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Cornett, Stitt claim better experience for job as governor

In a televised debate with little conflict over issues, Republican gubernatorial candidates Mick Cornett and Kevin Stitt on Tuesday each claimed the better resume to improve the state’s standing in key areas.

Cornett, who served 14 years as mayor of Oklahoma City, said he would replicate statewide the accountability, transparency and trust with the citizens achieved in the state’s largest city. Stitt, who founded a mortgage company, said his status as an outsider and a successful businessman would transform the way state government is managed.

“We have to grow and diversify the economy, like we have in Oklahoma City,” Cornett said.

“I have a lot of experience in growing and expanding an economy. And I’d like to take a lot of those attributes statewide. There’s no reason this state can’t grow and expand its economy the same way Oklahoma City has.”

Stitt said, “The state is broken. There’s no accountability.

“I think we need an outsider. We need a business person. We need someone from the private sector to come in and change the accountability.”

The Republican nominee will be selected in the Aug. 28 runoff primary. Drew Edmondson, the former Oklahoma attorney general, is the Democratic gubernatorial nominee.

The debate was televised live from Tulsa on that city’s KOTV station and on KWTV in Oklahoma City.

Cornett, 60, and Stitt, 45, agreed on most of the issues presented.

Both said they would sign legislation to allow people 21 and over to carry a firearm without a license; they said they support the death penalty and were baffled by the problems the state had carrying out executions; they agreed that medical marijuana laws need to be implemented in accordance with the voters’ wishes; they both opposed recreational marijuana; they expressed support for President Donald Trump; and they agreed that teachers need to be better paid.

Both also said they would work to reduce the state’s high incarceration rate and help those with criminal records to get back into the workforce.

Stitt said he opposed the tax increase package approved for teacher pay hikes this year and that he was correct in doing so because more money is flowing into state coffers even without the new tax revenue. Cornett has said previously that he was glad Gov. Mary Fallin signed the tax bill, but he did not address tax hikes in the Tuesday debate.

Both said they support a state question on the ballot in November that would allow school districts to spend local property tax revenue on classroom instruction, rather than just capital projects. The two said local school districts should have more control over their finances.

The debate featured a question from U.S. Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, who asked the men to explain their decision-making processes.

Stitt said he relies on his belief in the Bill of Rights.

“I’m a man of faith,” he said. “I believe in a higher power. And I believe our forefathers believed in that same thing. I’m also a businessman so I think about free markets … And I’m also a father and a husband.”

Cornett said, “Well I think certainly my faith plays a role. And I think when you run for an executive branch position, you bring all of your life experiences to that role.”

He said the values he inherited from his parents “will serve us well. I’m a fifth-generation Oklahoman, the first to not be a wheat farmer from western Oklahoma. And I look forward to taking that urban perspective and that rural perspective and being the best governor I can be.”

On Trump, Cornett said the president put him on a task force on infrastructure and that Trump “loves the way Oklahoma City funds infrastructure projects" by not relying totally on federal aid.

Cornett, who said before the 2016 election that he had trouble supporting Trump, said Tuesday, “I’m glad President Trump is in office. I think his economic policies are benefiting us all. And I look forward to working with him in the future.”

Stitt said, “I voted for Trump, donated to Trump’s campaign. And as a fellow business person, I love his perspective. He’s not a career politician. He’s getting up there and shaking things up. And sometimes the establishment is fighting him. I love his tax cut.”

Asked what their agenda would be for the first 90 days, the candidates said they would focus on the state budget and the management of agencies.

“We’ve got to get our fiscal house in order,” Cornett said. “The bond ratings agencies lowered or downgraded the state of Oklahoma a year ago. And they kind of warned us, if we don’t get our act together, they’re going to do it again. We’re going to have to put some more money back in the Rainy Day fund. And if you look at our record in Oklahoma City, I think you’ll see what accountability looks like.”

Stitt said he would meet with legislators right after the election and “fill out my five pillars: growth, education, health, infrastructure and efficiencies. We will have a very detailed game plan that moves forward. One of those things in the efficiencies column is asking for the authority to hire and fire agency heads.”

Mick Cornett
Mick Cornett
Kevin Stitt
Kevin Stitt

Related Photos
Mick Cornett and Kevin Stitt [The Oklahoman archives]

Mick Cornett and Kevin Stitt [The Oklahoman archives]

<figure><img src="//" alt="Photo - Mick Cornett and Kevin Stitt [The Oklahoman archives]" title="Mick Cornett and Kevin Stitt [The Oklahoman archives]"><figcaption>Mick Cornett and Kevin Stitt [The Oklahoman archives]</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//" alt="Photo - Mick Cornett" title="Mick Cornett"><figcaption>Mick Cornett</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//" alt="Photo - Kevin Stitt " title="Kevin Stitt "><figcaption>Kevin Stitt </figcaption></figure>
Chris Casteel

Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. Casteel covered the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City. From 1990 through 2016, he was the... Read more ›