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Stitt: No government experience? No problem

Republican gubernatorial candidate Kevin Stitt walks the OSU homecoming parade route on Saturday. [Photo by Ben Felder, The Oklahoman]

Republican gubernatorial candidate Kevin Stitt walks the OSU homecoming parade route on Saturday. [Photo by Ben Felder, The Oklahoman]

STILLWATER — Brian Hill had never paid much attention to politics, let alone volunteer for a campaign. But Saturday, the 55-year-old business owner from Edmond was steering his black pickup down Stillwater's Main Street, leading a couple dozen Kevin Stitt supporters in the Oklahoma State University homecoming parade.

Stitt, a Tulsa businessman who is the Republican nominee for governor, is running as an outsider with no government experience. So much so that his critics claim he's unqualified to lead Oklahoma's government during a time of crisis.

But Hill said it was Stitt's experience as the CEO of Gateway Mortgage that caught his attention, along with the fact that Stitt had never been involved in the type of politics he believes has damaged the state.

“I believe that the governor position is a CEO level position and the CEO's responsibility is not to manage all of the details, it's the vision and the culture,” said Hill, whose truck had a giant Stitt sign in the back and a saddle hanging over the tailgate. “I've never been involved in politics before but this doesn't feel like politics as usual to me.”

With his skepticism of anyone with government experience, Hill is the type of Oklahoman Stitt's campaign is focused on getting to the polls Nov. 6.

“Government experience doesn't mean much,” said Racheal Clare, an OSU alumna who was sitting along the parade route with her family. “Just look at Gov. Mary Fallin, she has plenty of experience but this state has suffered with her as governor.”

Clare's nephew jokingly provoked her support for Stitt by reminding her of the candidate's subpar voting record, especially during the last two gubernatorial elections.

“But I didn't vote either,” Clare told her nephew. “But I will this November because this is the change we need, just like the change we are getting in the White House.”

All signs point to an engaged and frustrated electorate as incumbents have fallen in record numbers and teachers held a two-week walkout in April to protest low education funding.

Democrat Drew Edmondson has proposed a series of tax increases to reverse the state's declining investment in education, health care and other core services.

Edmondson, who comes from a family of politicians and served as state attorney general for 16 years, called Stitt's lack of government experience a danger to the governor's office.

“Mr. Stitt has no record, he doesn't even vote,” Edmondson said while campaigning on Thursday. “I know how government works and I think it's important that the next governor be able to hit the ground running.”

But Stitt said his experience is better than Edmondson's.

“First off, my opponent and I have never been governor,” Stitt said from the back of a truck tailgate after walking the parade route. “(Edmondson) is an attorney. But the role of the governor is about setting strategy and putting a plan together, hiring the right people. This is a chief executive role. We've been hiring the wrong people (for governor).”

With 10 days before the election, the governor's race appears competitive, as even the most favorable polls for Stitt show him with a lead in the high single digits.

Attack ads from both sides have flooded Oklahoma televisions in recent weeks and is likely to continue as the campaigns and outside groups have ad buys totaling at least $2 million over the next several days.

“The negative ads can be tough to deal with, but you just have to keep meeting people and giving them a chance to ask you questions,” said U.S. Sen. James Lankford, who along with his dog Liberty walked the parade route.

Lankford said he first met Stitt more than a year ago but believes he will bring the right perspective to the state Capitol.

“I don't have any opposition to people who have served for a long time in government,” Lankford said. “But it's also a good balance to have people with an outside perspective. You want people who will ask the questions everyone has either stopped asking or won't ask at all.”

Stitt said he's selling himself to voters as a governor who can deliver state services in an efficient and effective manner.

“Running state government is about delivering state services and I know how to make sure you get the right services that you need,” Stitt said. “I feel like I'm the pragmatist in this race; it shouldn't be a Republican versus Democrat problem, or an urban versus rural problem. I want to find the real solution.”

Clare said she supported Stitt's promise not to raise taxes and that she typically supports Republicans.

But she said Stitt seemed like a different candidate from the Republicans and Democrats who have run in years past.

“People keep saying we need something different,” said Clare, pausing to cheer a passing marching band. “Well, I don't see how you can get more different (than Stitt).”

Ben Felder

Ben Felder is an investigative reporter for The Oklahoman. A native of Kansas City, Ben has lived in Oklahoma City since 2010 and covered politics, education and local government for the Oklahoma Gazette before joining The Oklahoman in 2016.... Read more ›