OKLAHOMA CITY — The 72 Republicans in the Oklahoma House of Representatives will meet behind closed doors on Monday and cast secret ballots to decide who will become the next speaker of the House, one of the most powerful positions in state government.
The two men running for the post — Reps. Jeff Hickman of Fairview and Mike Jackson of Enid — grew up less than 15 miles from one another in tiny Alfalfa County in northwest Oklahoma, and each refers to the other as a friend.
Hickman, 40, went to high school at Burlington and was a few years ahead of 35-year-old Jackson, who attended nearby Cherokee High, but they ran into each other frequently at FFA events, basketball games, and speech-and-debate competitions.
“I’ve known Rep. Jackson since we were both very young,” Hickman said. “His parents are constituents of mine. His grandmother is a constituent of mine. He’s been a friend for a long time.”
A third potential candidate, Rep. Jason Nelson of Oklahoma City, withdrew his name from consideration last week after acknowledging he didn’t have enough votes.
The speaker of the House, a position vacated last week when Rep. T.W. Shannon stepped down to focus on his U.S. Senate race, joins the governor and the Senate president pro tem at the negotiating table for the $7 billion state budget and helps shape the political agenda for the state. The speaker, who earns an extra $18,000 over his base House salary, also oversees the House’s roughly 115 employees and $16 million annual budget, and appoints chairmen and members of various committees.
Hickman and Jackson have numerous similarities, and the race is expected to be a close one. Neither is an ideologue, and each has a reputation as hardworking, well-liked, approachable representatives.
The two were freshmen legislators together after the elections in 2004, the year Republicans took control of the House for the first time in modern history.