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The Race for Oklahoma Governor: Republican Party nominee Kevin Stitt

Governor Kevin Stitt
State of Oklahoma
Governor Kevin Stitt (R) Oklahoma

Capitol Insider talks to the Republican Party nominee for governor of Oklahoma: Governor Kevin Stitt.


Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider - taking you Inside politics, policy, government and elections in Oklahoma. I'm Dick Pryor with Quorum Call publisher Shawn Ashley. Our guest is Governor Kevin Stitt, Republican Party nominee for governor. Governor, thanks for taking the time to visit with us.

Kevin Stitt: Oh, thank you so much. It's an honor to be on with all my fellow Oklahomans. And thanks for doing this. It's so important.

Shawn Ashley: Governor, as you have campaigned around the state, what have you learned about the concerns and needs of your fellow Oklahomans?

Kevin Stitt: Four years ago, it was such an awesome experience meeting all the Oklahomans and loved every bit of it as much this time, too, just getting back around the state and for the last four years being able to travel. But I tell people all the time, it doesn't matter if you live in rural Oklahoma, urban Oklahoma, if you're a Republican, if you're a Democrat, we all want the exact same things. And I said, so let's leave politics to Washington, D.C. Let's just make Oklahoma top ten in everything we do. And specifically, I'm always going to focus on - because Oklahomans want me to - is the best education for their kids and that's what we all want.

So, I want to hopefully talk about that because we put 700 million into our rural hospitals. We've been protecting and fully funding all of our rural schools. But secondly, you know, the hospitals - access to your local hospitals - which is why that 700 million in rural hospitals was so important and making sure we have a new managed care where I can provide better access for Oklahomans, better health outcomes. And then infrastructure is the third thing. I always hear the best roads and bridges. That's a core function of a state. And so right now we're number five in bridge conditions. We've gone from 47 to number five. Everybody remembers the devastation when we had that 2002 bridge collapse. So that was been a focus of mine.

Rural two-lane roads is something that I've been trying to focus on. And then the last thing I always hear is, “Governor, we got to have the best economy. Wage growth opportunities for everybody.” When people get out of high school or college, let's make sure they're college ready or career ready. And then they have the jobs located in Oklahoma to stay in Oklahoma versus having to go to Texas or some other state to find those great jobs. So those four things I always focus on – education, health care, roads and bridges, and our economy. And I think that was the same four years ago. And it's the same thing that I'm going to focus on the next four years to make Oklahoma top ten in all those things.

Dick Pryor: What do you see as the biggest threats to Oklahoma?

Kevin Stitt: I feel like that if we go back and I don't want to be political here, but there's never been a bigger difference between me and my opponent or me in a state that was run by, you know, Biden's party. And I don't want to pick on them too much. But every president in the United States has had an energy independence policy since 1973, whether their Republican or Democrat. In other words, let's meet the needs of Americans with our own resources until this administration. Day one in office, they kill the Keystone pipeline. They are attacking our oil and gas industry. And my opponent joined that party. They believe in higher taxes. They shut down their states. You don't know how many people from other states have called and have started moving to Oklahoma because they believe in freedoms. There's no such thing, in my opinion, as a non-essential business. If that’s where you get your paycheck or that's where you invest it in and it's your business and it's your equity on the line.

So, I wasn't going to pick winners and losers during COVID. You saw how I led. I protected Oklahomans. We were transparent with the data, but it was tough for moms and dads, as some schools were shut down and, and they were trying to educate via Zoom. And so, again, there's never been a bigger difference between me and my opponent on the freedoms and the personal responsibilities and keeping Oklahoma open and our way of life, protecting our way of life.

And so the threat would be going backwards to someone that doesn't think like us in Oklahoma, doesn't believe in the Constitution, and wants to shut down churches and all that stuff, that nonsense that we were seeing happen in other states, we just we have too much momentum right now to go backwards and to switch and put Biden's party back in control.

Shawn Ashley: Generally, for an incumbent to be reelected, they have to make the case that they've done a good job worthy of a second term. Why do you believe you deserve a second term?

Kevin Stitt: Yeah, I think I'd always like to remind people how far we've come and the momentum that we're getting. So, remember four years ago we were having budget deficits, very little money in savings. And Oklahomans elected a business person to put a fresh set of eyes on state government, hold people accountable, look at every single contract. And so, four years later, it's not by coincidence that we have the largest savings account in our state's history, $3 billion. We're ranked fourth in the country in that. The lowest unemployment. We've been holding budgets accountable and holding budgets flat. At the same time, I've been able to do a tax cut for every single Oklahoman while giving more money to education than any governor in history, while giving teachers a huge pay raise. While giving law enforcement a huge pay raise. State employees.

Because, again, I don't know how much in the weeds do you want to get, but before I got here, bureaucrats were running these different state agencies and they would ask for like $1,000,000,000 more every budget cycle. And now you can see the agencies that we’re in charge of they're asking for flat budgets because we're getting rid of these open pens and these accounting tricks that they would do. And we have 2,000 fewer state employees than just a few years ago. So, all those things is what Oklahomans elected me to do, and we're halfway there.

