As a delegation from Japan visits the Sooner State to celebrate 30 years of the Kyoto-Oklahoma Sister State relationship on November 18, 2015, one former state leader can be largely credited with the initially forging those ties.
“I’m very pleased that we were able to get Oklahoma to start thinking internationally,” said former Governor George Nigh. “There were times when I was governor that we had trouble convincing people of the importance of connecting Oklahoma internationally, but I’m very proud of what it is today.”
Nigh credits his ties to the Junior Chamber International organization and his role as a pitchman of Oklahoma City as host of the group’s 1965 international congress. As both a governmental representative and junior chamber member, Nigh attended international meetings in locales as far flung as Paris and Hong Kong to promote Oklahoma City as a host for the International Jaycees.
“We had representatives from 70 countries from around the world come to Oklahoma City to attend that conference,” said Nigh in a July 2015 article on www.OKGIT.com. “Getting that international conference held here, that is what got me interested in more international things as they related to Oklahoma.”
He acknowledges that there were some feelings of resentment towards his administration’s efforts to forger global ties with Oklahoma, as well as his office’s use of funds to send the then-governor on international trips promoting the Sooner State. More so, when it came to Japanese companies, the memories of WWII and Pearl Harbor were hard to forget for many Oklahomans, even forty years after the war’s end.
“I was in the navy at the end of WWII, so I know the resentment. But, the world had changed,” said the McAlester, Oklahoma-native.
The governor made it a point of selling a landlocked state like Oklahoma as the center of the U.S. Thanks in large part to its road, rail and river infrastructure, Oklahoma is roughly one day’s journey from the east and west coasts and borders with Canada and Mexico. Its location, educated workforce and low cost of living have been selling points for many an international firm. Nigh counts the Hitachi Corporation’s basing of its factory in Norman, Oklahoma as proof of these factors.
In his trip to inaugurate the Kyoto Prefecture – Oklahoma Sister State relationship in 1985, Nigh found out he wouldn’t be the only ‘Okie in attendance at his reception press conference. Current State Senator Randy Bass, from Lawton, Oklahoma, was a professional baseball player in Japan at the time of Nigh’s visit. As a fellow Oklahoman, Bass had been invited to the governor’s reception. Though the two had never met before, Bass greeted the governor and gave a brief statement to a packed room of Japanese media.
“Randy was the most popular baseball player in Japan when I visited,” recalled Nigh. “When I saw how many people were at the reception, I said ‘My gosh, I have never received this much press attention in my whole political career!’”
The plan was for Nigh to address the assembled crowd following Bass’ remarks, who himself had to leave before the governor spoke in order to get ready for the game. However, all did not go to plan. After speaking, Bass shook the governor’s hand and excused himself from the press conference.
“He left, and every member of the press but two left before I spoke” said Nigh with a laugh. “Here I am speaking, and they’re coming up and pulling the microphones off the podium from in front of me. They came to Randy Bass. But Randy being there allowed me to become known in Japan.”
Despite that, Nigh credits Bass’ boost as being vitally important in his cementing the Kyoto-Oklahoma relationship. The two are slated to attend Wednesday’s afternoon at the reception Oklahoma State Capitol to celebrate 30 years of the sister state relationship.