Commentary: Turning Around Oklahoma
Published: January 14th, 2019
On Monday (January 14), J Kevin Stitt was sworn in as governor of Oklahoma.
Stitt, 46, is the first Native American to serve as a governor in the United States (he is an enrolled member of the Cherokee tribe). He started Gateway Mortgage in Tulsa in 2000 and now it has 1,200 employees in 41 states.
This was Stitt’s first run for public office. He bested six viable candidates to win the GOP nomination and then beat the Democrat nominee by twelve percentage points. His election is very much like President Trump’s– unpredicted, unexpected and by a true political outsider.
At his inauguration address, Governor Stitt, the son of a Baptist preacher, emphasized his business background. He said he would hold state agencies accountable, make them more efficient, and taxpayer friendly.
Stitt’s tag line during his campaign was: “Oklahoma’s turnaround starts right here-right now.”
In an inauguration speech that sounded more like a campaign speech, Stitt said he wanted to make Oklahoma a top ten state in all the categories that mattered. Currently the state ranks in the bottom third of most major economic indicators.
First, Oklahoma needs a turnaround. The Sooner state ranks low in per capita income when compared to other states and has for decades. The infrastructure (roads and bridges) need work. Oklahoma government needs modernization. There is little accountability of state government to taxpayers. The Sooner state has languished in the bottom third for too long.
Second, Stitt can’t turn the state around by himself. The fact is the office of governor is Oklahoma has defined authority under the State Constitution. That authority has been expanded in recent years with the cooperation of the legislature, but the office is still not as powerful as other states. Stitt will need the legislature and the support of all Oklahomans to accomplish a turn around.
Three, Stitt’s approach to governing will be different. The new governor, with a private sector bent, has appointed a chief operating officer as a liaison between himself and state agency heads. He has said he will order comprehensive audits on every organization/agency that gets state tax dollars and supports needs based budgeting. That is a radically different approach to governing than in the past.
In his speech, the new governor said: “We need to change how Oklahoma’s 400 agencies and commissions are comprised. Our current system gives agencies too much independence from the voter – they have the ability to ignore executive orders, skirt around laws passed by the legislature, hide pockets of money, and protect their own interests by hiring lobbyists.”
Stitt will need the legislature’s cooperation to reform state agencies. Time will tell whether he will have it. Every turnaround or movement has a beginning. It remains to be seen if Oklahoma’s started on Monday.
On Thursday, the Stephens County GOP will hold bi-annual precinct meetings at 6 p.m. at the Red River Tech Center. The county convention will follow. All registered Republicans are encouraged to attend.For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: Steve Fair’s commentaries have appeared occasionally at the CapitolBeatOK website. Fair is Chairman of the Fourth District of the Oklahoma Republican Party. He can be reached by phone at 580.252.6284 or by email at email@example.com.
His blog is stevefair.blogspot.com.