By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Senate Democratic Leader Sean Burrage announced that he will not seek another term in the Oklahoma State Senate.
“It’s a definite loss for the state. He’s a bright, thoughtful guy who put the state’s best interests at heart,” said Sen. John Sparks, D-Norman.
The Claremore Democrat will not term limit out until 2018, but Burrage said in a release issued Monday that it’s time to focus more attention on his family and his legal career.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve my friends and neighbors in Rogers and Mayes counties and be their voice in the state Senate,” Burrage said. “Serving in the Senate has been both challenging and rewarding, and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity given to me. But at this point in my life, I feel I need to turn my time and attention more fully to family and my law practice.”
The minority leader is one of only 12 Democrats left in the 48-member Senate. Burrage has served in the state Senate since 2006, when he won the seat that had been held by term-limited Democrat Stratton Taylor.
Burrage went unchallenged in his re-election bid for the seat in 2010. In November 2011, he was elected as Democratic leader after serving as assistant Democratic leader for the 52nd Oklahoma Legislature.
The minority leader is selected by the minority party in the senate. Sparks said being in the minority has not kept Burrage or other Democrats from being effective.
“On an individual basis, individual Democrats are every bit as effective and influential as individual Republicans,” Sparks said. “As a group, in this last legislative session, we were as productive as any I’ve been a member of. You have to play the cards that are dealt (to) you, and you go from there.”
Sparks said serving as a state senator is more challenging and time-consuming than many people might realize, and serving as majority or minority leader is extremely time-consuming.
“The loss of Sean (Burrage) is a bad deal, not just for Democrats,” Sparks said. “The state is better off with Sean Burrage in office than without him.”
Burrage and Sparks were also in the minority in speaking against the new workers’ compensation reform that was adopted in April.
Burrage said while reform was needed, he feared the majority of cost savings in the new system would cut benefits to injured workers rather than controlling medical costs.
Burrage also criticized the state for declining federal dollars being offered to expand Medicaid.
“I have worked hard to represent my constituents well, shine light on important issues, ask the hard questions and hold people accountable,” Burrage said in Tuesday’s press release.
The son of former United States District Judge Michael Burrage and Aletha Burrage, a former elementary school principal, Burrage has remained committed to Oklahoma’s public school teachers and administrators and fought for an independent judiciary.
“I’m very proud to have played a role in creating public policy aimed at improving the lives of all Oklahomans,” Burrage said. “I’m proud of my efforts to be an effective member of the minority party and to work with my colleagues across the aisle to do what is best for hard-working Oklahomans.”
Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman commended Burrage for his service.
“I consider Sean (Burrage) not only a colleague but a personal friend and have enjoyed working with him in our leadership roles in the Senate in recent years,” said Bingman, R-Sapulpa. “Sean is the utmost professional and has represented his district and his caucus with dignity and strength and will be missed in the Senate.”
This spring, Burrage and Bingman agreed that analyzing the political successes of each caucus was secondary to recovering from the tornadoes that took 26 lives.
“Our Republican caucus has always worked well with the minority caucus to represent Oklahoma and our constituents, no matter their political affiliation, and we look forward to doing so with whomever the Democratic caucus elects as their next leader,” Bingman said.
Serving during challenging economic times, Burrage worked to prioritize available resources with a focus on protecting those most at-risk, including the seniors, veterans, children and small businesses in Rogers and Mayes counties.
“I believe that the ultimate measure of a good public servant is how strongly they stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves and how tenaciously they protect the most vulnerable members of our communities,” Burrage said. “If that is the measuring stick of my work here in the state Senate, then I think I’ve been pretty successful.”
Burrage has a law practice in Claremore, where he makes his home with his wife, Carole, and their two sons, Truman, 17, and Carter, 9. He’s looking forward to attending more high school basketball games and fewer committee meetings.
Sparks said it’s too early to anticipate who might lead the minority party in the future or whether the Democrats will lose more ground in the next election.
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