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Tulsa World: Chamber says state's politics won't hurt us

Tulsa World: Chamber says state's politics won't hurt us

Tulsa World: Chamber says state's politics won't hurt us

by: JIM MYERS World Washington Bureau
Sunday, March 01, 2009
3/1/2009 3:35:37 AM

WASHINGTON — Shortly after a group led by the Tulsa Metro Chamber wrapped up several days of lobbying Oklahoma's congressional delegation on transportation and other top issues, all but one of the Oklahomans in the House voted against a huge bill that included millions of dollars for various state projects.

That scenario is expected to be repeated in the next two years with a Republican-dominated state delegation and Democratic-dominated Congress.

Michael Neal, the chamber's president and CEO, played down the significance of that division.

Neal also does not expect Oklahoma's status as one of the reddest states in the Union to be much of a factor, even though for the first time in more than a dozen years Democrats control the White House and both houses of Congress.

Given the way Congress, especially the committees overseeing spending, conducts business, he has every reason to remain optimistic that projects for Tulsa and northeastern Oklahoma will be funded despite repeated "no'' votes from most of the state's lawmakers.

"Our approach is pretty much the same,'' said Neal, a former congressional staff member who is helping the chamber take a much more aggressive stance toward lobbying efforts in Washington.

He said the goal is to build relationships with those in control, regardless of their party.

In addition to members of the state's congressional delegation, the group also met with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Other issues on the group's agenda included making sure the Tulsa region receives its fair share of stimulus dollars, seeking support for legislation that helps certain hospitals serve low-income and uninsured Oklahomans, work force development and work on the Kerr-McClellan waterway.

Two members of Oklahoma's congressional delegation echoed Neal's comments on getting projects important to the area in bills, despite the state being out of step politically with Congress right now.

Rep. Frank Lucas, a Republican, said he usually explains to visiting groups the philosophical differences that can play a role in Congress.

Lucas said such partisan differences do not play a major role when it comes to approving projects in a specific congressional district.

"I worked with people in my district to secure funding for the projects they deem important and am pleased that several were included in the recent omnibus appropriations bill,'' he said, then explained his opposition to the measure.

"However, it is my duty to review each bill as a whole, weighing the good with the bad. In this case, while there were positive aspects such as these projects that will benefit Oklahomans, the negative aspects were just too great.''

Rep. Dan Boren, the state's only Democrat in Congress, agreed that opposition to a bill will not cost a member projects.

"The Republican members still get their projects even if they vote no,'' Boren said. "There will be bills I will vote no on.''

A member of the Blue Dog Coalition, which focuses on spending issues in Congress, Boren cited the huge omnibus bill that passed out of the House last week. He was the only Oklahoman in the House to support the bill.

"The omnibus bill was not a slam-dunk vote for me,'' said Boren, who had a number of projects in the measure for his congressional district.

He said the key to getting bills heard and projects funded is working with other lawmakers.

"If you have good relationships across the aisle, you should be OK,'' Boren said.

As the state's only member of the party now in power, the three-term lawmaker no doubt will get more attention from Oklahoma groups visiting Washington.

"I do think it is kind of funny when we have had fly-ins in the past, most people would stop by our office on their way out of town,'' Boren said.

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