial term.

Democrats worked with Bellmon to pass a major education tax and funding bill against GOP opposition.

``On balance, I think the people of Oklahoma have been very well-served by their Legislature,'' Bellmon said.