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More House members could seek Senate seats

The Journal Record

October 8, 2018

OKLAHOMA CITY – Two more members of the House of Representatives are vying for seats in the state’s higher chamber, a run that some say might get more common.

Most of Oklahoma’s state Senators start out fresh, but a fraction of them run for office in the House of Representatives first. Rep. John Michael Montgomery, R-Sallisaw, and Rep. George Young, D-Oklahoma City, are attempting this November to make that cameral switch.

Observers said there are a few inherent differences between the chambers, some of which can be seen in Congress as well as the statehouse.

Michael Crespin is the director of the Carl Albert Congressional Research Center at the University of Oklahoma. He said some of the differences between chambers can be seen in capitols across the country, including that in Washington, D.C. Many of the distinctions lie in the number of people in those bodies; the Senate always has fewer.

He said each chamber tackles a wide array of issues, but Houses have more people to do so, which allows them to focus more. Senators, on the other hand, have to read up in more focus areas.

“Everyone’s spread a little bit more thin,” he said. “The old line in the Senate is, ‘The Senate is a mile wide and an inch deep.’”

Senators also tend to get more involved with the budget process, he said.

In Oklahoma, only 28 of 101 members are on the House Appropriations and Budget Committee. The vast majority of members on that side of the rotunda will get to debate on the budget only once it gets to the floor. However, all senators are on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Sen. Eddie Fields, R-Wynona, echoed that difference, reiterating that many Senate arguments take place in the committee, long before issues get to the floor. He is one of a handful of senators who started in the House.

“The true vetting is really done in the committee process on the Senate side,” he said. “For Senate members that have served in the House, you understand what it’s like to have those heated discussions and debates on the House floor.”

That’s where the vetting takes place in that chamber, he said, so it tends to be significantly more public. During his second floor hearing as a bill author, Fields said, the question-and-answer portion lasted two hours excluding debate. He said that incentivizes those members further to do their homework and seek input ahead of time from those who might have questions.

Sen. Jason Smalley, R-Stroud, is another of the few current senators who first served in the House. He spent the 2013 and 2014 legislative sessions in the lower chamber before crossing over. Less than a handful of his colleagues had done so, but he said that he expects cameral switches will be more common now that lawmakers can serve a total of 12 years.

“I think we’re going to see more and more of it with term limits,” he said.

He said the offices are different for a few reasons. Senators represent significantly wider areas and more people. They are also afforded more independence.

Each member of the House represents about 40,000 residents, and each senator represents about twice as many. Smalley said he went from covering one county to covering three, and the number of school districts under his constituency also doubled.

There is also more of a top-down management style in the House, he said. The speaker can hire and fire legislative assistants, and that member gets more say in where members’ offices are. Smalley said that gives more power to leadership in the House. In the Senate, those aids answer only to their members and constituents.

“There’s more of a push in the House to be team players,” he said. “In the Senate, we get a lot of ability to operate independently.”

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