Meet the Governor Leading Oklahoma’s Turnaround

Meet the Governor Leading Oklahoma’s Turnaround


Gov. Kevin Stitt is leading a turnaround in Oklahoma.

He’s set a goal of making Oklahoma a top 10 state in America by cutting taxes and growing the economy, empowering parents, and being a destination where more people call home.

He visited The Daily Signal to talk about the big issues facing Oklahoma and a Supreme Court case that brought him to Washington, D.C., last week.

Listen to the interview or read a lightly edited transcript below.

Rob Bluey: Governor, welcome to The Daily Signal.

Gov. Kevin Stitt: Thank you so much. Such an honor to be with you and love coming to D.C., and it’s just fun getting up here and checking out our nation’s capital.

Bluey: Excellent. You’ve said that you are not satisfied with the status quo. You want to make Oklahoma the greatest state in this country. Tell us about your plan for turning around Oklahoma.

Stitt: Absolutely. Well, first off, I come from the private sector. I’d never ran for public office of any kind. I started my company with a thousand dollars and a computer when I was 27 and grew that over the next 20 years. And so, we have today 1,600 employees.

I ran a business and I was looking at my state struggling in 2017 and ’18, and I was inspired to run. And I ran to make Oklahoma a top 10 state.

That’s the mantra. That’s the aspirational goal that I always talk about with my Cabinet and also Oklahomans. And we’re doing that now. I mean, we literally have the lowest unemployment in our state history right now. We’re top 10 in the country. We have the biggest savings account we’ve ever had in our state history. We’re ranked fourth nationally in that.

More people are moving into Oklahoma than ever before. We have 40,000 more people in the workforce. I cut taxes for every single Oklahoman and business last year. People are starting to wake up to the pro-business, pro-freedom policies that we’re rolling out in Oklahoma.

Bluey: You’re doing this at a time when there’s great frustration here in Washington with the Biden administration and its policies. I mean, you can go down the list. Not to mention the foreign policy challenges, but just here at home immigration’s a huge issue, inflation is at record highs.

What are some of the policies, you’ve mentioned some, that you would like other governors to pursue that you have found success? And how do they get to that point where more and more Americans can enjoy the prosperity that Oklahomans are?

Stitt: I love when, especially when I’m in D.C., just to bring some Oklahoma common sense to the Cabinet secretaries when I meet with President [Joe] Biden or the secretary of energy. …

Something that’s on everybody’s mind right now is energy policy. And I’d like to talk about that for a second because Oklahoma, I think, gets it right. We get it. We do it better than any other state because we’re an all-of-the-above approach.

We’ve been an energy innovator for over a century now and we think, to have an honest conversation about a transition, you have to talk about where we are today and what are the needs of Americans, right?

We’re No. 6 in oil production in the U.S. We’re No. 4, natural gas. We’re so proud of our oil and gas industry, but what people don’t realize about our state, we’re also No. 2 in wind energy production.

We’ve got some of the cleanest water, cleanest air in the country. We’re leaning into hydrogen right now, but it doesn’t make common sense to us to go out and buy oil from Russia or people. Because here’s the deal, the demand is the same, right? We still are heating our homes and our businesses. We’re driving to work and we’re taking our kids to piano lessons or soccer practice.

So the demand’s the same. So when you choke off supply, when every policy from this administration is to try to hurt supply, and then we’re going to make up for that demand by buying from people that don’t like us very much, it doesn’t make sense to us.

Let’s meet the needs from the resources we have. And we have resources in America, in Oklahoma, and in states like North Dakota and Pennsylvania. Let’s have honest conversations about moving natural gas with pipelines. It’s the safest way to move oil and natural gas. But you have states weaponizing these different [Environmental Protection Agency] rules to try to stop development.

That one policy has led Oklahoma to be one of the cheapest electricity cost to the consumer and to businesses. So, therefore, we’re getting more companies moved to our state. And we need to push back and have some honest conversations to this administration about opening up and meeting the demands of Americans by our own resources.

Bluey: What are some of the other attractions that you have in Oklahoma? … Aside from the energy prices and the fact that you’re cutting taxes, there must be other factors that are leading people to make that choice with their feet and move into your state.

Stitt: Yeah. Obviously, taxes, regulation. I instructed all of our regulatory authorities to go through any kind of code and look at it. So we’ve reduced regulations by 25%.

