Of Oklahoma's two new Republican congressmen, Rep. Jim Bridenstine certainly made the bigger splash on his first day on the job.
Bridenstine was one of just a dozen Republicans who stood up yesterday and voted against Ohio Rep. John Boehner's second term as speaker of the House. Bridenstine, a former Navy pilot and tea party favorite from the Tulsa-based 1st District, cast his vote for Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).
Bridenstine's fellow Sooner State freshman, Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R), who hails from the sprawling 2nd District that includes most of eastern Oklahoma, chose to follow the party line and support Boehner.
Just after Boehner had collected enough votes to secure his second term, Bridenstine stepped off the House floor and explained that his vote was simply a reflection of the philosophy he took into his campaign last year against six-term Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.). Bridenstine's six-point primary win over Sullivan was one of the big upsets of the 2012 cycle.
"I challenged an incumbent Republican in a Republican primary, and I thought it was because our country is going in the wrong direction and that we needed new leadership," he said. "Consistent with that message, I made an effort to vote for somebody else" for speaker.
Asked what was wrong with Boehner, Bridenstine pointed to the Republican Party's performance in the 2012 elections.
"We lost seats in the House, we lost the Senate, we lost the presidency, and I just thought it was time for new leadership," he said. "But [Boehner] won. ... He's the Republican guy, and I'm going to be all behind him."
Bridenstine added that he is not concerned about the fallout that might be coming his way as a result of his vote, before turning to greet his father, who told a reporter he was proud of his son.
'We don't create jobs by pushing paper'
To judge by personality alone, Bridenstine might seem the less likely of the two new Oklahoma members to rock the boat on his first day on the job.
"He's very methodical, very quiet," fellow Oklahoma Rep. James Lankford (R) said before the vote for speaker. "As ironic as it is, he's in a very public role and he seems to be a very private guy."
Mullin, meanwhile, is a self-made businessman whose successful plumbing business and home improvement radio talk show on a Tulsa radio station have made him something of a local celebrity in eastern Oklahoma. He captured the seat after the retirement of Rep. Dan Boren -- the only Democrat in the Sooner State delegation -- winning a competitive Republican primary and a competitive general election.
Mullin "is very laid back," Lankford observed. "He's going to wear boots as much as he's going to wear anything."
But despite their differences in style and preference of party leader, both Mullin, 35, and Bridenstine, 37, come to their first elected positions with similar legislative priorities, especially when it comes to energy and regulatory matters.
"We have an over-regulatory environment, and it prohibits us from doing what we need to do to produce the energy that Oklahoma can produce," Bridenstine said yesterday. "What we need to do is undo the regulatory burden that's on these companies and get America drilling again."
Mullin expressed a similar frustration.
"We have over 26,000 square miles [in the 2nd District], and we're laced with our natural resources. We have coal, we have water, we have timber, we have a tremendous amount of natural gas and oil," he said.
And yet, Mullin pointed out, his district is one of the poorest in the country.
"It's underneath our feet as landowners, but ... we can't get to it because of all the red tape it takes to get to products that should be ours," he said.
Mullin said his hostility toward government red tape stems directly from his personal experiences as a company owner and as a rancher on his family farm.
And Mullin reserves a special kind of animosity for U.S. EPA.
As he begins his work on Capitol Hill, Mullin said EPA is an agency with a target on its back.
"A big bull's eye," he said.
"I understand they had a purpose. But it's what they've become. They've become a bureaucracy that is more interested in keeping their self-interests than actually doing what they're supposed to do."
Mullin recalled an incident when federal regulators contacted him with concerns about the 55-gallon diesel storage drums he used on his family farm and wanted him to build a protective berm around his cans.
"I love our land," he said. "You're telling me some guy that's probably never even stepped in cow crap in his life is going to come out here and tell me how to take care of my land?"
Mullin said EPA is running farmers out of business with its regulatory overreach and he wants to begin reining in that overreach one piece of paper at a time.
"Every piece of paper I can take off a desk, I can use that time for production in the field," he said. "That's how we create jobs. We don't create jobs by pushing paper."
Fighting federal regs on technology
Mullin will make his stand against EPA and over-regulation as a member of the House Natural Resources Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Bridenstine will tap into his experience as a Navy F-18 and Hawkeye pilot in Afghanistan and Iraq in his work on the House Armed Services Committee.
Bridenstine has also been given a post on the Science, Space and Technology Committee.
On that panel, the new congressman expects to be well served by his experience working with the private-sector space industry and as executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum and Planetarium.
And while the space flight industry is very different from the energy sector, Bridenstine said yesterday that both are affected by some of the same federal regulatory challenges.
"There's a number of organizations out there that are trying to advance human space flight in the private sector apart from the whimsical budgets of politicians," Bridenstine said. "If we can reduce the regulatory burden on them and free them to take the risks required to have the advancements in technology that we need, then that's something I'm going to be supporting."
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