- Associated Press - Monday, January 12, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Gov. Mary Fallin promised to make health, education and criminal justice reform her priorities Monday as she officially began a second and final four-year term as Oklahoma’s chief executive.

The 60-year-old governor headlined a chilly swearing-in ceremony on the front steps of the state Capitol with her fellow statewide Republican officeholders. Temperatures were in the low 30s, but gusty winds dropped the wind chill into the teens.

Fallin is Oklahoma’s 27th governor and the first woman to hold the post. She won re-election in November with 56 percent of the vote over Democrat Joe Dorman and two independents.

The inaugural ceremonies were held on the Capitol’s grand front entrance, which has been closed to visitors for two years because pieces of limestone and mortar have been falling from the building’s facade. Makeshift scaffolding erected to protect visitors from falling rock was removed last week ahead of the inaugural ceremonies.

In her address, Fallin touted her accomplishments during her first four years in office, including a state economy that has roared back from the recession with lower unemployment, increasing personal incomes and a record $530 million in the state’s Rainy Day Fund.

“I believe the story of the last four years will be a story of an economy lifted out of its deepest recession,” Fallin said.

Fallin also charted a course for her second term. She said her top priorities will be increasing the number of Oklahoma residents who receive college degrees or career certificates, improving the state’s health and addressing the rising prison population.

She noted the state’s overcrowded prisons are filled with nonviolent offenders, many of whom struggle with substance abuse or mental illness.

“They don’t need to spend time in a state penitentiary, where they can join gangs and acquire criminal networks,” Fallin said.

While Oklahoma’s economy has improved, initial projections show state legislators will have about $300 million less to spend on next year’s budget, a hole that could grow deeper if oil prices remain depressed. Much of the shortfall is due to numerous one-time funding sources that were used for the current year’s budget.

The Legislature will convene on Feb. 2, when Fallin will deliver her State of the State speech and present lawmakers with her executive budget proposal.

During the ceremony, noted Oklahoma sculptor Paul Moore unveiled a bronze bust of Fallin that will be displayed in the Capitol’s Hall of Governors.

The inauguration was officiated by former Oklahoma State University and Oklahoma City Thunder basketball player Desmond Mason and included musical performances by child singing star Olivia Kay and award-winning operatic soprano Leona Mitchell.


Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy .

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