New House Speaker Pushes Conservative Agenda In Oklahoma's Centennial Year

Sunday, February 4th 2007, 3:03 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ He admires former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, reads The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times and listens to the Big Band sounds of yesteryear artists like Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller.

And splashed around the office of the youngest state House speaker in America are reminders of what is paramount in Lance Cargill's personal and political life _ family and faith.

Photographs of Cargill and his wife, Amber, fill bookshelves behind his uncluttered and nearly spotless desk. Fanciful felt pen drawings by their two sons _ Jackson, 5, and Henry, 3 _ are mounted like childhood masterpieces in prominent spots on the walls.

Just as conspicuous is a framed picture titled ``The First Prayer in Congress,'' portraying a chaplain addressing members of the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia in September 1774.

As the second consecutive Republican to serve as Oklahoma House speaker following more than 80 years of Democratic rule, Cargill, 35, has mapped out an agenda for Oklahoma's centennial year centered around his strong feelings about the role of family and faith in Oklahomans' lives.

``Two-thousand-seven is going to be a great year for us as Oklahomans,'' Cargill said. ``It's going to buoy our spirits. There'll be excitement. It will be a great time to look at the success of the past, and some failures.

``But I'm even more excited about the future of Oklahoma. We're a young state. We've accomplished so much.''

Serving his fourth two-year term as a House member from Harrah in eastern Oklahoma County, Cargill was elected speaker following a tumultuous term as Republican floor leader under former Speaker Todd Hiett in which Cargill resigned midway through the 2006 legislative session.

His downfall followed a week of rancorous and exhausting debate on the House floor that frequently lasted until late in the evening and criticism from House Democrats that the GOP majority refused to hear legislation they proposed, including a spending bill to help rural fire departments battle wildfires that swept across the state.

While refusing to publicly explain why he stepped down, Cargill said Republicans are still learning how to lead.

``We had to learn how to be the majority and how to function as the majority,'' he said.

Cargill said he intends to work closely with Democratic Gov. Brad Henry and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate.

``I'm committed first of all to communication. That's not to say we're going to agree on everything, because we're not,'' he said.

But Cargill said he believes Senate President Pro Tem Mike Morgan, D-Stillwater, and House Democratic Leader Danny Morgan of Prague ``have the best interests of the state at heart.''

``We want to work together,'' he said. The alternative is becoming mired in disagreements that lead to deadlock and accomplish nothing.

``That's an unacceptable result for the people of this state,'' he said. ``There's a great saying about government: The principle of compromise is not to compromise a principle. We have to understand that.''

Cargill's political career has prospered as he advocates cutting taxes and reducing the size of government and emphasizes faith-based programs and private volunteers to perform some of the work traditionally done by government agencies.

Cargill raised eyebrows at the state Capitol last year with such public pronouncements as ``a government program can never love a person'' and ``the days in which government could do it all, I think, are over.''

``Government alone is not the solution,'' Cargill said, adding: ``I do not at all want to be viewed as an anti-government guy. Because I'm certainly not. I would not be here if I did.''

``Government plays a very important role in putting the fundamentals in place to build the type of entrepreneurial environment that we're talking about. Government plays a very important role in creating a safe environment for people.''

In the state's past, he said, lawmakers and those they represent placed too much faith in government, believing that ``more spending is a solution to problems.'' Others undervalue public investment in such programs as education and transportation.

``I think there's a solution there in the middle,'' he said. ``We do value government.''

Cargill's political agenda focuses on public safety, improving Oklahomans' health and creating a better business climate.

``The thing that excites me the most is the entrepreneurial part of it,'' he said. ``To me it's creating an Oklahoma with a cultural and economic environment that retains Oklahoma's best and brightest and begins to attract talent from other states.''

The agenda includes a ``top-shelf education system'' as well as a tax structure and a civil justice system that rewards investment and capital, he said.

Cargill, a graduate of Vanderbilt University Law School and Oklahoma State University, where he received an economics and political science degree, was House author last year of Henry's successful school accountability measure, Achieving Classroom Excellence.

The measure raised math and other course requirements for high school students, created math labs to increase student achievement, encouraged high school seniors to take college courses and established rigorous testing programs for middle and high school students.

``I believe in public education,'' Cargill said.

Cargill also supported last year's state income tax cut and advocates eventual elimination of the tax that is the largest source of state revenue.

``The income tax fundamentally punishes work and savings and investment,'' he said. ``Lowering what we believe has been a real inhibitor to economic growth is a key priority for me.''

He said he supports replacing the income tax with a consumption tax that would assess taxes based on a taxpayer's rate of consumption.

``As a state we should make it a long-term goal to try to eliminate that income tax outright,'' Cargill said. ``I think it's a discussion worth having. We have to be prudent about it''