Although the legality will likely be questioned, the state of Oklahoma has entered into compacts with two more Native American tribes. KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley discuss that story and the latest on the state's coronavirus response as schools prepare to open, in the latest Capitol Insider.
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and government. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol news director, Shawn Ashley. Shawn, the U.S. Department of Interior has approved two gaming compacts with Oklahoma-based native American tribes - the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians and Kialegee Tribal Town. Why has the state entered into compacts with these tribes and what do the compacts do?
Shawn Ashley: Well, as we've talked about a couple of times before compacts are necessary in order for tribes to have gaming operations in the state of Oklahoma. And what these compacts do is that they establish the games that can be played, they provide for the exclusivity fees that will be paid by the state and they establish where the tribes can locate their gaming facilities. Now, in this case, neither of these tribes currently operate gaming facilities in the state of Oklahoma. So obviously they have an interest in doing so at some time in the future. But the provisions of these compacts, like those for the Otoa-Missouria Tribe and the Comanche Nation, are not necessarily consistent with the state Tribal Gaming Act, which was approved by voters more than 12 years ago.
Dick Pryor: School is starting around the state with lots of different plans in place for how districts are going to deal with COVID-19. Three weeks ago, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister told us a patchwork approach will not work, and she expects there will come a time when there will be a statewide uniform mask mandate. But there is still opposition to that.
Shawn Ashley: Yeah, from the top. On Tuesday, Governor Kevin Stitt and Superintendent Hofmeister were together at an event to distribute personal protective equipment for school districts across the state. This equipment was purchased with money from the federal CARES Act and will provide masks and other protective equipment for both students, staff and teachers during the upcoming school year. Governor Stitt suggested that students in districts with low rates of infection could take off their mask once they got to their desk in the classroom. But at that same event, Superintendent Hofmeister, on the other hand, said if we're serious about having in-person learning, then school districts have to require masks. That's very much like she told us just a few weeks ago. The State Board of Education will meet this upcoming Thursday. And while we haven't seen an agenda for that meeting, it will be the first since they considered the recommendations back in July. And perhaps a mask mandate will be up for their vote.
Dick Pryor: The White House Coronavirus Task Force issued a report on August 16th that again showed Oklahoma's COVID-19 infection rate was in the red zone. That fact does not appear to be reflected in the state of Oklahoma's recent coronavirus response. What does that red zone status urge the state to do, and with schools and universities opening, is the state following the White House recommendations?
Shawn Ashley: Let's look not only at the August 16th report. Let's go back to July 14th, the first report from the task force. Both of them say exactly the same thing about Oklahoma. Oklahoma is in the red zone for cases. Now, they made a series of recommendations then, which largely the state has not adopted on a statewide basis. And then the current recommendations, they suggest that citizens, businesses, public health officials, hospitals, nursing homes and schools work together to effectively implement the recommended mitigation strategies to control community transmission. And those recommended mitigation strategies include a statewide mask mandate, the closing of bars, limiting indoor restaurant dining and a number of other measures along those lines. That's simply not being done in Oklahoma.
Governor Kevin Stitt, like in the school district situation, has indicated that he opposes a statewide mask mandate, saying that it would be difficult to enforce. And he says Oklahomans do not want to see businesses close again. As a result, those decisions are being left to local leaders to implement. And we've seen mask mandates in a number of communities across the state of Oklahoma and we've also seen some limits placed on businesses such as bars and restaurants. But again, at the local level and in a patchwork kind of manner.
Dick Pryor: Tuesday night is the primary runoff election in Oklahoma. The Republican nomination for 5th District Congress will be decided. What do the races look like for legislative offices?
Shawn Ashley: Well, there are eight legislative runoffs, all on the Republican side of the ticket. There are five in the Senate and three in the House. And three of those in the Senate do involve incumbents who may or may not be making a return to the state capitol. In any case, the winners of the runoffs on Tuesday will then advance to the general election in November, where they all have opponents.
Dick Pryor: Thanks, Shawn. We'll talk again on Tuesday night after the polls close. There will be updates on eCapitol's Twitter feed, on-air at KGOU and on our social media, and results and analysis on the www.oklahomaengaged.com web site starting at 7:00 p.m. That's Capitol Insider. If you have questions, e-mail us at email@example.com or contact us on Twitter @kgounews and @eCapitol. You can also find us online at kgou.org and ecapitol.net. Until next time with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.