Over a 115-year history our state’s been around, you automatically are going to have redundant, duplicative code from one agency to another agency. So we’ve gone through it and we’ve reduced regulations by 26%.

I tell all of my governing bodies that we want to be clear with the rules, but we never want to play “gotcha” with the company. We want to be really clear, but we want to let businesses go compete.

And in Oklahoma, we value businesses. We appreciate capital being invested. We promote and applaud and thank companies for hiring people. I come from the business world. I know how hard it is to put your capital on the line. I wanted to quit my own company a thousand times as we were struggling and I was having to mortgage my home. And so, we know how difficult it is. So, we want to appreciate that.

I’m recruiting companies in because … wage growth is going up in my state. I’m recruiting companies with higher, medium incomes than where we’re at as a state. We’ve moved the needle there.

I ultimately believe we need more taxpayers, not more taxes. And the economy booming, boats are going to rise when we get the economy going. And so, that’s kind of my job as governor. I’ve been the businessman and governor in Oklahoma.

Bluey: Congratulations on the success you’ve had. Shifting to a different topic, which I also think is on the minds of a lot of voters right now, particularly parents, and that’s education.

We saw during COVID more and more parents paying attention to what’s happening in their own kids’ education, because they saw it firsthand in their own living rooms and through the Zoom calls and other things that were taking place.

There are a number of things that we’ve seen nearby in Virginia with the election of Gov. Glenn Youngkin, where parents really catapulted him into the governor’s mansion. What are you doing in Oklahoma to empower parents and make sure that they have a seat at the table when it comes to their kids’ education?

Stitt: First off, I wholeheartedly have been pushing and trying to get across the finish line just universal school choice and options.

We have expanded last year what we called “the scholarship bill.” So kids with IEPs, meaning they have some kind of learning challenge, if a public school cannot meet that need, we want them to be able to take those funds and go to a school that meets their needs. But really, I want that for every kid.

And what I mean by that is school choice should not be just for the rich, just because you have resources. We want every kid in Oklahoma to have the same opportunity. And why would I stand in the way of a kid that’s in a failing ZIP code, in a failing school, just because they lived in the ZIP code, right?

If this school is not delivering for the parents or they’re teaching what parents don’t want or they are not getting the kid college-ready or career-ready, why are we standing in the way?

Let’s fund the student, not the system, right? We say that in Oklahoma. So let’s let that parent choose what’s the best option for them. It’s not going to defund our public schools.

I actually invested more in education than any other previous governor. I’m going to continue to double down on that. I know that’s our future, but you can’t micromanage every single classroom and every single book. …

You can try to, and you can think you can, but just inject some competition into the system. And that would solve all the problems, allowing us to choose where best fits our kid’s need, because there’s not a one-size-fits-all. We know that.

I’ve got six kids. Not all of my kids learn the same way. I’ve got a kid that’s dyslexic, and I’ve got this kid that needs this. Our kids don’t all go to the same schools and I want that for every single parent.

Bluey: Another issue that’s on the minds of parents is women’s sports and girls sports. And you signed a bill in March called the Save Women’s Sports Act. Tell us what that does and why it was important for you to take that action.

Stitt: First off, it was my honor to sign that. It’s called Save Women’s Sports Act. And I got interviewed by The Washington Post right after I signed it. And they said, “Governor, you signed this controversial bill called Save Women’s Sports.”

And I said, “Well, first off, it’s not very controversial in Oklahoma. It’s common sense in our state. Basically, we want to protect girls’ sports. I’m not going to let a biological boy play in girl sports and take away a scholarship or their ability to win and compete.”

I had University of Oklahoma track athletes, these young women that are competing. I had one young lady that came to the press conference that was saying, “Thank you, Governor, because I work at Northrop Grumman because I graduated from OU. The reason I came to OU was because of a scholarship. And I can’t imagine losing my scholarship to a biological male.”

I met 14-year-old girls that are the swimmers and soccer players and volleyball players trying to compete and they said, “It would not be fair to compete in weightlifting against a biological male.”

And so, anyway, it’s common sense to us and I was glad to get that across the finish line. So, it wasn’t against any one person. It was really to protect girls sports.

Bluey: That’s absolutely right. Let me ask you a couple final questions here, one on the issue of crime and illegal immigration. You’re not too far from the border. How has that issue impacted Oklahoma, and particularly as you look forward to the Biden administration wanting to end Title 42 and have an even bigger influx to the already record number of illegal immigrants coming in this country?

