OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma House of Representatives on Monday elected 40-year-old state Rep. Jeff Hickman of Fairview as the next speaker of the House, one of the most powerful positions in state government.
The House voted 69-29 along party lines Monday to select Hickman over Democratic Leader Scott Inman of Del City. Hickman was sworn in with his wife, Jana, and young son at his side.
"I stand before you incredibly humbled, maybe a bit overwhelmed at the task ahead, but I want to say thank you," Hickman said.
Well-liked and approachable, Hickman has a reputation as a consensus-builder and frequently presides over the 101-member House.
Hickman said he wants to keep taxes low and state regulations to a minimum. He cited funding for education and infrastructure, prison overcrowding and the unfunded liability of the state's pension systems as some of the more pressing problems facing the state.
"We know we have budget challenges ahead, but I hope you also see the possibilities we have before us," Hickman said. "We face a year that will require creative solutions. We need all 101 members of the House on deck."
The Republican caucus met behind closed doors earlier in the day and cast secret ballots to select Hickman over Rep. Mike Jackson of Enid. The results of that election were not released.
Hickman said he considers Jackson a friend and that he expects a smooth transition to the speaker's post.
"Rep. Jackson and I didn't run against each other," Hickman said. "We both were running for speaker.
"He remains the speaker pro tem of the House, duly elected, and I've asked him to help me move forward. We've kind of had the state on hold waiting to make this decision, and we now need to get to work."
Jackson said after the vote that there were no hard feelings, and that he believed House Republicans would come together behind Hickman.
"I expect at the end of the day we'll be able to get all of our priorities done," Jackson said.
Gov. Mary Fallin issued a statement praising Hickman as a "dedicated leader."
"I look forward to working with him in his new role as we continue to pursue commonsense conservative policies that will help create jobs and eliminate government waste," Fallin said.
The speaker's position was vacated last week when Rep. T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, stepped down to focus on his U.S. Senate race.
The position is significant because the speaker joins the governor and the Senate president pro tem at the negotiating table for the $7 billion state budget and helps shape the political agenda for the state. The speaker, who earns an extra $18,000 over his base House salary, also oversees the House's roughly 115 employees and $16 million annual budget, and appoints chairmen and members of various committees.
Because the session already is underway, Hickman said he doesn't expect any major changes in terms of committee and staff assignments.
"We really don't have the luxury to make a lot of wholesale changes at this point," Hickman said.
First elected in 2004, Hickman is a farmer and rancher from northwest Oklahoma who previously served as press secretary at the University of Oklahoma for David Boren, a former U.S. senator and Oklahoma governor.
Hickman has been serving as chairman of the House budget committee that oversees funding for public safety agencies, and has been a strong proponent of pay raises for Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers and state prison workers.
Hickman also has been known to break ranks with his Republican colleagues, even on major policy issues.
He was among just a handful of Republicans who voted last year against a proposed 0.25 percent reduction in the state's income tax. While Hickman said he supports the concept of reducing taxes, he said at the time he thought it was risky to approve a tax cut two years in advance without knowing what the revenue situation would be. Since then, lawmakers have learned they will have a projected $170 million less to spend on next year's budget.
Hickman previously served as House speaker pro tem, the No. 2 position in the House, under former House Speaker Kris Steele, and Hickman lost a narrow race to Shannon in the speaker's race two years ago.