Arriving back on the Oklahoma Christian University campus more than 20 years after his graduation, Oklahoma State Rep. Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher, spoke to a group of students Friday, April 5, about his experience working both in state politics and under former President George W. Bush.
Sanders attended Oklahoma Christian from 1993 to 1997, when he graduated with a history/pre-law degree. Through his role as College Republican chairman, Sanders said he was influential in organizing the event which brought George H.W. Bush to Oklahoma Christian in the fall of 1994.
In October 1999, Sanders interviewed for a position on George W. Bush’s campaign staff. While the interview—3 1/2 hours long—went well, there was no money available to hire a full-time staff member, according to Sanders.
Rather than give up on an opportunity to work for Bush, Sanders said he quit his job and began volunteering with the campaign full-time.
“I packed my stuff up in a U-Haul, moved to Austin, TX, and for six months worked for free,” Sanders said. “I had some money saved up, as a good conservative, but I was running low. Thankfully, I finally got a job on the campaign, and that went through the whole election day and quarter recount.”
In November 2000, Sanders said he was dispatched to Florida to act as a representative for Bush as the formal ballot recounting process was taking place. On one occasion, he was tasked with arguing against counting a ballot with five separate presidential votes toward Democratic candidate Al Gore.
“It was unbelievable, just a very archaic way of voting,” Sanders said. “You pull down the lever, and have like 12 people running for president on the ballot. If you don’t stick your ballot exactly lined up, you could vote for nobody, because it hit in between the lines.”
Following President Bush’s inauguration in January 2001, Sanders served as Director of the White House Intern Program. He then went on to successfully run for State Representative of District 59, a position he has held since 2008.
Sanders also serves as the Deputy House Majority Leader of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, a role he said requires lots of behind the scenes work and excellent communication skills.
“I put out a lot fires behind the scenes,” Sanders said. “I will also help negotiate with the Senate. I’ll be on Flash Point from time to time, the political show on Sundays. I’ll help with the communication strategy. There are going to be inner squabbles, things like that, so I help play mediator.”
While Sanders said he often finds himself mediating between lawmakers and reviewing bills before they hit the Senate floor, a bill he authored was voted into law on April 1.
House Bill 1228 will now require teachers to undergo more extensive dyslexia training during a professional development day. Sanders said he was motivated to sign the bill after learning a year ago his seven-year-old son had dyslexia.
“I didn’t know anything about dyslexia,” Sanders said. “So I started to do more research, and looked into what Oklahoma is doing with dyslexia. I was shocked, not much. Those with dyslexia are stuck in a learning disability class, which is the worst thing you can do.”
If effective, this training program could save the state significant amounts of money in the long run, Sanders said.
“If you look at the kids who have dropped out of high school, an overwhelming number were dyslexic,” Sanders said. “If you look at our prison system, an overwhelming amount of people are dyslexic. So I’m thinking, ‘Okay, a $1 investment in kindergarten or pre-K students as opposed to $25,000 keeping this guy or gal out of prison.’ It makes no sense.”
For students looking to get into politics, Sanders said an undergraduate degree simply is not enough these days.
“Go get an internship in whatever field, try to get your feet wet in that,” Sanders said. “Also, most people your age will have a college degree. So what will separate you from everyone else is probably a secondary degree.”