An Unlikely Political Pair Take on Maternal Health in Oklahoma
March 30, 2023
Trust and relationship building are often components of effective governance. Representative Ajay Pittman(D-OK) and Senator John Michael Montgomery (R-OK), are two young legislators in Oklahoma whose legislative success puts this in practice. The two lawmakers recently decided to ally on HB2730, a law targeting maternal and infant mortality. Despite being in opposite political parties, the two ended up being the perfect pair for advancing this piece of legislation in their state.
In a joint interview with both Representative Pittman and Senator Montgomery, Pittman shared that their relationship began through their time in the Oklahoma State Future Caucus: “MAP gave us a space to [talk about HB2730]… At first, it was just the four co-chairs [of the caucus] hanging out, having dinner, getting a drink — you know — being young people.”
Pittman and Montgomery shared that they had an ‘aha-moment’ when they were sharing what policy priorities are highest for them — what Pittman refers to as their “pillars.” When sharing, they both realized that health policy is a major concern to each of them. In retrospect, the legislators seemed to agree that this relationship building and the development of common interests laid the foundation for future partnerships that could transcend partisan divides.
A foundation of trust, common interest, and shared goals was set. What was going to be built on it later? Groundbreaking legislation to improve the health outcomes of women of color and newborn babies. Pittman was working on maternal health issues and authored HB2730. When it came across Montgomery’s desk in the Senate, he knew that he wanted to get involved. “I knew the stats in Oklahoma. I’d heard them before, but it hit home at some point. And I was super proud when Ajay … actually had legislation on the issue.”
Montgomery viewed Pittman’s legislation as something that spoke directly to his values as a conservative, noting that his support for the legislation was directly consistent with other policy priorities. In the interview, Montgomery spent a significant amount of time explaining that he was just happy to be able to support Pittman, “[I didn’t] have to be the loudest voice in the room … [I wanted to add and support] to the mission that Ajay in particular was bringing.”
A politician declaring that they don’t need to be the loudest voice in the room might feel like a quarterback deciding that they don’t need to throw a football to win a game. The average American thinks that the lack of government leadership in our country is our #1 problem. But, maybe our perception of our legislators is wrong. Congress is passing bipartisan legislation left and right and some state legislatures have 95% of all legislation passing with bipartisan support. Politicians are working together, even if that’s not the leading story.
In their joint interview, Pittman noted that Montgomery’s support was unique and meaningful, “it is amazing to have an ally … And it’s an unlikely ally, if you think about the makeup of the Oklahoma legislature. But he’s a great partner, great advocate. I wouldn’t have it any other way.” There’s a world where these two young legislators never went to dinner together, never got a drink with one another, and never took the time to learn about each other. A world where they didn’t get outside of their bubbles. It’s a world where women and babies in Oklahoma are less safe. It’s a world of fewer possibilities for progress. We have a lot to learn from Pittman and Montgomery, but for now let’s celebrate their success for what it is: a job well done.
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