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Capitol Insider EXTRA: A Conversation With Kevin Stitt

Oklahoma Republican candidate for Governor, Kevin Stitt, answers a question during a debate with Democratic candidate Drew Edmondson in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018.
Sue Ogracki
AP Photo
Oklahoma Republican candidate for Governor, Kevin Stitt, answers a question during a debate with Democratic candidate Drew Edmondson in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018.

In the last of three interviews with each of Oklahoma's gubernatorial candidates, KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley speak with Republican Kevin Stitt. Stitt discusses why he believes his business experience will help Oklahoma improve in areas like education, criminal justice and healthcare.

Listen to the on-air version of this conversation.


Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and elections. I'm Dick Pryor with the eCapitol news director Sean Ashley. Our guest is the Republican Party nominee for governor, Kevin Stitt. Welcome.

Kevin Stitt: Thank you so much for having me here. Such an honor to be with you guys.

Shawn Ashley: Mr. Stitt, you've said you would have vetoed House Bill 1010xx, the revenue raising measure that made it possible to give teachers pay raises. But you've also expressed support for raising teacher pay. How would you reconcile that?

Stitt: Sure. Well first off, you know, we have a billion dollars more in revenue coming in this year versus last year. And the problem with always tying teacher pay raises to these unsustainable revenue sources, it doesn't last long term. So I know as a business person we have to pay our teachers what market is, competitive wages. That's our plan to do that. But we can't always tie it to stuff that's been happening our whole lives as Oklahomans, like the lottery was going to fix education, the casinos were going to fix it, liquor-by-the-drink. So we've heard all these things and I want to fix it long term. There are some structural changes that we need to make.

Ashley: You mentioned the billion dollar increase in state revenues. That's total state revenues, not the general revenue fund from which teacher salaries are paid. That is only up about 0.7 percent. How then would you be paying for those pay raises without that revenue increase?

Stitt: Well 500 million of the billion is was dedicated to to education. You know because the economy is growing again, the oil and gas revenue is up. So we will have more revenue next year.

Pryor: Despite the recent pay raise, Oklahoma continues to lose teachers and declining enrollments in education colleges suggest fewer people want to become teachers. What do you propose to do to encourage people to enter the teaching field and stay in Oklahoma to teach?

Stitt: So I've thought a lot about this. Number one, we have to change the tone that we value education and we value that profession, and that's why I want to go ahead and take them up to number one in our region. That'll go a long ways to letting our teachers know that it's a new day in Oklahoma and we value that education community. But also I've got a plan to match the local dollars up to $5,000 so they could get a $10,000 bonus for somebody coming out of college, to stay in our state or to recruit somebody from another from another state to move into our state. So it's just really this is a recruiting issue, so I've thought about that. That's part of my education plan. And then also to make it easier to get certified in our state. You know we have three different certification certified tests that we require a new teacher. Other states have one test and it's called the Praxis test, about 35 states use that. So I have a plan to go with a standardized national test so we don't overload teachers coming into our state with three different tests. So we're going to make it easier that way. Then also I want to start an initiative that recruits retired doctors and businesspeople and engineers and nurses and people that want to give back to that next generation.

Ashley: You have expressed opposition to Medicaid expansion. Why?

Stitt: Well here's the deal. I mean Medicaid expansion as it sits would would put too many people on a system, that would expand the amount of people that ar,e that are, that get services in our state. And the problem is the federal government could at any time take those dollars away. They fund 90 percent of Obamacare today and they only fund Medicaid about 50 percent of those dollars. So when you expand it we put more people on a system that shouldn't be on the system, and then those dollars taken away, it puts our state in unintended consequences. So the better idea is to get our economy growing again, get wages up get people in the private sector with private insurance. That's the way we're going to solve this long term. We don't want to harm our state five years from now. So I'm looking at block grants or other ways to get those dollars into our roads and bridges or in this case we're talking about health care. So it's not that I'm opposed to it. I just have to make sure that I know what the unintended costs consequences are long term.

Pryor: Addiction, substance abuse and mental health are huge problems across the country and especially in Oklahoma as we all know. They also strain Oklahoma's correctional system. As governor, how would you address those critical issues specifically?

