Transcript Staff Writer

Duct tape truly can repair anything, even a budding political career.

State Rep. Todd Hiett, R-Kellyville, addressed the Cleveland County Republican Club Tuesday beamed about legislative accomplishments during his first session as House Speaker ? but not before having the audience rolling with laughter by explaining how his improbable political rise started.

Hiett was a 27-year-old farmer who, prior to his first election in 1994, had no need for a suit. His wife, Bridget, wisely advised he would need one for his swearing-in ceremony only two weeks later, so the representative-elect decided to buy one in Stroud on their way to the Capitol.

"The problem was the legs were real long," he said of the suit he picked. "When you buy Wrangler jeans, they come to length."

The salesperson said the pants could be sent out for tailoring and be back by the middle of next week, but Hiett said he needed them that day. The dilemma was solved with an unconventional bright idea.

"He decides to get some duct tape, and he taped those legs right up," Hiett recalled. "So when I say I was the least likely person to be speaker, you've got to get a perspective of where I'm coming from."

That young farmer rose up his party's ranks and became House speaker at a time "we saw the debate change" in state government. He said that was proven early this year when Democratic Gov. Brad Henry urged worker's compensation reform and tax cuts during his State of the State address.

"He delivered a message we've delivered for years," Hiett said. "I knew Henry wasn't serious, but I also knew he was in a corner or he wouldn't have even addressed those changes."

Hiett spoke of successful Republican-led legislation, including cutting the state income tax rate, a stair-step raise in funding for road and bridge repair, pro-life measures including parental notification for underage mothers, and reforming worker's compensation.

Lawsuit reform ? the party's next major battle ? is part of what prompted Hiett to trade his overalls for a suit and tie in the first place. He was slapped with a lawsuit during his first year of business, and his attorney assured victory because the action was frivolous.

"He was right, I won, but I really lost because that was a year I invested my time, money and emotion that I should have been investing into my farm," Hiett said.

One past battle the speaker doesn't regret was his verbal sparring with Sen. Cal Hobson when he was president pro tem. Hiett said Hobson and he were polar opposites philosophically, but he admired the Lexington Democrat's integrity.

"He never said something he didn't believe," Hiett said of Hobson. "We had some tremendous debates, but he was never dishonest. ? There are folks at the Capitol who will stab you in the back. I know it's hard to believe. But Sen. Hobson wouldn't. He would stab you in the chest."

Hiett is serving his final term as state representative because of term limits, but a 12-year run is far longer than he once imagined.

"I had the simplistic view to get elected, go to the state Capitol building, make those changes and go home," he said. "I was so naive, I thought the people in Oklahoma City just didn't know any better. So after I tell them, I thought they would all change and say, 'Oh, OK,' fix the Legislature, and I could go home in two years."

James S. Tyree 366-3539

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