In late January, as Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt called for a special legislative session with an eye toward passing an income tax cut, Senate Pro Tempore Greg Treat found himself with a decision to make.

Stitt clearly wanted the cut, which would have lopped 0.25% off of the state’s top personal income tax rate. So did House Speaker Charles McCall, who said his chamber would approve the cut as soon as possible.

Treat is in favor of tax cuts too. He’s pushed for the removal of a grocery tax, which the Legislature passed and Stitt signed into law this session. Like Stitt, Treat believes Oklahoma should one day have no personal income tax. But he was concerned with the Governor’s proposal. Treat said Stitt hadn’t articulated exactly how the cut, which would cost the state about $300 million, would be funded. Instead Stitt pointed to Oklahoma’s beefy savings account as justification for the cut.

Ultimately the Senate chose not to pass the tax cut during the special session and Treat said he was guided by a simple thought he’s used throughout his term as Pro Tem.

“I just want to leave things better than I found them,” Treat told The Frontier during a recent interview. “And I wasn’t convinced yet this was the right thing for us to do for the taxpayers of Oklahoma.”

Stitt, Treat and McCall have been on top together for five years, an unprecedented amount of time for a Governor, House Speaker and Senate Pro Tem to serve side-by-side. Stitt, during his recent State of the State address, highlighted their time together.

“Never in Oklahoma history have the same four elected officials served in our positions together for six full years,” Stitt said during the address. “We haven’t always agreed, but we’ve accomplished a great deal working together for the people of Oklahoma.”

But that run is set to come to an end. Term-limited, Treat and McCall will soon pass the torch to new leaders in the House of Representatives and Senate. Republican Senators selected Sen. Greg McCortney, R-Ada, pro tem designee in February Unless a successful challenger emerges, McCortney will be confirmed in January 2025. Republican House members named 29-year-old Rep. Kyle Hilbert, R-Bristow as House Speaker designee in March.

The leadership titles aren’t just window dressing. If confirmed, McCortney and Hilbert will be in charge of which bills are heard during session, and to which committees bills get sent. 

“These are tough, important jobs,” Treat told The Frontier. “I used to run relay in track, and you can mess up when hand the baton to the next person if you hold onto it too long. I want to make sure I hand it off in the right way, at the right time.”

Treat, who is now 45 years old, presents something of a laid-back, comfortable figure. He’s grown his graying hair out in the last year, and when he speaks, he pauses a beat, searching for the right words. Stocky, he’s cut like a former football player. He carries the sort of quiet confidence that comes with spending years in leadership.

“When I first got elected, a reporter asked me what my management style was,” Treat told The Frontier. “I don’t think you can ‘manage’ people in this role, it requires leadership.”

Politicians aren’t coming to the Capitol to be managed, he said. Most come from communities where they’re already considered leaders in their own right, and those communities have their own needs and desires. Believing that one person can manage those personalities is a fool’s errand, he said.

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“You’ll be eternally frustrated if you’re trying to manage that many people,” Treat said. “It’s about building relationships, rapport and trust, and getting people to follow your lead.”

Treat said not much has surprised him in his time as a lawmaker. First elected in 2011 during a special election to replace Todd Lamb, who was elected Lieutenant Governor, Treat is now a veteran.

“People ask me every year, ‘Are we going to have a normal session?’” Treat said with a laugh. “This is my 14th regular session and I’ve yet to see a regular one.”

Before becoming Pro Tempore, Treat worked with former Pro Tempore Brian Bingman and said he had assumed some of Floor Leader Mike Schulz’s duties when Schulz’s wife became ill. When he was first elected Pro Tempore in 2019, he said he came in with “eyes wide open.”

