When Mary Fallin replaced Ernest Istook in the U.S. House in January, it was an historic moment for the Oklahoma congressional delegation. Any guesses why?
Fallin, R-Oklahoma City, wasn’t the first woman; she’s the second. So that’s not it.
Ok, maybe there’s more than one right answer, but here’s one: It marked the first time in state history that there wasn’t a lawyer in the delegation, now made up of five House members and two senators.
I realized it had at least been a long time since there wasn’t a lawyer in the delegation. When I came up here, in 1990, there were four who were lawyers, or at least had law degrees, though they hadn’t practiced in awhile: Sen. David Boren, Rep. Dave McCurdy, Rep. Mickey Edwards and Rep. Mike Synar.
Istook, who got his law degree from Oklahoma City University, replaced Edwards in 1993. Edwards was first elected in 1976, taking office in early 1977. That same year former House Speaker Carl Albert retired, after serving for 30 years.
I knew Albert had been a lawyer, so that meant there had at least been one lawyer in the delegation since he took office in 1947.
This week, I decided to figure out if there had ever been a time in the delegation when there hadn’t been a lawyer. It turned out to be easier than I thought because I just started _ and ultimately ended _ with U.S. senators.
Here’s what I did: I first looked at Sen. J. Elmer Thomas, whose service in the Senate overlapped a few years with Albert’s (until early 1951) and stretched back to 1927. According to his biography on the U.S. Senate web page, www.senate.gov, Thomas was admitted to the Oklahoma bar in 1900 and practiced law in Oklahoma City and Lawton.
I then looked at his predecessor, J.W. Harreld, who served from 1920 until Thomas took over in 1927. According to the U.S. Senate bio of him, he had been a prosecuting attorney in Kentucky before moving to Oklahoma and practicing law there.
The biography of his predecessor, Thomas P. Gore, who was blind, does not mention any profession or college degrees. So I looked at Robert L. Owen, who was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1907, the year of statehood, and served until 1924 (overlapping with Harreld).
According to his U.S. Senate biography, Owen was admitted to the bar in 1880 and practiced law in Indian Territory and then practiced law in Washington after leaving the Senate.
So, there it is _ from Istook back to Robert L. Owen, always at least one lawyer in the bunch.
I didn’t look at all of the House members serving at the same time as those early senators, so there may very well have been multiple lawyers in the delegation.
What’s the significance?
Just some good centennial trivia.
And it might make for an unusual campaign approach for someone running for the House or Senate in Oklahoma. Instead of the old “I ain’t no lawyer” come-on, a candidate could say the delegation needs an attorney.