PROFILE: From OK to DC, Keating's candor is the talk of the town

Frank Keating always speaks his mind. And while it irked some during his terms as OK governor, it prompted the American Council of Life Insurers to hire him as its new CEO.

Frank Keating always speaks his mind. And while it irked some during his terms as OK governor, it prompted the American Council of Life Insurers to hire him as its new CEO.

Frank Keating leaves the Oklahoma governor's office today after eight years during which constituents rarely wondered what their political leader thought about anything. Critics agree, as does Keating himself, that anyone who keeps his mouth open as much as Oklahoma's outgoing governor will eat shoe leather sometimes. In a recent Tulsa World poll, Oklahomans most often cited Keating's off-the-cuff remarks as his "biggest failure as governor." For example, he once quipped that "homicide" would be the best way to deal with a teachers' union, and he called Tulsans "very dumb" for not electing his wife, Cathy, to Congress. "In politics, a real lesson is that people like candor as long as it conforms to what they think the laws of gravity are," Keating observes. Yet he wouldn't take back many of his public comments. The circumstances surrounding his governorship and his sometimes compassionate, sometimes caustic remarks pushed his profile sky high. That notoriety no doubt helped him land an influential lobbying job in Washington, DC as president and CEO of the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI). Only a few months into his first term, the Oklahoma City (OKC) bombing rocked the nation. Thrust before the cameras, Keating saw his job as reassuring and comforting the public. As a former federal prosecutor, Keating appreciates law enforcement's need to keep some investigative details confidential, but he praised the openness of state and federal agencies in OKC. A couple of months before September 11, Keating participated in a mock disaster drill and told Congress of the importance of sharing information among agencies and with the public. "From my own service in Washington, I know there exists an instinct for secrecy, an urge to classify," Keating told lawmakers. "When the question is between candor and secrecy in a matter of enormous public interest, unless there is clear and compelling reason for secrecy, candor should be the chosen option," he added, citing examples of how that philosophy worked in OKC. Keating also observed that local agencies always respond first. "I think the best communication is local, because people know their local officials, and in most cases trust them," Keating explains. "The local officials have to be well-trained and well capable of explaining to the public what's going on." Keating's approval rating soared in the wake of the OKC bombing, but his tenure brought other challenges. He adopted an "us against them" stance in dealing with Oklahoma's Democratic legislative majority and broke the state's veto record. He considers successful passage of a union-weakening right-to-work referendum in Woody Guthrie's home state among his most significant accomplishments. Former deputy press secretary Phil Bacharach described him as a loyal boss, and Keating's last press secretary, Dan Mahoney, will work for him at the ACLI. Keating says organizational leaders should keep PR staffers "right at their elbows." "I've always wanted them to be very open, very tough, very experienced, but no cynics need apply." In fact, Oklahoma Observer editor Frosty Troy recalls Keating labeling a pack of newspaper journalists "sneering cynics" as he stormed out of one press conference. "The guy was made for television," Troy opines. "He gets furious with the print media." Most recently, Keating entered the spotlight by heading the National Review Board, a lay commission appointed by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to advise its newly formed Office of Child and Youth Protection. The bishops chose Keating, a practicing Catholic, for his strong administrative skills and experience guiding a state through crisis, said conference spokeswoman Sister Mary Ann Walsh. Keating's comments on sexual abuse made him a target for both sides of the debate. An editorial in the Boston Archdiocese's official newspaper accused him of advocating "mortal sin" by suggesting that Catholics unhappy with their clergy withdraw financial support and attend mass elsewhere. Meanwhile, some reform advocates criticized his apparent softening on some issues. "Frank is a straightforward guy who says what's on his mind in very plain English. He's a sound bite wonder," observes retired E.W. Scripps CEO Bill Burleigh, a board member who leads the panel's media committee. "That kind of language wasn't normally heard in the ecclesiastical high heavens." Keating's public statements have been both helpful and challenging, but positive overall, Burleigh says. "Regardless of how he said them, he was basically right. His instincts are pure, and Frank is a very passionate person." Although his public persona might seem brash for a stodgy topic like life insurance, the ACLI is counting on Keating's connections in DC and in state governments, which regulate the industry. A history buff, Keating will also publish his second children's biography this year, a book about Theodore Roosevelt. Keating hasn't dismissed the possibility of returning to politics after completing his four-year contract with ACLI, but whatever his future holds, the Oklahoman will no doubt have something colorful to say about it. "I love the language, I love humor, and on occasion people have taken what I've said out of context," Keating says of his verbal gaffes. "But that's not an excuse for paralysis. You shouldn't use it as an excuse to do or say nothing." ------- Frank Keating 1969 Earns law degree from Univ. of Oklahoma and becomes an FBI special agent 1972 Elected to OK House of Representatives and to the State Senate two years later 1981-1992 Holds posts in the US Treasury, Justice Department, and Department of Housing and Urban Development during the Reagan and Bush administrations 1994 Wins first of two terms as OK governor June 2002 Appointed by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to chair the National Review Board, a lay advisory panel to its Office of Child and Youth Protection January 2003 Becomes president and CEO of the American Council of Life Insurers

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