In the years leading up Treat’s time in leadership, the Oklahoma Senate faced a string of controversies. Ralph Shortey, a Republican Senator from Oklahoma City, was convicted in 2017 of child sex trafficking and sentenced to 15 years in prison after being arrested in a motel with a 17 year-old boy. In 2014, Harry Coates, R-Seminole, pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated in Texas. That same year, Sen. Bryce Marlatt, R-Woodward, pleaded no contest to driving under the influence after being found sleeping in a running pickup down a county road, smelling of alcohol. In 2017 Marlatt was charged with sexual battery after being accused of grabbing an Uber driver and kissing her neck. He pleaded guilty and resigned.

“This is no knock on previous leaders,” Treat told The Frontier. “But I hope (the Senate) is in much better shape now than when I got here. Our financial picture is in much greater order and also the culture is just in a much better spot.” 

While McCall and Stitt haven’t always seen eye-to-eye (Stitt sued McCall and Treat in 2023 after the House and Senate voted to override Stitt’s tribal compact bills,) the Atoka-native has been on Stitt’s side more often than not.

And that, House of Representatives Caucus chair Stan May said, is what will be expected of Hilbert as well.

“That’s what we’re looking for because, quite frankly, that’s what our constituents are looking for,” May told The Frontier. “They don’t want to change course. The caucus is definitely not clamoring for a change in the direction.”

McCall said there’s “no question” he and Stitt have had a good working relationship. They both come from the private sector and both have owned and operated their own companies.

“We definitely speak the same language on a lot of things,” he told The Frontier. The two have butted heads over tribal compacts and relationships with tribes who reside in Oklahoma, but “that’s OK,” he said. 

“We’re checks and balances on each other,” McCall said. “That’s how it should work.

When he looks back at his term as Speaker, which began in 2016, McCall told The Frontier he’s thankful for “six of the eight years.”

McCall’s first two years as speaker came during what he termed a “revenue contraction.” With less money than expected, budgets were getting squeezed, and everyone was unhappy. 

“We felt like the economy was starting to come back around slowly, but people were frustrated,” he said. “People wanted a teacher pay raise right off an election cycle in the house. There was a lot of pressure.”

In 2017, McCall felt there wasn’t money at the time for the teacher raise, though “it’s what we needed to do.” Instead, he proposed a $6,000 bump that would be phased in over three years and wouldn’t require additional revenue.

“The Senate wasn’t interested,” McCall recalled. “Senate leadership told us they didn’t believe Oklahomans wanted it.”

The next year, teachers walked out of the classroom and thousands came to the Capitol to support a raise. The walkout lasted nearly two weeks before an agreement was finally reached.

“It was frustrating, it was emblematic of the problems we faced at the time,” McCall said. “We said originally ‘If we don’t do this now, we’ll have to do it all at once. People will be upset.’ Of course that’s exactly what happened. The first two years were very rough.” 

But the last six years have been better. There’s been disagreement over how best to use the state’s budget surplus, but at the end of the day, he said, having more is better than having less.

“That good, sound, fiscal position we’re in is what allows us to do what Oklahomans want us to do,” McCall said. “You can’t do it if you’re living day-to-day.”

McCall said he plans to sit down with Hilbert, his presumptive replacement, to discuss the specifics of leading the House. A “culture of civility,” which the House has lacked at times, is important, McCall said. As is the ability to work with the Senate and the Governor’s office. At times it’s easy, McCall said, but when everyone has different priorities, navigating those relationships can be tough. Solving that puzzle requires experience.

“From that standpoint there’s definitely stuff I’d like to pass on (to Hilbert,)” McCall said. “Hopefully (he) won’t have to feel his way through the dark.”

As for future goals? He said he wants to focus on “maximizing” this current legislative session. And then when his term ends, he’ll head to vacation with his wife. He wouldn’t commit to running for Governor when Stitt’s term ends, or for any other office. But it’s not not on his mind.

“What I’ve always found is if you do a good job in public service, people will encourage you to serve somewhere else and then you can think about it,” he said. “If you don’t do well, they won’t ask you for anything. And then you have nothing to contemplate.”

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