12:10 to the Top: Kenneth Ray Corn

  • 12:10 to the Top: Kenneth Ray Corn

Before Kenneth Corn was an upperclassman at the University of Oklahoma, the 22-year old Poteau native had been elected to the state House of Representatives.

“I didn’t finish my degree until 2005 because I had to take classes when the Legislature was out,” he said.

At the age of 9, Kenneth Corn had become interested in politics after hearing a state senate candidate campaigning.

“In 1986, Larry Dickerson was running for state senate,” Corn recalled. “We had just moved from Meridian, Oklahoma, back to Poteau and he came by my mom and dad’s house. I was out in the yard playing, and I just listened to him talk and it sparked my interest.”

Growing up, Corn’s family and friends helped fuel his political aspirations, offering him rides and inviting him to meetings and events around the district. He went on to study political science at OU and served as an intern for Rep. Jim Hamilton, who was the chairman of the Appropriations Committee. When Hamilton retired in 1998, Corn, a college sophomore at the time, was elected to the seat.

“During his two terms representing state House District 3, Corn was vice-chair of the Revenue and Taxation committee, the first freshman lawmaker in three decades to serve in major leadership. He also served as chair of Tourism and Recreation.

While in the House, Corn worked with the Oklahoma Education Association to provide 100% state-funded health insurance for teachers and support personnel.

“At the time, for other state employees, we were paying 100% of their health insurance and 75% of their dependents’. I kept hearing from our teachers that every time we gave them a raise, health insurance would go up and eat up their raise.”

With the bill came several roadblocks for Corn including age discrimination, a budget shortfall, and the loss of his senate author and mentor, Larry Dickerson.

“When I filed that bill, I was called to the Speaker’s office and was asked to sign the bill over to an older member of the House,” stated Corn. “He basically lectured me about I was too young of a member to be carrying such a bill. My response to him was, ‘If you’ve been here such a long time, why haven’t you done it?’

“I was afraid that if I signed it over, it would die for the lack of someone trying to move it.”

With a budget shortfall, Sen. Cal Hobson came up with a plan to insure teachers and support staff. “He laid out his plan on how to phase it in and I readily accepted it,” said Corn.

Before the bill was signed into law, Dickerson succumbed to cancer.

The bill, giving 100% funding for both teachers and support personnel, was enacted as the Larry Dickerson Flexible Benefit Act.

“Larry and I were really close,” Corn said. “In some respects, he was more like a brother than a colleague. He always included me in meetings and activities in the Senate district and I was a Representative of the House. I think he may have been preparing me as his successor.”

Corn had served two terms in the House before being elected to the state Senate, replacing the man who had gotten him interested in politics.

During his time in the state Senate, Corn was instrumental in investing an additional $175 million for the state Transportation Department, the largest major roads and bridges investment in state history at that time.

Corn also authored Senate Bill 920 requiring law enforcement officers to complete training on mental health disorders and “how to differentiate between someone who’s not being responsive and someone who doesn’t understand,” he said.

“With the things that are going on right now across the country it’s probably time for that to be reevaluated. It’s been over 10 years and I noticed that when I was at the Capitol a couple months ago there was a bill stripping some of those reforms out.”

In 2010, Corn ran for Lieutenant Governor but was defeated by Republican Todd Lamb in the general election. The next year he was elected chairman of the Second District Democratic Party.

Five years ago, he became the city manager of Anadarko — a career move Corn is more than pleased with.

“I have found that in municipal government it’s really where things happen closer to people. It’s a chance to accomplish more things that people are affected by directly,” he said. “I’m dealing with issues every single day that affects people directly — their drinking water, ensuring their neighborhoods are safe and making the investments that allow us to do economic development.”

Corn has worked to get the financial house back in order. “It was in bad shape when I got here,” he said. “It was behind three or four years on its state audits. We’re now back in compliance in our auditing and I’ve also managed to get our budget to balance. We had to reduce some services and increase some fees to make things right, but we’re moving in the right direction.”

Anadarko has a capital improvement plan established to improve the failing infrastructure in order to recruit companies into the community. Several old, vacant buildings are being torn down and the parks and downtown area continue to undergo beautification projects. A plan to upgrade the city’s electrical system was derailed by the pandemic, said Corn.

The city is already in discussions with two companies looking to relocate, bringing approximately 130 jobs, but Corn stresses the citizens are capable of creating their own economic success.

“The Native American culture in Anadarko lends itself to producing an industry all on its own. With tourism, I can foresee Anadarko becoming much like Colonial Williamsburg. People go there to see about the nation’s early history and founding of the colonies, you could do the very same thing about the Native American history.

“When people come to Oklahoma to see Native American history, they’re more interested in the Southern Plains Indians because those are the tribes that Hollywood romanticized. By working with the tribes and renovating Indian City, Anadarko has the ability to build on its Native American culture and give artists an avenue to market and export their works.

“We’ve gone back to marketing ourselves as the Indian capital of the nation. We partnered with the tribes to make improvements to the National Hall of Fame for Famous American Indians and we’re going to continue to work towards that.

“I’m trying to pursue a federal grant that would pay for most of that development of a historical and cultural center.

“My goal was to get Anadarko back on its feet and to make it a community that’s sustainable economically; where people can raise their families and enjoy a good quality of life and celebrate the rich history and culture that is here. That culture is being lost because we’ve not done enough to preserve and promote it.”