House Speaker Chris Benge says he’s humbled to be elected by acclimation to the powerful legislative post last week, but he he calls himself a husband and father first, and takes that responsibility “very seriously.”
The father of two children, Benge, R-Tulsa, said he hopes he will still be able to go home one night a week during session to spend time with his family.During the legislative session, he boards with two of his fellow Republican House members, Tad Jones of Claremore and Todd Thomsen of Ada. They share an apartment in northeast Oklahoma City. Last year they slept on air mattresses, but before the session started they moved up to regular beds.
“I plan on staying with those guys,” he said. “We have a good relationship and I enjoy the camaraderie.” He hasn’t had time to do much decorating in the nicer, larger Capitol office that is assigned to the speaker. One of the first pictures he wants to hang up, he said, is a drawing by his daughter , Hayden. The drawing depicts the two of them as being best pals just like the cartoon characters SpongeBob SquarePants and his best friend, Patrick Star.
Benge always was interested in politics, and said he couldn’t wait to register to vote. The first president he voted for was Reagan in 1980.
He didn’t seek elective office until he ran for the House seat in 1998. After high school, he worked in his family’s painting and construction business and then worked as a sales representative for a uniform rental company. After serving in the Legislature, he enrolled at Oklahoma State University and graduated last year with a degree in business administration.
Getting a degree “was something that I wanted to do for years,” Benge said.
Benge didn’t think about running for the speakler’s post when Lance Cargill, R-Harrah, stepped down from the position last month because of tax problems. After Cargill stepped down. Rep. Gus Blackwell, who as speaker president pro tempore holds the No. 2 spot in the House, was acting speaker and the leading contender for the post.
However, two days after Cargill resigned, Blackwell, R-Goodwell, dropped out of the race because of a controversy from his late payment of property taxes.
“It depends on how successful we are before members maybe start looking at me as a legitimate speaker,” Benge said. “It depends on our success.”
Michael McNutt, Capitol Bureau