OKLAHOMA CITY — Republican Mary Fallin became Oklahoma's first female governor on Monday and vowed to follow through on her campaign promises to attract more jobs, improve public education and reduce the size of state government.
With a light snow falling and temperatures dipping below freezing, Fallin took the oath of office during a ceremony on the south steps of the state Capitol. Eight other statewide officials, all Republicans, also swore their oaths before an estimated crowd of 1,200 people.
Fallin is a 20-year veteran of Oklahoma politics who previously served in the Oklahoma House and as the state's first Republican and first female lieutenant governor. She said she was excited about returning to her home state after spending four years in Congress representing Oklahoma's 5th Congressional District.
"I could not agree more with the famous words of Dorothy in one of my favorite movies of the past. In the movie, 'The Wizard of Oz', when she impassionedly declared 'There is no place like home.' Well, truly for me there is no place like Oklahoma, and I am proud to call it my home," said Fallin, 56, who wore a blue scarf to honor the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team.
Fallin is Oklahoma's 27th governor and replaces Democrat Brad Henry, who left office after eight years because of term limits. She defeated Democrat Jari Askins in the general election with more than 60 percent of the vote. The all-woman, general election matchups in Oklahoma and New Mexico last year were just the third and fourth such contests in U.S. history.
Fallin vowed to make Oklahoma more business friendly, improve public education and reduce the size of state government, all of which were consistent themes during her gubernatorial campaign.
"In Oklahoma what we need are more jobs, not more taxes — let me add — more private sector jobs," Fallin said. "We must make certain Oklahoma's business climate can attract new capital, new investments, which produce new jobs and retain existing jobs."
Among her plans to improve the business climate in Oklahoma are changes to Oklahoma's tort and workers' compensation laws, streamlining "government bureaucracy" and eliminating tax incentives that do not produce jobs.
With Oklahoma facing an expected budget shortfall approaching $300 million, Fallin acknowledged there will be difficult decisions that need to be made during the legislative session that begins Feb. 7.
"But with that challenge comes the opportunity to seriously examine how we conduct the people's business," Fallin said. "It is time to ask the probing questions, the 'why' questions — why have we done it like this for years and why can't we consider another approach, a different approach, a modern approach."
"My administration will be focused on creating jobs and growing our state economy, not our state government."
She said Oklahoma throughout its history has rebounded from down times — citing specifically natural and economic disasters and the April 15, 1995, bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building.
"Yes, we have confronted difficult times — injustices, dust bowls, oil busts, a great depression, a bombing and now a great recession. But Oklahoma has always emerged a stronger, better state because of the tenacity and resiliency of our people," she said.
After taking the oath of office, Fallin said her first order of business was to honor America's men and woman serving in the military. She then introduced retired Army Gen. Tommy Franks, a Wynnewood native who served as commander in chief of the U.S. Central Command during military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"As a soldier first, and an Okie always, I'm honored to join in saluting men and women who serve and their families who sacrifice so much to guarantee our freedom," Franks said. "I've had the privilege over time to serve with these heroes, and I'll tell you there's no greater honor than to lead America's sons and daughters."
Franks noted 99 Oklahoma soldiers have lost their lives since 2001 in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Moore native Toby Keith also sang "American Soldier" under an Oklahoma flag flying at half-staff in honor of those killed and wounded during Saturday's attack on a congresswoman in Arizona.
Following the ceremony, Fallin and her new husband, Wade Christensen, received guests during a ceremony in the second-floor rotunda. The inaugural ball was set for Monday night at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.