Stitt: The mental health issue is something that breaks my heart. My wife, she has relatives that have dealt with that. We've got to make sure that we have, that we're spending our dollars in mental health facilities because our prisons are overcrowded with addictive people with mental illness. So we either spend it in incarceration or we can move those dollars earlier up, catch them earlier in the process, and actually get the folks the help that they need with the addiction they need or the mental health that they need. But here's the real issue is, you know, we have some drug offenders that because it was their third time to be caught with with drugs they're getting 20 years, 30 years, 40 years. We've got to come up with a fairness in sentence and get them into drug rehab. Catch them earlier. The other thing is fines, fees and court costs have totally gotten away from us. And the District Attorneys. I mean I support our district attorneys and we're going to be smart on crime. We're going to, I'm going to be a huge support for our law enforcement. We have to respect our law enforcement. But when I think about the way the district attorneys fund themselves, we have to think of alternative funding. Fifty percent of their funding comes from fines, fees and court costs.

Ashley: Lawmakers have been asked to consider a number of bills concerning childhood vaccinations. None of those bills have yet made it to the governor's desk. But if elected what would your view be concerning requirements for childhood vaccinations?

Stitt: Yeah, so I've vaccinated all six of my children. And of course I think vaccinations are helpful. There's recommended, there's things that need to be done to to our children. But I also, I just like the the exemptions that our current law has and it's a between a parent and their pediatrician. I've said that from the very very beginning.

Ashley: One of your responsibilities as governor, if elected, would be to order the moving forward with executions. Oklahoma's looking at executions using nitrous affixation, which is largely untested on human beings. Do you have any concerns about ordering ethic executions using that method?

Stitt: I support the death penalty for the most heinous of crimes. And, but it has to be. It has to be implemented, you know, humanely. And we of course have to make sure that that's tested, that's done correctly. And no, I don't want our state to have, be any kind of a guinea pig on something that's as important is that.

Pryor: If you are elected governor there's a good chance you would be asked to sign or veto a bill limiting abortion in Oklahoma. Where do you stand on adding further conditions on abortion all the way to possible criminalization?

Stitt: I'm pro-life. I'm proud of that. I believe that life begins at conception. And I will sign pro-life legislation that protects life in our state. But I also understand that this is a federal issue, it's something that's been decided in the Supreme Courts. And so I focus on my five pillars. And some of these other things that just get us sidetracked, we have got to do better on growth, education, health, infrastructure and efficiencies. But if you're asking if I'm pro-life and if I'm going to sign pro-life legislation that protects life, I absolutely will.

Pryor: Are Oklahoma Engaged polling research indicated a high level of distrust of government. What would you do specifically as governor to improve government transparency?

Stitt: Yes, absolutely. That is the reason I'm running for governor. I've never ran for office before. I'm so different than all the career politicians and political insiders and my opponent who's been in government since the 70s. And so I've got a plan to put Oklahoma's checkbook online so all of our citizens can see the transparency and they can see exactly how we're spending our dollars. Also I've got, I'm looking at software where we can have transparency in the Freedom of Information Act where people can dial in and get information quickly. We will, we won't do anything behind closed doors. I'm going to end the good ol' boy system. And I'm stepping off from my company, like our forefathers intended, and going and serving my state and focusing on the next generation, not the next election.

Ashley: You mentioned putting Oklahoma's checkbook online. The Office of Management and Enterprise Services operates a website called Open Books which makes available essentially the state's checkbook. How is it inadequate compared to what you would like to do?

Stitt: When we looked at that website we saw information back from 2010. We can't get accurate information. So I'm going to have real time data, like a data warehouse. But it's a great, it's a great thought that they currently have. It's just not working. Nobody is updating it and it actually gets a D plus rating.

Pryor: Oklahoma's founders distrusted government. You've said you would ask for the power to hire and fire agency heads. Why do you think that is a better system than the one designed by Oklahoma's founders who really wanted power distributed within the executive branch?

