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Mr. Benge heads to Oklahoma City Sixteen years had passed since Benge made the decision to work with his father and manage the family business. But in 1997, Benge began rehashing the same conversation with his wife. “I kept saying ‘I don’t feel like I’m living up to my potential,’” he explained. “I love working with my dad. We all thought I’d take over the business someday. But I felt like there was something else.” But what?


Almost two decades of reading history and following politics sparked an absolutely crazy idea. The man with no political ambitions and no political pedigree was going to run for the state House of Representatives. “I just had this fundamental belief that I could do a better job and make a difference,” he said. With the filing deadline looming, he had one final discussion with his wife. “She said, ‘If you don’t do this, you’re going to look back and wonder what if.’”


Benge filed his paperwork then faced incumbent Shelby Satterfield (D), who had almost a decade of experience in state politics. Benge’s family rallied around him to help the little-engine-that-could cam- paign. Not a trained speaker, Benge lived by the motto: Keep it short. Get to the point. He planted a grassroots movement by spending each evening walk- ing door to door. Some doors were slammed in his face; some resulted in profitable discussion. No matter, Benge quickly found his niche as the great listener. “People just want to be heard,” he said. “And I wanted to hear them. I’m most comfortable when I can listen to others’ priorities and work to address their problems.” Benge won with a solid 55 percent majority. The man unattached to the political mainstream was now headed to the State Capitol as the representative of District 68. It was “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” but with a prairie backdrop. Whatever expectations Benge had about helping his constituents and “making a difference,” they were quickly dragged into reality during his first week. The political process required a steep learning curve. He listened. Almost three years passed before he spoke on the House of Representatives floor. Not only that, he decided to take the job no one really wanted. As a member of the minority party (only 40 of 101 representatives were Republicans at the time), the party honed in on fiscal responsibility. There was a need for someone to become the party’s budget guru. The boy who wasn’t interested in learning became the man who learned everything there is to know about the state budget. “I have to say I’m a nerd about it,” Benge said. “I was drawn to the budget because that is where all the big decisions are made.” Six years later when the Republican Party became the majority, Benge was named chairman of the Appropriations and Budget Committee, which is responsible for negotiating and writing the state budget. The renewed focus on learning carried over into his personal life. In 2001, Benge returned to college after 20 years. While a hectic schedule dominated his days during session, he found time to take classes at TCC when the legislature was in recess. A few in-class successes built momentum. He took a few more and discovered a rhythm to work and college, continuing this cycle for five years. In 2006, he graduated from OSU-Tulsa with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.


“I did feel like something was missing by not having a degree,” Benge said. “Just because you take one fork in the road when you’re 18 or 19 years old doesn’t mean it’s your full course in life.” While he worked on achieving his personal goal, Benge stayed busy


Chris Benge accepted the position of secretary of state in 2013. Photo by James Pratt


FEBRUARY 2015 13


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