Charles McCall
House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) was the only member of his caucus to apply for designation as speaker for the 58th Legislature covering 2021 and 2022. (NonDoc)

Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) appears destined for a third term atop the Oklahoma Legislature’s House of Representatives. McCall was the only member of the House Republican Caucus to file by Friday’s deadline for the internal speaker-designate vote, according to Majority Caucus Chairwoman Tammy West (R-Bethany).

While McCall would need to win re-election to his southeastern-Oklahoma district later this year, win a caucus vote among Republicans elected for 2021 and officially be voted on by the full House, the soft-spoken but influential Atoka banker is poised to become the first Republican to serve three terms as speaker of the House. This year, McCall already became the longest-serving Republican speaker in state history.

Should he hold the speakership in 2021 and 2022 as well, McCall would tie four other men for the second-longest speakership in state history: six years. Those former speakers were all Democrats:

  • J.D. McCarty (D-OKC) 1961-1966
  • Rex Privett (D-Maramec) 1967-1972
  • William P. Willis (D-Tahlequah) 1973-1978
  • Glen D. Johnson Jr. (D-Okemah) 1991-1996

Former Speaker Jim Barker (D-Muskogee) served in the position longest, from 1983 through May 1989 when he was ousted through the plan of a group of representatives known as the “T-Bar 12.”

McCall serving another term as speaker would also keep a representative of rural Oklahoma in charge of House redistricting (unless a state question to establish an independent commission makes a 2020 ballot and passes). Population changes expected to be reflected in this year’s U.S. Census will likely shift some districts toward urban centers.

Since he oversees a large body full of freshmen and sophomore members, McCall not drawing a GOP challenger for a third term would seem to indicate broad internal popularity. Not even his recent split with Gov. Kevin Stitt on the question of gaming compact renewal yielded an opponent.

Charles McCall survived 2018 challenges

In 2018, McCall survived challenges by Rep. Chad Caldwell (R-Enid), Rep. Charles Ortega (R-Altus) and Rep. Tommy Hardin (R-Madill) during that year’s March speaker designation vote, which came about two weeks before a member of McCall’s leadership team struck an agreement with House Democrats to achieve 76 votes for a long-debated revenue package.

To that end, McCall’s first two years as speaker were mired by the revenue debate, which ultimately yielded significant investments in teacher pay and school district funding, as well as restoration of some cuts that state agencies had faced. In 2017 when McCall mostly opposed raising the gross production tax on oil and gas wells, rumors spread that a faction of the House GOP Caucus might partner with Democrats to oust him. Ultimately, however, the March 2018 revenue deal set the stage for two subsequent years of positive state budgets that muted criticism of McCall, who was first elected to the House in 2012.

Who will be House speaker pro tempore?

A second top position in the Oklahoma House of Representatives remains undecided for 2021. House Speaker Pro Tempore Harold Wright (R-Weatherford) is term-limited this year and will leave the Legislature following the November elections.

While heavily involved in floor work, the speaker pro tempore position can be seen as symbolic, and it offers a leg up for House members seeking a speakership down the road. House Republicans are expected to select their next speaker pro tempore at their first caucus meeting in November after members are sworn in following the general election.

(Correction: This post was updated at 6:45 a.m. Monday, Feb. 17, to correct the spelling of Harold Wright’s name, clarify the position of speaker pro tempore and correct the tenure of Jim Barker. NonDoc regrets the errors.)