Stitt: What we're currently doing is not working. You know, here's a great point for the listeners out there. You know we spent 20 billion on our state. We have about a billion dollars more in revenue next year. So we'll spend about 21 billion. The legislature, if anybody thinks the legislature's in charge, the legislature has a tough job. They're there for four months out of the year. And did you know that they only control spending in 7 billion. So in other words there's off-the-top dollars ,and there's federal dollars that are flowing into the different agencies without any oversight whatsoever. There's unelected bureaucrats that are running these different agencies without the proper oversight. When I look at other states, like Tennessee for example, they take their top 23 agencies and they report up to what they call a COO or Chief Operating Officer. Then that COO is meeting twice a month with the agency heads, making sure that they are using technology and delivering services better and looking at performance metrics. Those are all things that I want to do as governor and I think that if you go back and you look at the Blue Ribbon studies that David Boren did in the 70s, these bipartisan studies, and Frank Keating and Henry Bellmon, they all talk about we have to have an executive branch that has more control on how how the services are being delivered.

Ashley: One of those structural changes you have talked about is the way that the legislature writes the budget. You said you want the legislature to approve a line item budget. If you were governor then, and you were sent a none-line item budget would you veto it?

Stitt: Well we're talking about hypotheticals. Number one, the legislature is not going to send me a budget that I don't have help crafting. So this is a totally different way that I lead versus the last administration, the administration before, or my opponent. We will sit down and we will have a strategy right off the bat on how we're going to be delivering better services. I'm going to be involved with those budget processes in the very beginning. So when the Senate passes ... When the House passes and the Senate passes, they're going to know the governor is going to sign it because we're going to be together and we're going to be leading together on these situations. But line item's very very important because until you have that, you know, what happens is sometimes these agencies will try to teach the legislature a session ... or a lesson ... and they will cut a specific service, meals to seniors, for example. And you'll keep all the management structure in place but cut the actual service that the agency is supposed to be doing. That's wrong. You have to have a bottoms up approach when you're delivering services and you have to really remind people, what is the mission of these different agencies? This is back to my structural reform and why I need to be able to have hire and fire authority, not to be a bad guy but to create the type of accountability that the taxpayers are demanding.

Pryor: We have a couple of questions from listeners. And one of our listeners wanted us to ask the candidates this question: Would you hire someone to run your business who has no experience in your kind of business?

Pryor: You know here's the deal. I actually just appointed a guy who is the CEO of my company and he doesn't have any mortgage experience. He is more of a banker. And so you look for, you look for people that have high character and they've been extremely successful in what they've done before to lead whatever you're doing. But this is this is not rocket science. This is about setting a strategy and a vision, hiring the right people, setting up the accountability, the transparency, getting the legislature all working together towards a common goal, reaching across the aisle and working with with everyone. That is a chief executive role. That's what I've done my whole career. That's why I'm the right guy to lead. I don't think that a an attorney that's been in state government is the right person to do all that skill set. This is a chief executive role. And I don't I don't think anything's going to change if we keep electing the political elites that have been running our state for the last 40 years.

Ashley: As a closing argument then, why should Oklahomans vote for you?

Stitt: If you want change. If Oklahomans are ready to be a top 10 state and actually move our state forward because we don't have any different issues than they do in any other state. And so I am the type of a leader that's going to be focused on moving our whole state forward and not being, you know, reliant on just this industry or worried about pleasing this special interest group or worried about pleasing those group of lobbyists. If everybody's ready for to be a top 10 state which we can be, if they're ready for that change then I ask for their support and their vote on November 6. And let's win this because Oklahoma's turnaround starts right here, right now.

Pryor: Kevin Stitt, Republican nominee for governor thank you very much.

Stitt: Thank you.

That's Capitol insider. You can also find us online at kgou.org and eCapital.net. And follow us on Twitter, @kgounews. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.

As a community-supported news organization, KGOU relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online, or by contacting our Membership department.

Caroline produced Capitol Insider and did general assignment reporting from 2018 to 2019. She joined KGOU after a stint at Marfa Public Radio, where she covered a wide range of local and regional issues in far west Texas. Previously, she reported on state politics for KTOO Public Media in Alaska and various outlets in Washington State.
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