The Oklahoman: OSU grads received sound advice from Sen. James Lankford

By: The Oklahoman Editorial Board

OKLAHOMA’S newest U.S. senator, James Lankford, is a conservative Republican through and through yet he had no trouble working with an ideological opposite to accomplish something constructive. This shouldn’t come as a surprise — since going to Washington as a House member in 2011, Lankford has tried to get things done for the good of the country.

We recall Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, telling us he was struck during his first few months in Congress with how much time members spent talking about problems, but not working to solve them. He alluded to that last week in his “maiden speech” to the Senate, when he said his initial impression of Washington reminded him of lunch period in middle school.

“It’s that feeling of, ‘I get more popular by sitting at my table and making fun of everyone else at everyone else’s table,’” Lankford said. “And if I ever say anything nice about someone at another table, my table shakes its head and says, ‘Why would you do that?’”

Lawmakers, he said, need to get past that and work together. Lankford did so with liberal Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., on a bill that would require federal agencies to reveal more information about their legal settlements with law breakers. The bill was approved in committee last week and now goes to the full Senate.

It’s difficult to imagine two senators with different worldviews, and yet they were able to find some common ground. In this regard Lankford isn’t unlike his predecessor, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, who counted Barack Obama among his friends when the two were freshman senators. In fact it was Coburn who first worked with Warren last year on this disclosure bill, but the legislation stalled.

Lankford also shares Coburn’s faith in this country, despite the rancor and polarization seen in Washington. He told his colleagues in the Senate last week, “We still lead the world with our values. That’s our greatest export.”

He had a similar message to Oklahoma State University graduates at their commencement Saturday, urging them not to forget their Oklahoma roots or how great this country is. “We’re Americans,” he said. “We fix things. We get to work. We get off the couch and get to work. This nation will be turned around not when we complain about it, but when we engage.”

Lankford offered four other sound pieces of advice. One was for the graduates to get out of debt “as quickly as possible” in order to be able to focus on other things in their lives. The former director of a Baptist church camp, Lankford suggested the graduates reconnect with their faith because it offers a source of comfort when challenges arise. “There are a lot of terrifying and exciting moments in life. This is one of them,” he said.

Lankford said the graduates should try to heal the rifts that might exist in their families. “You might think it doesn’t matter,” he said. But “every special occasion you will regret that decision. It doesn’t matter where it came from — fix it.”

And, he told the students to serve others as they forge their careers. “At the end of life, the joy doesn’t come from what you had, it comes from who you served,” he said.

Sound advice indeed from one of Oklahoma’s most impressive public figures.