Stitt takes office, promises new state pride
J. Kevin Stitt was inaugurated as Oklahoma’s 28th governor on Monday, promising to bring Oklahomans a new sense of pride in their state following an era of budget turmoil and a continued plunge on a variety of quality of life metrics.
“It’s this pride that will allow us to move forward together – not as Republicans or Democrats, but as Oklahomans locked hand-in-hand, arm-in-arm,” said Stitt, 46, who built a national mortgage company in Tulsa before entering the 2018 gubernatorial race as a political unknown.
With his wife, Sarah, by his side on the south steps of the state Capitol, Stitt was administered the oath of office at 12:11 p.m. by Oklahoma Supreme Court Chief Justice Noma Gurich. After taking the oath, Stitt immediately walked over to his six children and gave each a kiss.
A few minutes later, Stitt delivered his inaugural address, a 15-minute speech that included a recounting of why he decided to run for office.
“I traveled the country visiting my offices in other states, seeing their economies take off and thrive,” Stitt said. “I would then come home to the state that I love to find us struggling, stuck at the bottom in every category that matters.”
Stitt said Oklahomans wanted a significant reversal in the state’s trajectory.
“We know we can be, and should be a top ten state,” Stitt said.
Eight other statewide officials were also administered the oath of office on Monday: Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell, Attorney General Mike Hunter, Auditor Cindy Byrd, Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, Labor Commissioner Leslie Osborn, Insurance Commissioner Glen Mulready, Treasurer Randy McDaniel and Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony.
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Stitt’s children led the Pledge of Allegiance, the 145th Army Band performed and the Canterbury Voices of Oklahoma City sang as a few thousand Oklahomans gathered under a cloudy sky and temperatures in the mid 30’s.
Monday’s inauguration capped off an election of change at the state Capitol, as nearly one-third of state representatives and senators are starting their first term.
However, Republicans maintain their trifecta of power over both legislative branches and the governor’s office, which has been held by Mary Fallin for the last eight years.
The change in the Legislature was the result of dozens of incumbents choosing not to seek reelection, while several others failed in their reelection bids.
Following years of budget shortfalls, state agency layoffs and last year’s statewide teacher walkout, voters were seemingly looking for a change.
Stitt campaigned on his lack of political experience and said Oklahomans would be best served with a CEO as governor.
"In a Stitt administration, Oklahoma is open for business," said Stitt, who said he would aggressively recruit new business to the state.
Stitt enters office at a time when the state budget is growing, giving him a chance to make up for cuts made in recent years.
Legislative leaders have also expressed support for expanding the governor’s ability to hire and fire agency directors.
But Stitt’s first term also comes at a time when rural hospitals across the state are struggling to stay open, the use of emergency certified teachers continues to grow and Oklahoma’s incarceration rate leads the nation.
"Big goals can often feel unattainable," Stitt said. "But don't say that to a guy who was told it was impossible to a built a nationwide mortgage company with just $1,000 and a computer, and who was told a political outsider couldn't become governor."
Stitt recounted his upbringing as a “typical Oklahoma son” who worked summers on his grandparents’ dairy farm and spent Sundays at church listening to his father preach.
Stitt said running for governor was not a life goal of his, but following the economic challenges of the past several years he wanted to lead the state for a firming footing.
“It was this environment that caused me to reach deep and ask what more can I do to make a difference, to address a pattern seen throughout our state’s history – from the dust bowl of the 1930s to the oil glut of the 1980s – where we have lived for each boom and starved in each bust,” Stitt said.
But Stitt said government alone could not fix the state’s problems.
“State government is not the answer to our problems,” Stitt said. “We must get involved in our schools, in our churches, in our neighborhoods, in our local non-profits to diagnose and solve the unique challenges county-by-county, that no person falls through the cracks, because every life in Oklahoma is worthy of our respect and help.”
Stitt also promised to bring an increased level of financial transparency to the state, usher in a new era of modern technology and increasing cooperation between institutions of common and higher education.
“Here is my commitment to you: you the people come first,” Stitt said. “I commit to you to be a good listener, a continuous learner, a committed communicator, and a bold leader for the decisions that make a difference for today’s children and the next generation.”