The congressman also made headlines recently when he disclosed that his own health coverage, purchased when he opted out of the congressional health care plan, had been cancelled due to the Affordable Care Act. Under questioning from Gardner, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius erroneously disclosed that she wasn't eligible to enroll in the ACA -- an admission later proven false.
Gardner's roots in the Centennial State run deep -- his family has lived in Colorado since the 1880s and he lives in a house that once belonged to his great-grandparents out on the state's eastern plains. Gardner's success has already started whispers about his future, perhaps as a potential Speaker of the House or governor. While he has wisely remained coy, there's no question he's one to watch as Republicans attempt to recapture what was once a solidly red state.
Speaker T.W. Shannon – Oklahoma House of Representatives
As the GOP looks to a new generation of legislators to continue its rebuilding, they have high hopes for Tahrohon Wayne Shannon. In January, Shannon was chosen as the first African-American Speaker of the Oklahoma House, capping a rocket ride of a political career that began in 2006.
An interview with the smooth-talking Shannon provides a refreshing take on traditional conservative principles. As for the seeming disconnect between Republicans and younger voters, he explained, "It's all about message and messenger; that's where we have lost the battle as a party -- what we haven't done is gone and explained why [conservative principles] even matter to them. You have a whole generation of young people who don't think in those terms. You have to communicate that these principles lead to prosperity".
Shannon's ease on the stage and unique background (he's also a registered member of the Chickasaw Nation) has caught the eye of the Republican National Committee, which recently named him as one of its "rising stars." Shannon also served as a national advisor for GOPAC, the organization devoted to promoting up-and-coming Republican leaders.
The 35-year-old father of two describes his most passionate issue as "promoting strong families and the sanctity of life." Shannon's riff on what constitutes "pro-life" is a cool breeze on the traditionally hot rhetoric associated with the issue. "When you talk about pro-life, that doesn't mean just in the womb," Shannon said. "That's important. It goes beyond that though. We should be looking at pro-life issues from the cradle to grave. We as a party should own that."
Matt Pinnell, currently State Party Director for the RNC and former chairman of the Oklahoma GOP, had this to say of Shannon: "He's the real deal. In a state with many conservative stars, he's arguably at the top of the heap."
Shannon's continued ascension into the national conversation is dependent on having the opportunity. With Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin doing an impressive job in her first term, and senior Sen. James Inhofe having declared for re-election, Shannon's chance may come when Sen. Tom Coburn retires at the end of his current term. Interestingly, Shannon told the Tulsa World that he had no plans to be a career politician, a model consistent with his former boss and mentor, former Rep. J.C. Watts.