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Special Report: Making Laws, Making History

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LAWTON Okla_ His story represents a series of firsts. He was the first republican to be elected to Lawton's House District 62 in 2006. Now, just seven years later, T.W. Shannon is the first Lawtonian and African-American to serve as Speaker of the Oklahoma House.

It's been a rapid rise to the top for the 35-year-old. He said he's not sure what his life in politics will bring next, but top republicans across the country are keeping a very close eye on his progress as the party looks to the future.

7News Anchor Monte Brown recently spent a day with Shannon and his family to learn more about their new lives in the spotlight.

Mornings at the Shannon household are probably a lot like yours. There's the rush to get their young children read for school and the all important first meal of the day. You might think the House Speaker would have to give up some of those precious moments in order to lead Oklahoma's largest legislative body, but that's not the case.

Every family struggles for the work/family balance.

"I make a commitment by being sure that I can have one meal a day with the family," Shannon said. "Either I have breakfast, or I have dinner with them. That's kind of the commitment I've made."

Much like his children, T.W. was raised in Lawton.

"I'm a Wolverine," Shannon said. "Of course, I married an Eagle, which, one day out of the year, presents an interesting situation."

It was during his childhood in Lawton, when Shannon got his first taste of politics through school elections.

"I started exploring kind of what my skill set is, and I'm a people person," Shannon said. "I enjoy people. I enjoy fixing problems and finding solutions to problems. More than anything, I enjoy serving."

After high school, Shannon took his ambitions to Cameron University and then on to law school. That's where he found work and wisdom with former Fourth District Congressman JC Watts.

"J.C.'s the Great Communicator," Shannon said. "I saw a guy's conviction and commitment to faith and family, and how he interwove that into how he governed. I think that was probably the greatest lesson I learned from J.C."

After Watts, Shannon went to work for his successor, Congressman Tom Cole, who taught him another side of politics.

"Tom Cole is a great strategist," Shannon said. "Watching Tom masterfully work through problem-solving at the national level is really quite mind boggling."

After law school, Shannon went to work for the Chickasaw Nation for about three years, before moving back to west Lawton to run for his first office, an open seat in House District 62.

"I grew up there," Shannon said. "I grew up in that seat. My parents still live there on Meadowbrook, and they were kind of my secret weapon, as was my church family, Bethlehem Baptist Church."

Not only did he win the seat; he received 58% of the vote. Two years later, he was re-elected with 61% approval. No one even challenged him in 2010 or last year. Meanwhile at the capitol, his Republican House colleagues began to see his leadership potential.

"I always said that I did not want to be speaker," Shannon said. "When I was first elected, I said being Speaker is kind of like having a swimming pool or boat. Every now and then, you might think you want one, but at the end of the day, it's probably better to just have a good friend or neighbor with one."

After some convincing, including words of encouragement from fellow Lawton Representative Ann Coody, Shannon decided he was up to the challenge.

"For me, it's all about the next generation," Shannon said. "How do we provide a sense of prosperity for future Oklahomans, like my son, like my daughter? How do we ensure that when they become 18, and they're productive citizens, that they don't have to leave the state of Oklahoma in order to do better?"

Speaker Shannon is in a position to become the longest serving Republican House Speaker in State history, but I was surprised when he told me he has not committed to serving what could be five more years in the office.

You'll hear why, and what he hopes to accomplish in the time being- when our special report continues Friday night.

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