Democratic Sen. Robert Kerr and Democratic Rep. David Braddock face different situations in their respective legislative bodies -- the Senate maintaining a Democrat majority, while Republicans hold sway in the House for the first time since the 1921-22 session.
A mass firing of House employees in mid-January caused tempers to flare among Democrats in the House, who felt that the move hurts employee morale and the process of getting bills drafted. Some two dozen House staffers have been fired or forced to retire.
The former bipartisan staffers worked well with legislators on both sides of the aisle, Braddock said, treating everyone the same. "The fact that I was a Democrat or Republican didn't make a difference," he said. "We felt they (Republicans) were kind of wholesale firing to put their own people in there. It definitely has caused some problems."
Kerr agrees, and is concerned that the Senate and House relationship may also be in for rough times. "I guess that 80 years of frustration on the part of the Republicans are causing them to make decisions I'm not sure are good for the state," he said.
Also highlighting the Republican bent for change is the recent ouster of Braddock from the Oklahoma Strategic Military Planning Commission. Braddock, who was the chairman of that commission, was replaced on Jan. 27 by freshman Enid Republican Mike Jackson.
"I was tremendously disappointed that David Braddock, our representative, was not left on that board," Kerr said. Again ... referring to those 80 years of frustration ... "It doesn't promote unity."
Jackson, he said, is a fine man, however he wonders whether his loyalties will be more weighted in favor of Vance Air Force Base.
Although Kerr hopes it is not the case, he thinks there will be stalemates along the way this session.
Braddock, too, is wary. "Hopefully we will be able to work, as two different caucuses, toward the same goal," he said in regard to relations in the House. "The proof's going to be in the pudding. We'll have to see what Speaker Hiett's going to do here."
Todd Hiett, R-Kellyville, has set upon what appears to be what a top-down sweep of the House.
As deputy floor leader, Braddock will be working closely with Rep. Jari Askins, the Democratic leader in the House. He also holds seats on the appropriations and budget, judiciary, higher education and energy and utility committees.
Braddock points out that it will take some time for the 39 new members in the House to understand the system.
Among issues Braddock is working on this session is a bill to come up with grant money for infrastructure needs for Oklahoma's five military communities. He said he hopes to see the proposal in place before the Base Realignment and Closure announcement, expected in May.
If a community ends up on the list, he said, it is important that the Department of Defense understands that the state is willing to work with the community, in order to make the community more attractive to the agency.
He is also working on a bill to provide unemployment benefits for military spouses.
As for the BRAC process itself, Braddock said he is looking forward to going to the Quail Breakfast in March and he feels good about the progress of Altus Air Force Base in the process.
Training has never been as important as it is now, he said, lauding the attributes of Altus AFB, including training missions with the C-17s and KC-135 refueling planes. "The C-17 has been the workhorse over there, getting men and equipment in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan," he said.
Also, Braddock said, he is continuing to work on securing water resources for Southwest Oklahoma, including working closely with the Lugert-Altus Irrigation District, the U.S. Corp of Engineers and the governor's office. Good, fresh water, he said, is key to survivability in the next 50 years.
Kerr, as assistant majority leader in the Senate, is chairman of the Rules Committee and serves on the Natural Resources Subcommittee, as well as agriculture, education and transportation.
He is particularly involved in support for the $500 million Higher Education Bond Issue proposed by Gov. Brad Henry. Some $45 million is earmarked in the bill for projects in Western Oklahoma, including three projects at Western Oklahoma State College in Altus and six at the Quartz Mountain Arts and Conference Center.
The initiative, Kerr said, has received bipartisan support, and he expects that action will be taken on it by mid-March. "I think that the plan will pass in the long run," he said.
Also Senate Democrats are pushing a program to help working families that includes cutting income taxes by upward of $150 million. The plan, called ''Helping Oklahomans Prosper Economically,'' would significantly increase the standard deduction allowed on individual income tax returns.
The HOPE package, as it is called, also would expand the state income tax exemption for retirees, cut capital gains taxes for business on Oklahoma property and increase incentives under the Quality Jobs program.
Kerr said he expects some contention over the HOPE plan.
Most issues that are to be tackled this session, Kerr said, are not Democrat-vs.-Republican issues, rather urban-vs.-rural. And the Republican majority in the House, he said, has an interest in rural issues.
Always of top concern for Oklahomans, "a very, very difficult issue in our state," Kerr said, is the issue of transportation.
Indeed ... according to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation:
n More than 1,600 bridges statewide are classified as structurally deficient or functionally obsolete and in need of replacement.
n More than 3,000 miles of the state's 12,266 miles of highways -- about 25 percent -- are inadequate and need to be rehabilitated or replaced.
n About one-third of Oklahoma's driving surfaces, about 4,300 miles, are in poor condition.
n A total of 135 bridges are more than 80 years old and about 150 have restricted load limits, resulting in detours and delays.
n Some 56 percent of highway crashes in the state occur on inadequate roads.
"I believe when people see the problems we face in transportation," Kerr said, "they will vote to increase taxes on oil and gas."