Stitt begins inauguration journey in rural southwest Oklahoma
LAWTON – Wearing a blazer and blue jeans, Kevin Stitt worked the crowd inside a Lawton field house, shaking hands with supporters who had gathered to see Oklahoma’s next governor during his swing through southwest Oklahoma.
“It’s easy to feel forgotten here,” said Carly Thomas, an Altus resident who praised the governor elect for traveling to her part of the state.
“He got a lot of support from southwest Oklahoma and the rural areas, so this is really neat that he had an event in our area.”
With a population of nearly 93,000 and home to the Fort Sill Army post, Lawton can feel more city than country.
But it's surrounded by farmland and is a hub for many of the small towns of southwest Oklahoma.
A large part of Stitt’s appeal in rural Oklahoma came from his Republican banner, benefiting from the growing urban-rural divide of partisan politics.
Stitt’s Democratic challenger campaigned on finding solutions for health care and education, and while Stitt didn’t concede those issues, he believes his focus on improving economic opportunities helped draw rural support.
“There is a lot of industry and business that wants to be in rural Oklahoma,” Stitt said. “We have some of the lowest utility prices in the country (in rural Oklahoma) and we have to use some of those advantages we have.”
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Stitt officially takes office on Monday with an inaugural ceremony and ball in Oklahoma City.
He has also scheduled preinaugural events in his hometown of Tulsa.
But making Lawton the first stop in a week of festivities drew notice.
“It means Gov. Stitt is going to be a governor for the whole state,” said Sen. Brent Howard, R-Altus, who attended the $75 dollar a ticket event.
Howard also credited Stitt’s business background for appealing to rural Oklahomans.
“We need a lot more economic development,” Howard said.
Incoming lieutenant governor Matt Pinnell was also in Lawton for the preinaugural event – called the Bison Bash – and said the governor elect’s economic development strategy will including looking for ways to help rural communities tap into expanding fields, like digital manufacturing.
“Workforce development is even more important (in rural Oklahoma) and tougher in some ways,” Pinnell said. “Particularly for the military bases. The military facilities need more engineers.”
Residents in southwest Oklahoma hope Stitt’s promise to grow the state’s economy includes their community.
But on Thursday, many were enjoying a barbeque dinner, country music concert and a chance to rub shoulders with Oklahoma’s next governor.
“It’s so exciting to see him here,” said Cindy Reed, a Lawton resident. “It doesn’t seem like we often get this kind of excitement around here and I feel special to be part of it.”