OKLAHOMA CITY — At least two key members of the Oklahoma House are lining up votes to be the chamber's next leader, anticipating that Speaker T.W. Shannon will launch a bid for the U.S. Senate and give up the House's top post days before the 2014 session opens.
Several House Republicans told The Associated Press on Thursday that Rep. Mike Jackson of Enid and Jason Nelson of Oklahoma City are working to secure votes in case of a potential speaker's race. Reps. David Brumbaugh, Lewis Moore and Randy McDaniel all said they'd been contacted by Nelson and Jackson to discuss a potential speaker's race.
Nelson and Jackson both confirmed to the AP they would be interested in the post if Shannon steps down.
Shannon is considering whether to run for the U.S. Senate post being vacated by Sen. Tom Coburn, although he hasn't made a formal announcement. Shannon did not return a telephone message left Thursday.
"All signs show that Speaker Shannon is rapidly moving toward running for the U.S. Senate, but nothing is final until it's announced," said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. "I know this is not something we've all been sitting around thinking about for months, because we didn't think we'd have to worry about another speaker's race for another three years."
Oklahoma legislators open the general session on Feb. 3. As speaker, Shannon appoints committee members and chairmen, has the authority to hire and fire House staff and negotiates with the Senate and governor's office on the budget and other key policy issues.
Nelson said it would be a difficult challenge to serve as speaker while also running a statewide campaign.
"That would certainly add a level of complexity that's unprecedented," Nelson said.
Jackson was elected in 2012 by the 72-member House Republican caucus to serve as speaker pro tem, the No. 2 leadership post. While he acknowledges Shannon is still the leader of the House, he added: "It's prudent to at least plan a little bit."
Republicans enjoy a 72-29 advantage in the House.
Both Jackson and Nelson said House Republicans remain unified and that if a new speaker were elected, they expect a smooth transition since the members have already met and developed their agenda.
"I completely agree that if something like that were to occur ... you always want that smooth transition," Jackson said.
Shannon was formally elected Speaker of the House at the start of the 2013 legislative session, making him both the youngest and first African-American speaker in state history.
Coburn sent shock waves through Oklahoma's political landscape when he announced last week he was stepping down with two years left on his term. Within days, two-term Republican U.S. Rep. James Lankford of Edmond announced he would run for the seat, setting up a vacancy in the 5th District U.S. House seat and setting in motion another series of candidacy announcements.