Former Oklahoma State Sen. Roger Ballenger has died at age 69 after a battle with melanoma.
Ballenger began his public service career as a member of the Okmulgee City Council in the 1980s. He then served as an Okmulgee County commissioner for 16 years prior to running for and representing Senate District 8 between 2006 and 2014 as a Democrat. He was working as Okmulgee’s city manager at the time of his death.
“He was a great man, and I will miss him,” said Rep. Scott Fetgatter (R-Okmulgee), who is married to Ballenger’s daughter, Kim Ballenger-Fetgatter. “He always devoted his life to public service and trying to improve the world we live in.”
Fetgatter said he learned a great deal about public service from his father-in-law.
“He is the one who probably taught me that even though we have our differences and disagreements on the way things should look and be handled, it didn’t mean either one of us was right or wrong. It just means we are looking at it from a different perspective,” Fetgatter said.
Kenneth Corn, who served in the State Senate with Ballenger and also took a city manager job after leaving the Legislature, remembered his late friend by citing a famous Will Rogers quote: “I never met a man I didn’t like.”
“I think that was clearly Roger Ballenger. He liked everybody, and I think everybody liked him,” Corn said. “Roger was probably one of the least likely politicians in the Senate. I don’t think he gave much thought to optics. He just used common sense and good old-fashioned values, which I think is really lacking today in politics.”
Corn, who works as the city manager of Anadarko, said Ballenger “had a tremendous amount of knowledge” that Democrats and Republicans alike sought out in the Senate.
“Roger had a unique understanding of people and how to get things done,” Corn said. “He’s probably one of the few people who could talk to you and say something to you that might not be flattering, but you wouldn’t get mad because you knew Roger was trying to help you.”
Corn recalled a moment when Democrats still led the State Senate and a bill was presented on the topic of landfills, which Ballenger understood as a former county commissioner.
“It was a leadership bill that came out of nowhere, and Roger had the fortitude and bravery to stand up and say, ‘This is a bad bill,’ and got many of us to vote against the pro temp’s bill,” Corn said. “We trusted him enough to know that if he said it was a bad bill, it was. A whole bunch of us broke and defeated the bill over the leadership’s objections.”
‘A void that will be difficult to fill’
Ballenger was succeeded by Sen. Roger Thompson (R-Okmulgee) who serves as the current Senate Appropriations and Budget chairman.
“Sen. Ballenger was a true public servant who was always interested in helping others. He was a leader dedicated to making a difference in the quality of life for all Oklahomans,” Thompson said. “Because of his willingness to be involved in so many areas, his passing leaves a void that will be difficult to fill.”
University of Oklahoma Vice President for Executive Affairs Sean Burrage served in the State Senate with Ballenger.
“Roger Ballenger had more common sense than anybody I have ever met,” Burrage said. “That quality, along with his clear sense of purpose about the role of a state senator, made him an outstanding public servant.”
Burrage, who represented Claremore as a Democrat before taking a position as president of Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant, called Ballenger an honorable friend.
“I can’t remember a special interest group ever having influence over him with regard to a position on any issue,” Burrage said. “On a personal level, he was a loyal and true friend — always lending an ear and very sound advice, but only when asked.”
Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat (R-OKC) praised Ballenger for his intelligence.
“I had the privilege of serving alongside Roger Ballenger early in my career in the Senate. He had a great intellect and was a skilled lawmaker,” Treat said. “He served the people of his district and the state with pride, and I always respected Roger. My family sends our prayers and condolences to Roger’s family and friends during this difficult time.”
Senate Minority Leader Kay Floyd (D-OKC) also lauded Ballenger’s bipartisan respect.
“Sen. Ballenger was liked and respected by members on both sides of the aisle. In fact, he was appointed vice chair of the Senate General Government Committee in 2012, the only Democrat named to a committee leadership post,” Floyd said. “He was a strong advocate for his constituents and worked hard on public safety issues and on behalf of veterans. He was a dedicated public servant. My fellow members and I join in mourning his passing and honoring his life.”
Services announced for Roger Ballenger
Fetgatter said Ballenger’s funeral service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday, Nov. 1, at First Baptist Church Okmulgee.
Ballenger is survived by his wife, Cimone, their children, Kim (husband Scott) and Clay (wife Jami), step-daughter Lindsay (husband Brian) and five grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
(Update: This article was updated at 1:13 p.m. Monday, Oct. 28, to add service details and Treat’s quote and again at 4:30 p.m. to include Floyd’s quote.)