We can't go backwards. We want to keep this momentum going. And people, we're right now - the other thing I love to share, we're number 11 in the country in migration. People move into our state because they see the growth and the potential, the jobs, the wage growth is increasing in Oklahoma. So, for all those reasons, I would love to earn everybody's support for four more years and keep the momentum going in Oklahoma.

Dick Pryor: Governor, looking ahead, how would your leadership style contrast with that of your Democratic opponent, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister?

Kevin Stitt: There's just a huge difference between us as a business person. Number one, I want, I believe in smaller government and believe in lower taxes. That's why we need a tax cut. That's why I've been asking for elimination of the grocery tax in Oklahoma. But I love to bring people together or work with the legislature. But always in the back of my mind, the people that I work for is not the legislature. It's not special interest groups. I'm not rubber stampin’ anybody's contract. I'm always representing four million Oklahomans. And I think that's very important for people to understand.

If people, because she'll say that I can't get along or I'm not going to work with somebody is simply not true. If you're at the negotiating table, I'm not going to rubber stamp somebody's contract. Matter of fact, I don't begrudge them for arguing for their point of view. But if you're, if Oklahomans are too smart for it, if Oklahomans are seeing a fight or something going on, it means that I'm fighting for them and for the best interests of the next generation. And I'm not just going along to get along. That's exactly what Oklahomans elected me to do.

People need to ask themselves, there's been 20 to $25 million spent against me, an unprecedented amount of money to run negative attacks, lies and chaos to try to confuse the voter in support my opponent. So, the question is, what are they going to get out of that? She is going to be more beholden to them than to you the people. And that's the problem. People can see that and that's why they want an independent governor, somebody that's going to be representing their best interest.

Shawn Ashley: Governor, four years ago, you campaigned about making Oklahoma a top ten state, and you mentioned that just a moment ago. But in the recent gubernatorial debate, you said, “being top ten is an aspirational goal. It's something we're never going to hit.” You've also talked about the Oklahoma turnaround. If you are reelected, what are you proposing that we turn around over the next four years?

Kevin Stitt: Thank you for that. Basically, you know, Oklahomans know we're already top ten in so many different areas. We’re the top ten place to live and grow a business. CNBC said were number two in the lowest cost of doing business. But the CEO or the visionary or the governor has got to set the direction of the state. And it's just like if I was the head coach at the University of Oklahoma, I would set a vision to be, to win the national championship every year. But are you going to realistically win the national championship every year? Of course not. But that's the goal and the vision.

So, it's my job is to push everybody towards that goal. And so that's what I meant by it's a beacon. It's the direction that we're heading. Success is not a destination. You never arrive. But it's the leader's job to push people. We can always do better. We can always achieve. It's part of that, the journey that we're on to make Oklahoma a top ten state. So that's what I mean by it.

Of course, my opponent doesn't understand setting vision in the direction and they try to attack and twist the words. Oklahomans know exactly what I mean when I say we're going to be top ten in everything that we do. So, the thing that's frustrating for me is my opponent has been the superintendent of education for the last eight years. Okay. I've been there for four. She's been there for eight years. She's done less with more. We've given her $1,000,000,000 more in education and she's squander it. Our test scores have gone down. Meanwhile, Florida is ranked 17th in the country right now in test scores and they spend less per pupil than we do.

So, of course, I'm going to be pushing Oklahoma to do better and we can do better in every single category. It starts with, you know, education. So, in Oklahoma, we don't promote someone who's failed at their last job. And so, we've got to do better in education. And it’s just…she'll talk about anything but her record and what her job was over the last eight years.

Dick Pryor: There are four candidates on the ballot. Why should voters choose Kevin Stitt as governor for a second term?

Kevin Stitt: Well, again, I like to point how far we have come over the last four years. The momentum is happening. We're number 11 in people moving to our state. We have lowered taxes all while investing in schools, education, our law enforcement. You know, my opponent, she joined the party that is defunding the police. We need a governor that can be independent and is always going to be focused on what's best for all 4 million Oklahomans.

My opponent, unfortunately, has sold out to special interest and everybody can see that in the negative ads and the four or five different groups that have joined in to try to buy this election, there's not a better word for it. The Republican Governors Association said that more money had been spent in negative ads against me than every other state combined. Because we are moving the needle, we have wrestled control. There's never been another governor that refuses to go along with the establishment or the special interest groups like I have. And we've made some powerful people upset. But guess what? I stand with the people.

Dick Pryor: Republican nominee, Governor Kevin Stitt, thanks again for being our guest on Capitol Insider.

Kevin Stitt: Thank you so much.

Dick Pryor: If you have questions, email them to news@kgou.org or contact us on Twitter @kgounews and @QuorumCallShawn. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.

Dick Pryor has more than 30 years of experience in public service media, having previously served as deputy director, managing editor, news manager, news anchor and host for OETA, Oklahoma’s statewide public TV network. He was named general manager of KGOU Radio in November 2016.
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