MARCH 25, 2009

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OU’s Carl Albert Center Acquires Oklahoma Senate Oral History

In 1990, Oklahoma became the first state in the nation to pass a term limits law. Now the University of Oklahoma’s Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center is home to a collection of 14 interviews featuring the first group of Oklahoma’s state senators impacted by term limits. Due to the new law, they left office in 2004.

 “With the departure of these members, we stood to lose a tremendous amount of institutional memory,” said Cindy Simon Rosenthal, director and curator of the Carl Albert Center. “This collection of interviews allows us to capture some of that memory for future study.”

Students, political scientists and historians now have the opportunity to learn from these senators, who held key roles in political and institutional change at the State capitol. 

Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee called the collection “an important narrative of the history and politics of the Oklahoma Senate from those who actually lived it.  This collection forms an essential knowledge base for historians — now and in the future.”

The collection includes interviews from two members who rose to national prominence during their tenure: Sen. Angela Monson became the first black woman and first Oklahoman to serve as president of the National Conference of State Legislatures, and Sen. Jim Dunlap became the first Oklahoman to serve as president of the American Legislative Exchange Council.

The oral history project was the result of the combined efforts of the Oklahoma Senate’s Communication Division, the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority and the Carl Albert Center.

 “A vital part of OETA’s mission is to help Oklahomans have a more thorough understanding of our state and our history,” said OETA Executive Director John McCarroll. “This oral history project dovetailed perfectly with that mission.” 

The Senate Oral History Collection includes 14 DVD interviews capturing the memories and impressions of Sens. Jim Dunlap, R-Bartlesville; Mike Fair, R-Oklahoma City; Charles Ford, R-Tulsa; Sam Helton, D-Lawton; Maxine Horner, D-Tulsa; Rick Littlefield, D-Grove; Jim Maddox, D-Lawton; Angela Monson, D-Oklahoma City; Bruce Price, D-Hinton; Ben Robinson, D-Muskogee; Herb Rozell, D-Tahlequah; Mark Snyder, R-Edmond; Dick Wilkerson, D-Atwood; and Penny Williams, D-Tulsa.

Senate communications director Malia Bennett interviewed the members, and communications specialists Jennifer Brock and Matt Glanville assisted with the review of the transcriptions of the collection.

 “The senators were very generous with their time and were very forthcoming,” Bennett said. “They helped provide a candid picture of how the Senate, as an institution, has changed over the past 50 years, as well as of the contributions they made to Oklahoma.”

The collection also will include two audio interviews, one with former Sen. Jerry Smith, R-Tulsa, and another with the late Sen. Keith Leftwich, D-Oklahoma City, who was the catalyst for the oral history project. Bennett said that Leftwich, before losing his fight with cancer, asked to be interviewed to create a record of his experiences in the Oklahoma Legislature. After it was completed, he recommended recording additional interviews with other members.

Those interested in the Senate Oral History Collection may contact the Carl Albert Center archivists at (405) 325-5835 or e-mail cacarchives@ou.edu.