Fallin encouraged to take on ``good ol' boys''

Sunday, March 4th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin is getting a flood of telephone calls from all sorts of people challenging her to take on ``the good ol' boys'' and run for governor.

``I've had four pages of calls the last two weeks from people urging me to jump into the race,'' Fallin said in an interview late last week.

The Republican official said many callers are upset by news reports of U.S. Rep. Steve Largent's perceived pre-emptive strike in the 2002 governor's race during a series of Capitol meetings with GOP legislators and Gov. Frank Keating.

Keating's failure to mention Fallin as among the GOP hopefuls to be his successor, while praising Largent, helped trigger the spate of telephone calls to Fallin's office.

``Don't let the good ol' boys push you out'' and ``go get 'em, girl'' were among the remarks of the callers, Fallin said.

But she isn't willing to make the case that she is being discriminated against by the power elite of the GOP or that a ``glass ceiling'' exists within the Republican hierarchy.

``I don't think that is the case,'' Falling said of whether being a woman is an obstacle that can't be overcome in a GOP race for governor.

It goes without saying that Fallin, at 46, is facing a major career decision.

If she gets into the race and Largent also runs, she will be facing a well-to-do former pro football star who has a cleaner-than-soap image. Largent is an ally of religious conservatives, a powerful force in Oklahoma politics and has a strong base in Tulsa.

Fallin, since her divorce in 1998, is a single mother with two children who is in her 11th year in political office. She served four years in the state House before seeking her state job.

Largent, whose pass receiving records as a member of the Seattle Seahawks landed him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, easily won a fourth term in November but has said he will not run again for Congress. He indicates he will decide soon on the governor's race.

Fallin said she will make a decision in ``about two months.''

Saying she is not scared of Largent, Fallin said she will benefit from two statewide races and contacts she has made as lieutenant governor, including business interests who have praised her for fighting for workers' compensation reform.

``I'm getting a lot of pressure to hurry up and make a decision,'' she said. ``I'll make up my own mind and chart my own course. I won't be pressured in or out.''

She said she had about $150,000 left over from her last political campaign, recently raised about $55,000 in a couple of weeks and has a major fund-raiser scheduled later this month.

``I have always been willing to take a risk'' in politics, Fallin said.

She said her next political move will be based ``first of all on what's best for my family'' and secondly on where she can best serve the state.

She said she has been taking risks ever since she ran for the state House while pregnant with her second child, Price Fallin, who was born 30 days after the primary. Price is now 10; Fallin also has a daughter, Christina, who is almost 14.

``Some people raised questions then about how effective I would be as a freshman legislator with two young children,'' she recalled.

In four years in the House, she said she passed 16 bills and was honored as legislator of the year for her efforts in health care reform.

``As one of three Republican women in the 101-member House, that's a pretty good track record,'' she said.

She said she loves her job as lieutenant governor and also loved being a legislator.

In her first race, Fallin noted, her GOP opponent was represented by Tom Cole, the political consulting guru who recently returned to Oklahoma from Washington, where he was chief of staff for the Republican National Committee.

There has been speculation that Cole will wind up representing Largent, although Cole's consulting company also represented Fallin in the past.

Cole isn't saying, but says that if Largent and Cole both run they will be the strongest two candidates in a GOP gubernatorial primary that he can remember.

In 1994, Fallin defeated a prominent Democrat to become not only the first woman lieutenant governor but the first Republican to hold that post. She was re-elected with 68 percent of the vote.

Fallin has been on a political roller coaster the past year.

During the 2000 legislative session, she was hailed as ``our hero'' by Keating and other Republicans for leading a GOP political fight to force a right-to-work vote in the Democrat-controlled state Senate.

Twice last year, she appeared in line to become governor when Keating was under consideration first for President Bush's running mate and then as his attorney general.

If Fallin had stepped into the top spot, she would have become the favorite role in the GOP governor's race.

Former state Rep. Laura Boyd of Norman was the Democrats' standard bearer in the 1998 governor's contest, while Republicans have never nominated a woman for chief executive.

But Steve Edwards, state Republican chairman, said the idea that a glass ceiling exists within the GOP is ``absolutely silly.''

Edwards said the party will stay out of the primary and argued that GOP donors look at ideology and not gender.

He said the GOP, and not Democrats, is taking the lead in promoting women to in Oklahoma politics. He points out that Fallin is one of three GOP women who are state elected officials. The others are Corporation Commissioner Denise Bode and Labor Commissioner Brenda Reneau Wynn.