What awaits in year two of Stitt administration?
Throughout what proved to be a successful campaign for governor, Kevin Stitt promised voters a departure from governmental status quo and for the most part he followed through. Attempts at further disruption can be expected in year two.
In advance of his second State of the State speech, which comes Monday to begin the 2020 legislative session, Stitt made it known he would like to see the position of state schools superintendent be made appointive instead of elective (doing so would require a vote of the people), and that he’d like to merge the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority.
Neither idea is new — they’ve been intermittently for years — but Stitt’s interest in pursuing them will provide renewed impetus and perhaps change, something the governor places at a premium.
The governor’s office now can hire the heads of several of Oklahoma’s largest state agencies, the result of legislation Stitt sought and the Republican-controlled Legislature approved in 2019. Stitt used that clout to name new bosses at the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the Department of Corrections and ODOT. Add to that list the recent departure of Terri White, highly respected commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. White’s sudden departure has left many to wonder what hand Stitt had in it and what his plans are to fill those very big shoes.
Shakeup within the DOC and the state Pardon and Parole Board contributed to the unprecedented release, on one day, of more than 450 nonviolent inmates following their commutations by Stitt.
The governor, as he vowed he would, signed legislation that lets most Oklahomans 21 and older carry guns without a license. The “permitless carry” bill was deemed unnecessary and potentially dangerous by opponents, who continue to fight it.
Stitt appointed a “secretary of digital transformation” to help further modernize state government. The state introduced its mobile identification app, which lets users put their driver’s licenses on their smartphones, and launched a budget website checkbook.ok.gov to improve transparency.
Working with the largest budget in state history, $8.3 billion, Stitt signed a bill providing another round of pay raises for teachers, and persuaded lawmakers to put aside $200 million and place it in the state’s savings account, which now exceeds $1 billion. Some lawmakers groused about the latter move, and remain upset about it, but doing so will help when the next economic downturn inevitably occurs.
Stitt’s boldest call for change casts a large shadow over the early days of 2020 — his insistence on renegotiating gaming compacts with Oklahoma’s Indian tribes. Stitt says the 15-year compacts expired Jan. 1; the tribes, and their many supporters, contend they renew automatically.
The dispute is creating a black eye for our state and could have been approached in a more civil, respectful way. Oklahoma and the tribes have had a lengthy and strong working relationship to the benefit of all involved. The dispute has resulted in bitter back-and-forth. We hope 2020 brings swift resolution.