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Opinion: Oklahoma knows something about power sharing

As the week ended, Sens. Mitch McDonnell, R-Ky., and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., were working to come to agreement on how to run the evenly split U.S. Senate for the next two years. Oklahoma has some experience with this.

In 2007 and 2008, the Oklahoma Senate was split 24-24 for the first time, after Republicans picked up a net of two seats in the 2006 elections. Sen. Mike Morgan of Stillwater led the Democrats and Glenn Coffee of Oklahoma City led the Republicans. The Senate adopted a power-sharing agreement that worked for both men.

In the U.S. Senate, McConnell has told GOP colleagues he is looking at how the Senate operated during the last tie in 2001, but that he wants Schumer to preserve the filibuster as part of any agreement. The filibuster gives the minority party an important check on the majority; this issue is likely to be one of many testy ones between the parties.

The two sides in Oklahoma’s Senate had their share of disagreements, naturally, but the ideological gap between Democrats and Republicans was not as wide then as it is today in Washington. And, the two state leaders struck the right tone from the outset.

An Associated Press account of the Legislature’s one-day organizational meeting in early January 2007 noted that Morgan invoked President Lincoln in asking members to act as “a team of rivals” to do the people’s work.

“The eyes of Oklahoma will be upon each and every one of us,” Morgan said. “It is a time to set aside personal interests and personal bias.”

He encouraged senators to show qualities of Lincoln such as kindness and empathy. “I call on each of you to seize the moment at hand … and let’s make Oklahoma proud.”

Coffee’s remarks were similar. “There is a historic nature to what has happened today,” he said, uncouraging colleagues to “put the people first in all that we do.”

Any ties in the U.S. Senate will be decided by Vice President Kamala Harris. With any luck, such occurances will be rare, as was the case in Oklahoma.

No votes in 2007 required a tie-breaker from Democrat Jari Askins, who was lieutenant governor and thus president of the Senate. In 2008, Askins was called upon three times.

She broke a 24-24 tie to pass a bill dealing with the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission and child support enforcement. Another tie-breaking vote advanced a bill dealing with the state agency that provides workers’ compensation insurance.

The third time, on whether to call a referendum to imposing term limits on statewide elected officials, Askins declined to vote. She cited a constitutional provision that prevented her from doing so.

As for policy generated, an editorial in The Oklahoman after the 2008 session deemed it “a legislative session that will rank among the least memorable in history.” How likely is a similar outcome today from D.C.? We're about to find out.


Opinion editor Owen Canfield is in his 18th year writing editorials for The Oklahoman and has spent nearly 40 years in journalism. Email Owen at or call him at (405) 475-3205. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a print or digital subscription at

Owen Canfield III

Owen Canfield has written editorials for The Oklahoman since 2003. Prior to that, he spent 19 years with The Associated Press in Oklahoma City. He is a 1981 graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He and his wife, Lori, have four children. Read more ›