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Tulsa World: James Lankford joins a long, short list of Oklahoma senators

By: Randy Krehbiel

U.S. Sen. James Lankford is not a native Oklahoman, but he knows the history of the Senate seat he assumed on Tuesday.

Lankford became only the 18th person — all men — to serve in the U.S. Senate from Oklahoma and only the eighth to hold what is officially Seat No. 1 in the state’s delegation.

“I understand the significance of being one of 18 senators in Oklahoma history,” he said in a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon.

Some of the most important and colorful figures in state history have held Seat No. 1, beginning with Thomas P. Gore, the only blind person to serve in the Senate and the only Oklahoman elected to nonconsecutive Senate terms wrapped around a defeat. Tough, cantankerous and independent, Gore opposed U.S. entry into World War I, cast the only Senate vote against the Works Progress Administration and influenced the perspective of his grandson, acerbic writer Gore Vidal.

The first Republican elected to the Senate from Oklahoma, J.W. Harreld in 1920, held Seat No. 1. Harreld was followed by Elmer Thomas and Mike Monroney, who between them served seven terms and made enormous contributions to the state’s development, Thomas as chairman of the Agriculture Committee and Monroney for his promotion of aviation and creation of the Federal Aeronautics Administration.

Henry Bellmon succeeded Monroney in 1968, and he by Don Nickles in 1980. Nickles served four terms and rose to the positions of Republican whip and chairman of the Budget Committee. His retirement in 2004 led to the return to Congress of former Rep. Tom Coburn.

Lankford said Tuesday he has been assigned Coburn’s old desk — a desk also once occupied by the late Dewey Bartlett Sr. — on the Senate floor.

On Wednesday he will begin acclimating himself to his new committee assignments and his duties as a member of the majority whip team responsible for lining up votes on key issues.

Lankford has been assigned to four committees — Appropriations, Intelligence, Homeland Security and Government Oversight and Indian Affairs.

“Quite a few (senators) have four committees, but the rarity is to be on something like Appropriations and Intelligence — and Homeland Security — at the same time,” Lankford said. “

And it’s a rarity for a freshman to be on Appropriations.”

Lankford said he expected the Senate to move quickly to authorize the long-stalled Keystone XL pipeline and to pass legislation addressing individual parts of the Affordable Care Act as well as outright repeal.

Sworn in alongside Lankford was U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, who begins his fourth full term after being elected in a 1994 special election.

“Each Senate term is a reminder that Oklahoma is the voice of reason in this nation,” said Inhofe. “My goal in the new Congress is to put America back on the map as the place to do business. I plan to pursue this by using my leadership positions to improve our nation’s transportation infrastructure, rein in EPA’s job-killing regulations and rebuild our national defense.”

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