OKLAHOMA CITY —
By Trevor Brown/CNHI Capital Bureau
OKLAHOMA CITY — Gov. Brad Henry worked with just about every combination of legislature during his eight years in office.
Henry entered office with Democrats holding control of the state House of Representatives and Senate and ended his term with Republicans in power of both chambers. In between, the two parties split control of the legislative bodies. A power-sharing agreement was even needed at one point when the Senate was evenly divided.
But Henry, a Democrat, said his leadership and negotiating styles remained constant through the changes.
"I don't treat the leader of the Senate or the House as a Democrat or a Republican," he said. "They are my coequals. And we sit down as Oklahomans and speak as people. So I can't tell you there is a big difference between the way I deal with Democrats or Republicans."
Reflecting on his successes and pitfalls during his tenure, Henry said finding bipartisan support and working with lawmakers across the aisle was critical to making real changes in the state. And he urged the next round of lawmakers to set aside party differences and to find ways to include groups that are in the minority.
Different legislatures, same strategies
Henry's first two years in office was the only time he led the state with Democrats in power of both chambers.
Republican reclaimed the House for the first time in more than eight decades after the 2004 elections. The GOP would continue to control the House for the rest of Henry's terms. Republicans also made incremental strides in the Senate until they gained control of the chamber in 2009.
Henry said he is leaving office with few unfinished legislative goals that were blocked because of Republican opposition. He said he would have liked to see the state increase teacher pay to the regional average and increase funding for the Economic Development Generating Excellence research program.
But Henry acknowledged budget constraints also played a role in stopping short some of the goals. He said he hopes members of both parties can come together to achieve the tasks, such as increasing teacher pay.
"Most of the big initiatives we set out to pass were successful," he said. "And there are some that are just not completed."
Gary Jones, who served as chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party from 2003 until he successfully ran for state auditor and inspector this fall, said Henry was not an overly partisan leader. Although Henry was known to veto conservative bills, such as ones that anti-abortion lawmakers supported, Jones said Henry had the ability to find compromises on many fiscal policies.
"He would even seek out bipartisan support at times," Jones said. "I remember early on, he worked with Republicans with some of the things on the budget."
Former Sen. Mike Morgan, D-Stillwater, who served as the president pro tempore of the Senate beginning in 2006, said Henry would even cross party lines at the dismay of his fellow Democrats. Morgan noted that in 2006 Henry sided with Republicans on a budget debate during a special session against the wishes of many Democrats, such as Morgan.
"It was troubling because Governor Henry is a dear friend of mine, and I had to publicly criticize him," Morgan said. "But I know it was hard for him too, but we both had a job to do."