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C


hris Benge is not a politician. Scratch that. Benge’s occupation is most defi nitely politics, but a career in the Oklahoma Legislature has not resulted in the loosely hung facade some say is found in others of his profession. No Cheshire cat grins here. No back pats or hollow words.


Not even a single talking point to be found. When you meet Benge, you meet a man, who through 12 years as a state representative


avoided the stereotypes and earned a reputation as a public servant. It makes sense then that today—after leaving the legislature in 2010 due to term limits—he


fi lls an unassuming, but vital role in Gov. Mary Fallin’s cabinet. Most voters may never know Oklahoma has a secretary of state (nonetheless understand its function in government) and they may never know Benge serves in this capacity. But just talk with Benge for a few minutes, and his title vanishes in the wake of his words— genuine and kind. He sounds like a friend. He sounds like a leader. And suddenly, it becomes clear: Benge is not a politician; he’s a statesman.


Faith, family and paint With the exception of a distant relative from a


century ago, politics are nowhere to be found in the Benge family tree until Chris Benge came along. The oldest of three siblings, Benge was born in 1962 and lived a Mayberry existence on the southwest edge of Tulsa. His father owned Benge Painting Company and his mother was a homemaker. During a two-hour conversation with Oklahoma


Living, he sauntered memory lane, recalling warm childhood memories of playing in a nearby valley with friends, riding bikes and working with his dad. It was blue-collar-church-pews existence. It was a simple life but honest and pure. “My traditional home life certainly shaped me,”


he said. “We were committed to each other and our faith. That settled and grounded me.” Benge graduated from Webster High School in


12 WWW.OK-LIVING.COOP


1980. He was all boy—in love with sports and un- focused. The exploration of college was a brief one. He enrolled at Tulsa Community College (TCC), took a couple of classes and promptly dropped out. He had the opportunity to help manage the fam- ily business. The allure of a real paycheck; the chance to work side-by-side with his mentor, friend and father; and the time to pursue his hobbies (bas- ketball, deer hunting, golf and softball) made the decision simple.


“I just did not have much interest in learning at the time,” he said. “Decisions you make at 18 years old do impact the rest of your life, but they don’t have to defi ne it.” Another landmark decision came in 1980 as well. Benge had his fi rst brush with politics. At the time his working-class family was dominated by Democrats. His home state was largely Democrat. So—in his mind—he was a Democrat. Then he


watched the Carter-Reagan debates. “It took me about 15 minutes to realize I was conservative Republican,” said Benge, laughing. “Reagan infl uenced me in life and politics. He sparked something in me. It stirred my passion for politics.”


Benge found a different passion three years later when he met an Okemah girl named Allison at church. A few years passed then a fi rst date to a University of Tulsa football game and by 1989 the pair married. His fi rst child, Garrett, joined the family fi ve years later followed by his daughter, Hayden, in 1996. While having carved out a simply happy exis- tence between family, faith and paint, Benge start- ed to feel an odd gnawing inside. Something wasn’t quite right. Soon that feeling led to a decision that redirected his life.


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