Although Senator Keith Leftwich lost his battle with cancer on Friday, the South Oklahoma City Democrat left the state an important legacy of public service and legislation that made Oklahoma a better place to live, work and raise a family. The 49-year-old lawmaker died at approximately 10:30 this morning. He was initially diagnosed with cancer in January 2002. He is survived by his wife Debbe and their sons, Kurt and Kevin.
Born to John V. and Paulyne Leftwich on July 6, 1954, at Tinker Air Force Base, Senator Leftwich was a lifelong student of history and of politics. As a student at Choctaw High School, he served as a legislative page. Senator Leftwich recalled looking at the photographs of legislators hanging in the halls of the Capitol and wondering if his would be there one day, as well as if he would ever play a part in making history. He undeniably did.
Leftwich won a seat in the House of Representatives in 1982 and, in his first term, made history by passing a critical piece of campaign reform legislation.
At that time, it had been legal for a candidate to raise money and then convert those funds to personal use.
Senator Leftwich recalled one candidate who raised money, dropped out of the race, paid income tax and left the state. His legislation made that practice illegal.
While in the House, Leftwich also authored legislation aimed at protecting consumers from what he felt was an excessive amount of rate increases being approved by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission in the mid-1980s. His “Ratepayers’ Bill of Rights” didn’t win final approval, but he did continue to work tirelessly on behalf of consumers throughout his political career.
Senator Leftwich was also concerned about public safety and especially local neighborhoods. After winning his first term in the Senate in 1990, he focused on the growing problem of gangs. At the time, he had to fight both members of the legislature and the law enforcement community who didn’t think Oklahoma had a gang problem.
But after the shooting death of Capitol Hill wrestling star Tommy Byas, more and more people began to see that Senator Leftwich was right—and legislation named for Byas was approved.
He also authored Oklahoma’s Telemarketer Registry bill and, just this last session, wrote and passed legislation making Oklahoma an early Presidential Primary state. His prediction that the presidential primary bill would draw political candidates to Oklahoma was an accurate one.
In fact, the Democratic Presidential Candidate’s Forum held last month in Stillwater marked his final public appearance.
During his legislative career, Leftwich served three terms in the House of Representatives and was in his fourth term in the State Senate, having been re-elected in 2002. Senator Leftwich was chairman of both the standing committee on Transportation as well as the Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government and Transportation.
Reflecting on his role in the Legislature and that of elected officials, Senator Leftwich once said, “One of the things I learned about leadership—it’s not just some dry exercise in how much you know. They’ve got to know how much you care before they care how much you know. It’s empathy. It’s sort of opening up and reaching out to people. It’s really about proving that you care and meaning it.”
Senator Leftwich proved how deeply he cared time and time again. He not only accomplished much good on behalf of our state, but he also played an important role in shaping both Oklahoma’s history and its future. His wisdom and experience are irreplaceable.
Funeral arrangements are pending with Branstetter-Merritt Funeral Home, 7720 S. Pennsylvania, in Oklahoma City.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial contributions be sent to the Carl Albert Foundation, 531 Couch Drive, Ste. 200, OKC, 73102.