Meet the Governor Leading Oklahoma’s Turnaround

Gov. Oklahoma’s turnaround is led by Kevin Stitt.

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 spoke to The Daily Signal about the major issues facing Oklahoma and the Supreme Court case that brought his to Washington, D.C. last week.

Listen to the interview, or see a lightly edited transcription below.

Rob Bluey: Governor. Welcome to The Daily Signal.

Gov. Kevin Stitt Thank you so very 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 Oklahoma to be the most populous state in the United States. Tell us what your plan is to transform Oklahoma.

Stitt: Absolutely. First of all, I am from the private sector. I’d never ran for public office of any kind. When I was 27 years old, I started my own company with a thousand dollar and a computer. I grew it over the next 20 year. We now have 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. I ran to make Oklahoma one of the top 10 states.

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. We are currently experiencing the lowest level of unemployment in state history. 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.

Oklahoma is seeing more people move to it than ever before. We now have 40,000 more workers. Last year, I reduced taxes for every Oklahoman as well as every business. 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. You can continue 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 can they get to the point that more Americans can experience the prosperity enjoyed by Oklahomans?

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 for 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’re 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. We have resources in America, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and other states. Let’s have honest conversations about moving natural gas with pipelines. It’s the safest way to move oil and natural gas. But these are not the only states that can weaponize them. [Environmental Protection Agency]Rules to stop development

This one policy has made Oklahoma one of the most affordable states for electricity costs, both to consumers and businesses. So, therefore, we’re getting more companies moved to our state. We must push back and have honest discussions with this administration about opening our doors and meeting the needs of Americans using our own resources.

Bluey: What other attractions do 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. All of our regulatory authorities were instructed to look at any code. 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 very clear, but businesses should be allowed to compete.

Oklahoma values businesses. We appreciate capital being invested. We encourage and thank companies that hire people. I am a businessman. I know how difficult it is to put your capital on line. I wanted to quit my business a thousand times because we were struggling and I was being forced to mortgage my home. We know how hard it is. We want to be able 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.

In the end, I believe we need more taxpayers and not more taxes. And with the economy booming, boats will rise when the economy is running. 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 of all, I have been pushing hard to make universal school choice and options a reality.

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. I want that for all kids.

This means that school choice should not only be available to the wealthy, but also for all children. Every Oklahoma child should have the 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? Oklahoma has this belief. 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 spent more on education than any other 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, and you can even think you can. But, just add some competition to 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. My children learn differently. 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 about what it does and why we should care.

Stitt: First, I was honored to sign it. It’s called Save Women’s Sports Act. The Washington Post interviewed me 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.”

These young women, who are competing in track events at the University of Oklahoma, were there. 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. A scholarship was the reason I came to OU. 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 actually to protect girls’ sport.

Bluey: That’s absolutely right. Let me ask you one last question about crime and illegal migration. You’re not too far from the border. How has Oklahoma been affected by this issue? Especially when you consider that the Biden administration wants to repeal Title 42 and increase the illegal immigration numbers already at an all-time high.

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 need to change a few policies.

No. No. President [Donald]Trump had it on Day One. The president cancelled 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.”

The Trump policies would make all the difference if Biden made some changes. He said, “Yeah, come on and use all the resources. Welcome to the United States. Participate in every social program that exists. 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. This has to be changed.

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 ruled in a major case, the McGirt decision. This had huge 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? Get 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. What is the McGirt case? The Supreme Court stated that Oklahoma’s reservation was still valid two years ago.

There was a bad guy named [Jimcy]McGirt, who was convicted in child rape. He shows his Indian ID card and is able to have his conviction overturned. So, the Supreme Court ruled that reservations still exist in eastern Oklahoma.

What does this mean? It’s really thrown our state into turmoil. We are now unable to prosecute eastern Oklahoman crimes. Think about this. 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. The district attorney, the sheriff, the state police and the police can’t prosecute crimes. So we asked the Supreme Court to hear the Castro-Huerta Case.

This is about protecting an Indian child. A 5-year-old disabled, blind Indian girl was found to be a member of a North Carolina tribe. And this bad guy 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 case is not about law and order; it is about protecting Indian victims. And that’s what this case is about. And we hope that the Supreme Court does the right and reinstitutes justice for Oklahoma so law and order can be protected.

Your listeners should also understand who an Indian is. Oklahoma 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, who have blonde hair and blue eyes, 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. Thank you for getting us up to speed about this case and discussing 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 very much for having me.

Bluey: We are grateful.

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