theadanews.com - Ada, Oklahoma

July 12, 2013

Paying tribute to State Rep. Bob Plunk

Eric Swanson Staff Writer adanewsreporter@cableone.net
www.theadanews.com

Ada —

Former Rep. Bob Plunk liked getting up early so he could get a head start on the day’s work.

When Plunk was in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, he typically arrived at work by 5 a.m. each day. The front doors of the state capitol were locked at that hour, so Plunk had to use the janitorial entrance to get into the building.

Once Plunk entered his office, he started his day with a prayer. Then he began reviewing the paperwork that had piled up on his desk.

“He’d read his Bible and pray, and then he’d start studying the bills to try to stay one step ahead before they started,” said his son, Byng resident Bruce Plunk.

Plunk’s family and friends shared their memories of the former businessman and lawmaker who died Thursday of a heart attack at an Ada hospital. He was 81.

 

City government

A native of Allen, Plunk graduated from Allen High School in 1951 and joined the U.S. Air Force. He served in the prestigious Strategic Air Command during the Korean War, which sparked his interest in politics.

Plunk turned 21 while he was in the Air Force and was eligible to vote for the first time, he told The Ada News in 2006. He cast an absentee ballot in the 1952 presidential election, which pitted Republican nominee Dwight D. Eisenhower against the Democratic candidate, Adlai Stevenson.

Plunk later received an honorary discharge from the Air Force, and Allen resident Fred Kimbrough convinced him to seek a seat on the city council. He won the election and dove into local government — an experience that led him to serve as the town’s city manager.

He also served on the board of directors of the Southern Oklahoma Development Association and led the effort to establish volunteer fire departments in SODA’s 10-county region, which includes Pontotoc County.

Plunk juggled service on the city council with his responsibilities as the owner of Plunk Service Co., which manufactured camper jacks and fabricated metal. He also ran Bob’s Fast Pac in Allen and served as secretary of the Pontotoc County Election Board.

Plunk got his first taste of state politics in 1988, when he served as  campaign manager for senatorial candidate Dick Wilkerson, he told The Allen Advocate in 2007. Wilkerson beat the incumbent, and people began asking Plunk if he would consider seeking a seat in the Legislature.

Plunk mounted his first legislative campaign in 1992 but fell short of victory, capturing only 49 percent of the vote, according to the Feb. 15, 2007, edition of the Advocate. Following that election, Plunk studied the issues he might face if he ran again.

Two years later, the incumbent approached Plunk and said he would not seek another term because he knew Plunk would win.

Bruce Plunk said some people might have given up their hopes of a political career after losing their first race, but not his father.

“He could have just gone back to his business and quit, but he still saw a need for rural Oklahoma and felt like he could attack that,” Bruce said. “And two years later, he made another run and was successful. 

“Once in position, he held that fast for 12 years because he did do what he promised.” 

 

‘Represent his people’

Plunk was elected in 1994 to the Oklahoma House, where he served on the Veterans Affairs, Transportation and House Rules committees. His other assignments included a stint on the Subcommittee on Appropriations for Transportation and General Government.

Former Rep. Jari Askins said she was elected to the House in 1994 — the same year as Plunk — and they spent 12 years together in the House. She said her friend devoted most of his energy to helping people find the resources they needed to solve their problems.

“He was up there to represent his people, not to see how many new laws he could get passed,” she said.

Plunk was re-elected to five consecutive terms, but term limits forced him to step down after the 2006 legislative session. Oklahoma allows its lawmakers to serve up to 12 years combined in the state House and Senate.

Plunk, who was 74 when he gave up his House seat, told The Ada News in 2006 that he might have chosen to retire even without term limits but he said he did not think term limits were a good idea for rural counties like the ones in the 25th District.

“As Oklahoma’s population continues to shift to urban areas, rural districts will become ever larger,” he said. “As Oklahoma City and Tulsa’s population grows, so will their influence in the Legislature.”

Plunk helped local officials find grants or other financing for several major projects, including a $492,763 grant for the Allen Community Development Authority. He also helped secure $11 million in revenue bonds for a fine arts center and student housing at East Central University as well as funding for the Pontotoc Technology Center’s Regional Fire Training and Emergency Services Center.

He also wrote or helped write several bills, including a 1996 law that created the state’s Rural Economic Action Plan. The program allows local governments to apply for state dollars for water system improvements and other projects.

Bruce said his father was more interested in helping his constituents than in seeking personal glory.

“If he could have just helped people and never gone to Oklahoma City and then had the power, that would have suited him fine,” Bruce said.

 

‘His ultimate love’

The people who knew Plunk said he enjoyed seeing people succeed and did his best to help them.

Dr. Charles Peaden, who teaches political science at East Central University, said Plunk was always willing to share his expertise in state and local government with students.

“He knew a great deal about the inner workings of the state Legislature,” said Peaden. “That was obvious.”

Bruce Plunk said his father cared about volunteer fire departments and helped area departments find money for new equipment. He also provided cafeteria equipment for one local school and helped another school buy new textbooks.

Bruce said his father was proud of his military career and his service in the Legislature, and he loved his hometown.

“My dad was a servant,” Bruce said. “He was very proud to be an American and to have served in wartime. He was very proud to have worked in the Legislature and been able to work for rural Oklahoma and especially Pontotoc County.

“But his ultimate love was Allen, Okla., where he grew up. He wanted to see good things happen to Allen and the people of Allen.”