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Capital City: New year, new newsletter

Drone image of Oklahoma State Capitol looking southeast.
Drone image of Oklahoma State Capitol looking southeast.

Good Monday morning and welcome to the first edition of the Capital City newsletter, a daily (Monday through Friday) email on all things Oklahoma politics. 

I'm Ben Felder, the author of Capital City, and a political reporter at The Oklahoman

If you're reading this but are not yet signed up for the newsletter, you can do so here (scroll down to the bottom, it's the last newsletter option). 

Breaking: Gov.-elect Kevin Stitt hires Sonic executive as his new chief operating officer (John Budd will become Stitt's chief operating officer, a new position he has created to oversee agency accountability reforms that will be central to his agenda. Read more here.)

Stitt, who founded a national mortgage firm, is bringing a lot of business leaders into his administration, including Sean Kouplen, who last week was announced as Stitt's pick for Secretary of Commerce. 

"My job will also be to work the phones and tell the stories, and personally sell our state," Kouplen said. 

Fun fact: Sean's father, Steve Kouplen, was the Democratic leader of the House until his defeat in November.

Inauguration events begin this week

Inauguration festivities ranging from a barbecue-fueled country music concert to a black-tie gala with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic will begin this week across the state as Kevin Stitt prepares to be sworn in as Oklahoma's 28th governor.

A new tax for a new county jail? 

Oklahoma County is the only county in the state without a county sales tax dedicated to funding its jail and daily criminal justice system. Newly elected Oklahoma County Commissioner Carrie Blumert said she might support changing that. 

"I would be in support of changing it," Bumert said on the latest episode of Political State. "I know a lot of other entities in our city have a pretty big say in that. I have talked with a lot of people about MAPS 4 and possibly including something related to the jail or related to a holistic treatment center near the jail as part of MAPS 4; that would be something I would be interested in."

You can hear more thoughts from Blumert by listening to the episode through your favorite podcast player, or watch the episode here

Government shutdown watch

From the Tulsa World's Randy Krehbiel: President Donald Trump may have claimed ownership for the current partial government shutdown, but some of Oklahoma’s congressional Republicans did their best last week to convince constituents that Democrats are to blame.

Speaking on the Senate floor, Sen. Jim Inhofe said Democratic resistance to several billion dollars more for a border wall, not Trump’s insistence on it, is the cause of the current stalemate.

“This latest obstruction is a charade,” Inhofe said.

The impact in Oklahoma: The partial government shutdown has left 1,146 federal employees furloughed and another 593 working without pay at the Monroney Center. Experts and union officials say work stoppages will delay training and contracts for months to come. (The Oklahoman's Justin Wingerter has more here)

Couch leaves OKC city hall

After 31 years with the city, the last 18 as city manager, Jim Couch officially retired last week, ending a career many praised for keen negotiating skills. 

"When he announced his retirement ... it's the first time I've seen him smile in years," former Mayor Ron Norick said at a reception last month. "Color came back into his face."

The Oklahoman's Bill Crum recently wrote about the former city manager and his legacy on the city. New city manager: Craig Freeman, who was Couch's finance director, took over as city manager last Wednesday.

State makes deals on pricey drugs

In the two months since Oklahoma got the right to negotiate pay-for-performance deals with drug makers, operators of the state's Medicaid program have signed off on four, including one where the state will pay less if patients stay on the same drug. (Read more from The Oklahoman's Meg Wingerter)

Foster case system needs remain

The state has shown “marked improvement” recently in how it cares for foster children, but there still are several areas in which good-faith efforts are lacking, according to an oversight panel (Tulsa World).

The three national experts released a report last week that knocked the Oklahoma Department of Human Services in areas involving child maltreatment, and the numbers of therapeutic foster homes and caseworkers from Jan. 1 through June 30, 2018.

The registration deadline to vote in February elections is Jan. 18. Register to vote here

More political news ...

-Bobby Griffith, a pastor at City Pres church in OKC, has accepted the job of executive director of Oklahoma Achieves, a non-partisan education policy think-tank through the state chamber. 

-State Sen. George Young, D-Oklahoma City, filed legislation to raise the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.50 an hour starting in 2020, reports CNHI.

-Michael Junk, Gov.-elect Kevin Stitt's chief of staff, is a person to watch in 2019, says the Tulsa World

-Lt. Gov.-elect Matt Pinnell will be the keynote speaker at Claremore's first  annual State of the Chamber luncheon, reports the Claremore Progress

-The threat of a lawsuit prompted members of the Grove City Council to begrudgingly approve to amend the city’s medical marijuana ordinance, reports the Grand Lake News

Thanks for reading. Got questions, suggestions or complaints? Email me at 

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Related Photos
Drone image of Oklahoma State Capitol looking southeast.

Drone image of Oklahoma State Capitol looking southeast.

<figure><img src="//" alt="Photo - Drone image of Oklahoma State Capitol looking southeast." title="Drone image of Oklahoma State Capitol looking southeast."><figcaption>Drone image of Oklahoma State Capitol looking southeast.</figcaption></figure>
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 ›