Oklahoma so far on Gov. Mary Fallin’s watch has done pretty well for itself, according to the objective measurements most voters care about.
As a result, she has done pretty well for the reputation of the nation’s 28 other Republican governors as a whole.
“When I took office, Oklahoma’s unemployment was 7.2 percent, and now it’s 4.6 percent,” said Mrs. Fallin, 59, whose attraction to governance is in her genes. First her father and then her mother served as mayor of her hometown.
Since she’s been governor, the state has seen 80,000 jobs created, she says.
One of the accomplishments that makes her the proudest puts her state at the top of the heap when it comes to per-person income increases.
“Our per-capita income grew over 6 percent in the short span from 2011 to 2013,” she said. “That’s the second-highest growth rate in this nation.”
Something else put Oklahoma in the first tier of achievers among all states.
“Our gross domestic product growth rate is the fourth-highest in the United States, and its ‘rainy-day’ savings accounts have gone from a sad yet laughable $2.03 in 2010 to more than $530 million today,” she said.
With former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton a possible presidential nominee for Democrats in 2016, Republicans think an accomplished woman who has proven managerial experience as a governor might be the perfect counter on the 2016 ticket.
But like other governors running for re-election, Mrs. Fallin, with a husband and six children, shuns presidential campaign speculation.
“I’m not focused on presidential politics or any other office but the one I hold now. I’m running for re-election, and I’m working to make Oklahoma’s economy the strongest it can possibly be.”
“It’s legitimate for people to ask me about the presidency,” added the former two-term U.S. House member and former chairman of the Women’s Congressional Caucus. “I get asked about running for president all the time, but I’m focused on running for governor.”
Focus is something she makes clear that she prizes as the underpinning of mothering and governing.
“There may be a day when I think of doing something else in politics and public service. If that day comes, what will matter is how successful I have been leading the state of Oklahoma, creating more jobs here, improving education and caring for taxpayer dollars. So all of my energy and focus need to go into the job I have now, regardless of what my future holds.”
Still, it’s a fact of life that if she wins a second term in November, she’s a somebody in presidential wannabe politics; if she loses, she’s at best a once-was somebody from a small state.
Mrs. Fallin, like some other political stars from her state, is not loath to criticize her own party for what she sees as its shortcomings.
Some — not her, she insists — focus on the fact that no Oklahoman, let alone an Oklahoma woman, has ever occupied the Oval Office.
Her champions say the GOP could use a female presidential nominee with a demonstrably serious record of fiscal accomplishment.
That base, Mrs. Fallin said, hasn’t seen the budget and national-debt reductions promised by many Republicans who land on the banks of the Potomac.
“Too many in my party haven’t kept their word on cutting spending, the national debt and government meddling when they got to Washington, including Republican presidents,” she told The Washington Times.
She’s taken what observers call a conservative — the political right calls it “common sense” — line on a number of issues. She earned criticism from Democrats and liberals for shunning federal funding to expand Medicaid in Oklahoma under Obamacare. She argued the extension would have cost as much as $1 billion to extend coverage to uninsured Oklahomans through 2020. Maintaining roads and schools and other state priorities would suffer, she said.
Critics called her arithmetic misleading and ideologically driven.
In June, she approved replacement of the Common Core State Standards in mathematics and English with Oklahoma-written standards.
“Unfortunately, federal overreach has tainted Common Core,” she said. “President Obama and Washington bureaucrats have usurped Common Core in an attempt to influence state education standards. The results are predictable. What should have been a bipartisan policy is now widely regarded as the president’s plan to establish federal control of curricula, testing and teaching strategies.”
Earlier, she had approved rules that the Republican legislature passed for an A-to-F grading of public schools. The purpose, she said, was to give parents a more easily understandable measure of each public school’s performance than the numeric grading system. Her critics called the A-to-F system unfair and misleading. She prevailed.
She is only the fourth Republican governor in Oklahoma history, which she says has her pinching herself every now and then when she thinks back to having grown up in a town of 2,000 people and to her parents as struggling to make ends meet as local government employees.
She also has more than a modicum of determination in her genes.
“My dad was mayor of our hometown and died at 57, so my mom became mayor,” she said.
After college, she became district manager of the national Lexington hotel chain out of Texas. She figures that experience allowed her to know more than a little something about hiring, firing, finding talent, managing it; in other words, all the things voters look for in a chief executive.
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