By Patrick B. McGuigan
State Rep. John Wright, a Broken Arrow Republican, will leave the Legislature early next year, having completed the 12-year legislative limit. He is running for the GOP’s nomination for lieutenant governor.
In an interview with CapitolBeatOK, Wright reflected on the difficulties of these past few months in the Legislature: “If you have the opportunity to serve long enough, you’ll see some difficult years. You learn a lot from that, and you learn about the different tools, the fixes, the methods for moving funds around, refinancing through bonds and so forth.
“We are fortunate to have an Oklahoma constitutional provision that limits us to spending 95% of the money that is actually collected in revenues. That allows some margin of safety, and it is a great restraint on us in a year like this.”
Rep. Wright is chairman of the Administrative Rules and Agency Oversight Committee, and serves on the Human Services budget subcommittee. He is also House Republican Caucus Chairman, and narrates recent experiences this way: “I serve on the Human Services budget subcommittee. The fact that so much of our DHS money is tied in with a federal match makes it difficult to make cuts that we perhaps have to make to make the budget correct. One of the things I’ve learned is that every legislative proposal, every existing program, ‘belongs’ to someone.”
In the Legislature, he has found the work gratifying: “Contributing to public policy has been very rewarding, and the actions of building up good public policy, to sustain or make it better. It’s surprising the kinds of things you encounter. Once there was an issue where I was the only dissenting vote, and later the governor (Brad Henry) actually agreed with me on it, and he vetoed that bill. I have only had one vote but I have tried to exercise it wisely.”
Wright says, “I often reference the trip to Russia I took several years ago, and what I learned on it. By talking with young people there I learned they had many of the same dreams and hopes as our young people. Their governing structure, however, was the primary difference between them and us. We have had ways to advance good ideas and to support liberty. They had not had that opportunity.
“My experiences have been rewarding, and I have found that my conservative voting score and philosophy, which I’ve retained, still lead me to support the free market, personal responsibility, and the fruits of liberty.”
On the frustrating side of his experiences, Wright said, “That’s actually a little harder to answer. I’ve been on both sides of the legislative process. If you think of the Legislature as a ‘dollar bill’, each of us when we come have one penny – and actually there are 101 pennies. It’s natural to get frustrated, discouraged even, when you can see what’s needed, what would work best in a situation, but you have a frustrating time in getting them, your colleagues, to understand. …
“The most frustrating thing might be that just as I feel I’ve become truly effective it is time for me to leave and I’ll have to pass the baton. … It takes awhile to become effective here in the Capitol. I must say that I think the states that put in six-year limits went too short in the terms. In Oklahoma, at 12 years, it might be just about right.”
Turning to his new campaign, which some consider a long-shot effort to gain the nomination over state Senate Majority Leader Todd Lamb of Edmond, Wright observes, “Despite the limits on my time I have been in about one-third of the counties for speeches and Republican events. I have spoken often to Republican women’s groups and to some of the Tea Party events. I have encountered a good reception as I present ideas and make myself available to answer questions.
“The way I look at it, the job of state representative is one that requires the equivalent of 1,000 job interviews. The job I am seeking, lieutenant governor, is one
Where you multiply that by at least 100 times. That’s just the encounters in speeches and so forth, it’s much higher for the number of voters I am seeking. I have a history of service, some pretty well-known conservative goals, and a known and generally understood point of view.
“I expect and understand this process is part of how our system should work. I must say that you gain such unique insight about what’s worked and what has not worked. It has been rewarding to have a positive impact on lives, on individuals. That impact is not always in passing a law with your name on it, it’s sometimes in the back and forth of discussion. You learn that even someone you disagree with deserves some benefit of the doubt. If you work and are attentive, you have an ability to impact someone else’s understanding. It’s very rewarding, truthfully.”
Turning specifically to the state’s #2 job, he comments, “The lieutenant governor’s office is unique in many ways. You must be prepared to become governor if that becomes necessary. But I look at it as a very good and useful job in and of itself.
“A lieutenant governor speaks almost on a daily basis to groups of Oklahomans. I believe an important part of the job, perhaps the main responsibility, is to inspire and motivate Oklahomans. Your job is to advance the state, to improve the economy, so that Oklahomans can pursue their own dreams and objectives.
“I am one of those who don’t believe the best way to pursue that objective is through a lot of government action. One issue that I think bears this out is the area of economic development (ED), as defined through government action to encourage economic development.
“I have not always been successful in predicting, in advance, what ED programs would work. In those programs that have been successful in priming the pump there is still a key philosophical issue about whether or not it is appropriate to do anything that puts government officeholders or mechanisms of government in the position of picking winners and losers in the economy. There is a danger some people in business will begin to seek success in he business of ‘working’ NE 23rd and Lincoln, rather than working in the free market.”
CapitolBeatOK asked, “Why you and not the other Republican?” He thought for a moment and commented this way: “That is a great question. There is just the two of us. Senator Lamb has a great record of public service. However, politically I’m recognized as the more conservative of the two.
“Some of that might be indicated in our education. I don’t emanate from the law. Rather my background has been in marketing. In that sense I’m actually, perfectly situated for this job. My marketing experience is, I believe, a good fit with the expectations and duties of this job. I’ve traveled throughout the state and already know the state, from Guymon to Idabel. I don’t have to, and won’t have to, spend time getting to know the state. … I’ve demonstrated my sincerity in the service I’ve given. Right now I’m approaching 800 legislative days of service, total.”
Some of his views are traditional: “Tourism is an important job for our lieutenant governors in Oklahoma. George Nigh did an excellent job in this area and I would frankly expect to follow that model.
“I would encourage people to pursue higher education, for personal and professional development. I would focus on encouraging individuals to pursue their own dreams, to make their lives better for their own reasons.
“I often use the example of work done on the Capitol Building dome. That framework and plan was there, but no one had finished the job until we finished it a few years ago. That’s how it might be viewed, as well, in terms of the hopes and dreams of individuals. The framework is there but the structure has to be built and fashioned.
“The transportation infrastructure is another area where our lieutenant governor can have an impact. Where a lieutenant governor puts his or her attention and interest means a lot. Work to improve the infrastructure on which Oklahoma competes is a worthy endeavor.
“The fourth area is important to me, and that is I believe the lieutenant governor can have a positive and important role in recognizing, honoring, esteeming and upholding what traditional marriage means to the state. I’ve offered legislation in this area, to defense the traditional family unit, and expect that would remain an important part of my work as lieutenant governor.”
Rep. Wright concluded, “I don’t to intend to go out and diminish or denigrate Sen. Lamb in the campaign for the lieutenant governor’s office. We bring something different to the table in this race. If he should not prevail, I know he will continue to serve well. In fact, I would say he would be better position to influence state politics in the right direction if he would stay right here where he is in the Senate.”
The winner in the joust between Rep. Wright and Sen. Lamb will likely face Senator Kenneth Corn of Poteau, a Democrat, in the November election.