Stitt: Yeah. Again, it’s common sense to us, everybody in Oklahoma, everybody in Texas. I’ve been down to the border with [Texas Gov. Greg] Abbott. I’ve looked at it. We have to change a couple policies.

No. 1 is Remain in Mexico. President [Donald] Trump had that Day One. This president canceled it. And basically, all it said was, “If you’re going to seek asylum in the U.S., then here’s your court date, but you’ve got to remain in Mexico until that court date comes out.”

What Biden changed would make all the difference by going back to the Trump policies. He said, “Yeah, come on and use all the resources. Welcome to the United States. Get on every social program there is. We don’t even know who you are, but here. And show back up two years from now to your court date.” OK?

That’s creating this mass migration. Until we change that, we’re not going to be able to stop the mass migration that’s coming. So we got to change that.

Again, the drugs, all the stuff that’s coming through from the southern border, it affects—I’m the state right north of Texas on I-35. Stuff’s coming right through. All of our drug busts, the meth, the opioids, the fentanyl, all the stuff that’s coming through is coming from the southern border.

And so, yeah, it’s a disaster for us and I’m doing everything I can to fight back and give options to President Biden. The problem is they don’t want to have real conversations. Everything is political.

These people aren’t business people. These people are politicians. And all they’re thinking about is placating to their constituents or some radical folks on the left instead of taking care of Americans. And it drives me crazy that you can’t have an honest discussion about this.

Bluey: Finally, governor, you’re here in Washington for a Supreme Court case. Two years ago, the Supreme Court made a big decision, the McGirt decision, which had profound implications for your state. I know you’ve been critical of the aftermath of that and what’s happened.

What’s at stake in this current case? Bring our listeners up to speed. And I’m assuming that we’ll see a decision on this sometime at the end of June.

Stitt: That’s right. The McGirt case, what it is? Is two years ago, the Supreme Court said that reservation still exists in Oklahoma.

So there was a bad guy named [Jimcy] McGirt, who was convicted of child rape. He shows his Indian card and gets his conviction overturned. And so, the Supreme Court said reservation still exists in eastern Oklahoma.

What does that mean? It’s really thrown our state into turmoil. We now have lost the ability to prosecute crimes in eastern Oklahoma. So, think about that. Think about Boston, all of a sudden the Supreme Court saying that’s not part of Massachusetts. That’s what it feels like for Oklahomans.

Tulsa has a million people in the MSA and now that’s part of a reservation. So the district attorney, our state police, the sheriff, and the police cannot prosecute crimes. And so what we asked the Supreme Court, and thank goodness that they accepted to hear this case, was the Castro-Huerta case.

This is about protecting an Indian child. So there was a 5-year-old, disabled, blind Indian girl who was actually a member of a tribe in North Carolina. And this bad guy abused or almost killed her.

And so the state prosecuted her and we’re wanting to be able to prosecute those crimes. And right now the tribes and the federal government say the state can’t prosecute those crimes because it was an Indian victim.

This is about law and order, this is about protecting Indian victims. And that’s what this case is about. And hopefully the Supreme Court does the right thing and reinstitutes justice for Oklahoma so we can actually protect law and order.

The other thing I think is important for your listeners to understand is, who is an Indian? In Oklahoma we never had reservations. That’s the way we’ve been since statehood until 2020. I’m an Indian, I’ve got my Indian card. My six children with blonde hair and blue eyes, they have their Indian card.

In other words, you can be 1/1,000th, 1/2,000th—there is no blood quantum. So, it’s so hard for our law enforcement to tell. You can’t tell by looking who has an Indian card, who doesn’t.

And so now we’re having people target people with an Indian car tag or something like that because the fed’s own admission, they don’t have the resource to prosecute crimes that are below like murder and some of the major stuff.

So, they’re not prosecuting car thefts. They’re not prosecuting home burglaries if there’s a Native involved. So, it’s disastrous right now for my state.

Bluey: Governor, thanks for bringing us up to speed on that case and talking about these other issues. We appreciate the commonsense approach you’re bringing and hopefully other governors will look to you as a model for what they can do for the residents of their states as well.

Stitt: Well, it’s an honor to be on with you. Thank you so much for having me.

Bluey: Thank you.

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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.