First lady ready to step up to plate

Thursday, March 29th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma first lady Cathy Keating says she's ``leaning strongly'' toward running for Congress, but that she's no Hillary Clinton.

``About the only thing we have in common is that we're both female,'' Mrs. Keating said Wednesday.

In an interview with The Associated Press, the 50-year-old wife of two-term Gov. Frank Keating discussed her political philosophy, the issues important to her and why she thinks she would make a good member of Congress.

``I'm a conservative with compassion,'' she said. ``I'm a strong conservative and I don't think I'm much different from most Oklahomans.''

Although she is a city girl, growing up in Tulsa, she said she likes to fish and hunt and would be a staunch defender of ``our Second Amendment right'' to bear arms.

``I've been a tomboy all my life,'' she said. ``I've been a fisherman probably since I was 5. I climbed trees and went tadpoling and grew them into frogs. I loved all those things.''

Her comments came after she entered the state Republican Party headquarters wearing her trademark red blazer, stopping first to pick up a paper cup and other litter.

The term, ``Hillary Two,'' has been bandied about the Capitol since Mrs. Keating disclosed she may run in Tulsa's 1st Congressional District if incumbent Steve Largent seeks the governorship in 2002.

A year ago, Mrs. Clinton started a successful race for the Senate as her husband's second term as president was winding down.

Mrs. Keating is considering a congressional race as her husband's second four-year term as governor passes the midway point.

``It's a legitimate question,'' but there's no comparison between her and the wife of Bill Clinton, Oklahoma's first lady said.

``I'm a Republican. She's a Democrat. I'm a conservative. She's a liberal. If I were to run, it would be to represent my home town of Tulsa and my home state of Oklahoma.

``I would carry to Congress the values of the people I've grown up with and know the best. Certainly that's a big difference.''

Mrs. Keating said that as first lady the past six years, she has learned that ``helping people is what makes me tick.''

She had always been a volunteer on many civic and social projects during her husband's long career in public life that included stints as a legislator, federal prosecutor and federal administrator.

``As first lady, I've traveled the state and learned the needs of Oklahomans first hand,'' she said. ``The issues that are important to me are the issues that are important to every Oklahoman.

``I'm pro-life. I'm pro-education. I'm for leaving as much money as we can in people's pockets.''

She said she believes tax cuts can be made ``without ever compromising the commitments we've made to the elderly, the children, to those who can't take care of themselves.''

She also called for a strong financial commitment to national defense. ``We're not talking about that now, but it's important for Oklahoma to be strong.''

Mrs. Keating said she began thinking about running only a few weeks ago at the suggestion of a friend. The idea has grown, especially after a poll showed her as a strong candidate.

The first lady received a degree in education at the University of Oklahoma, but chose to start a family over a teaching career.

She has had business interests through the years, but said she always considered her relationship with her husband and children ``as the most important thing in my life.''

``A lot of things have happened the past few years to put a different spin on things. First of all, my three children are leaving the nest,'' she said.

Looking toward the future, she said a door had opened to her in the form of a race for Congress. ``Now the decision is do you open the door, or do you close it and look for another door to open?

``There's no better time in American than now to step up to the plate and make a difference,'' she said. ``I'm leaning strongly toward running.''

Mrs. Keating said her husband ``is wonderful'' and the best governor in state history. But she said she is a different person.

``He's a forceful communicator,'' she said. ``I can be as tough as the next person, but my approach is a little different. I kind of go at it with a tough-love aspect.''

She denied she has any strong desire to return to Washington, where the Keatings live 7 1/2 years when Keating worked for the Reagan and Bush administrations.

``Oklahoma's home. Tulsa's home,'' she said, adding she would ``live in Tulsa, not Washington.''

Mrs. Keating said she's aware of what she is getting into if she runs, bemoaning how mean-spirited politics has become.

``It's painful. It hurts,'' she said of political attacks on her family.

``While I would prefer not to enter the arena to fight, I won't back down if it is a cause I believe in,'' she said.