Former Senate President Pro Tempore Bob Cullison, who served as a Democrat in the Oklahoma Legislature from 1973 to 1995, died Tuesday at age 84.
Cullison, who was born in Turley, north of Tulsa, was first elected to the Oklahoma House in 1972 and then to the Oklahoma State Senate six years later, representing District 34 in the Skiatook area.
Cullison served as pro tem of the Oklahoma State Senate from 1988 through 1994, when he ran for lieutenant governor, finishing second in a four-way Democratic primary and failing to win the runoff. Cullison later served on the Oklahoma Tax Commission and then lobbied for the Oklahoma Bankers Association.
“Sen. Bob Cullison was my friend. I loved him. He was dedicated to making things better,” said Barry Moore, a telecommunications lobbyist who once served as assistant chief page in the Senate. “He cared about people and tried to make things better for Oklahomans. I believe he succeeded in doing so. I’ll miss him.”
A graduate of Baylor University who served in the U.S. Marine Corps, Cullison was succeeded as Senate president pro tempore by Stratton Taylor, a Democrat from Claremore. Taylor recalled his former colleague as “a true Oklahoma patriot.”
“How many former minor league baseball players who are marine veterans are also democratic leaders of the state senate who would have voted for the equal rights amendment?” Taylor asked. “The answer is only Bob Cullison.”
Taylor had been Cullison’s appropriations chairman and worked closely with him while Cullison was pro tem, including when the Legislature passed House Bill 1017‘s historic education reforms and funding increases in 1990.
“He’s best known for his work on HB 1017, which is well deserved. He was a very patient and skillful director of the Senate during that time when it was difficult to get the emergency clause, but ultimately his patience, wisdom and strategy prevailed,” Taylor said. “He should also be given credit for things that didn’t happen. When he was the PPT, he staved off many, many efforts to cut taxes and helped preserve the financial base of Oklahoma.”
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Lessons from the hardware store
Taylor said Cullison was “low-key, witty and people always liked him, even when he didn’t do what they wanted.”
“I think he took a lot of his experiences from running a hardware store in Turley, Oklahoma, into being president pro tempore,” Taylor said. “He would often quote for me something he learned while running the hardware store that would be applicable to whatever that day’s events were.”
Taylor said he had spoken with Cullison several times during the pandemic.
“I wish I had talked with him one last time. But he was always the same Bob Cullision and always had the same political views, even during the pandemic and recent months,” Taylor said.
Cullison was respected even by many people who held different political views.
Jim Dunlap, a lobbyist who served in the State House and State Senate in the 1980s and 1990s as a Republican from Bartlesville, also praised Cullison’s character.
“Sen. Cullison was a true leader and always made time for everyone in his district, even parts of Bartlesville back in the 1980s,” Dunlap said. “We may have not agreed on everything but I am honored to have known him and served with him, and his service was a great benefit to all of Oklahoma.”
(Correction: This article was updated at 2:05 p.m. Wednesday, May 19, to correct details about a 1994 election and include additional information.)