The top ten Oklahoma stories of 2022
KGOU's Dick Pryor and QuorumCall's Shawn Ashley continue their countdown of the top ten Oklahoma stories of 2022. Which story will be number 1?
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, and I'm Dick Pryor with QuorumCall publisher Shawn Ashley. Today, we're going to take you inside politics, policy and government in Oklahoma one more time for 2022 with our top five stories of the year. But first, to recap, the countdown to number one has gone this way. Number ten was the effort to get a statewide vote on recreational marijuana. Number nine - no tax cuts in an election year. Number eight - the fiscal health of the state's retirement systems. Number seven - acceleration of executions. And number six - legal battles over ACCESS Oklahoma and turnpike expansion. And now, Shawn, we start with number five - the adoption of highly restrictive anti-abortion laws in advance of Roe v. Wade being overturned.
Shawn Ashley: Oklahoma passed four anti-abortion bills during the 2022 regular session. The most restrictive declares that life begins at conception and prohibits abortion except to save the life of the mother. Two of the others made performing an abortion a felony punishable by up to ten years in prison. And since then, a group of Republican lawmakers have asked for an attorney general's opinion regarding the legality of at-home abortion pills and whether the women who use them can be charged with a crime related to the death of their baby. If I had to make one prediction for the upcoming year, I think it's something we're likely to see legislation addressing during the coming legislative session.
Dick Pryor: Number four - the fallout of court decisions on the state-tribal nation relationship.
Shawn Ashley: In April, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the state of Oklahoma can prosecute non-Indians who commit crimes within reservation boundaries in the Castro Huerta case. The case was an appeal related to the court's 2020 decision in McGirt that affirmed the authority of tribes and the federal government to prosecute certain cases under the federal Major Crimes Act. And we all heard that would result in a lot of other litigation. And in fact, it has. But the Castro Huerta decision was not the only decision arising from McGirt.
In October, the Oklahoma Tax Commission reversed the decision of an administrative law judge and ruled the state of Oklahoma can tax the income of tribal citizens living on reservation lands. The commission ruled that the McGirt decision applies only to certain criminal jurisdictional issues and not to the taxing powers of the state. Then in early December, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals rejected a claim that the state has no criminal jurisdiction within the historical boundaries of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Reservation. Congress and the tribes agreed to disestablish the reservation years before Oklahoma became a state, the court ruled. And that means the state can prosecute tribal defendants there and defendants in cases where the victim was a tribal member.
Dick Pryor: And now, number three - scandals involving the Stitt administration and its appointees.
Shawn Ashley: A special House committee, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and the state auditor and inspector's office are investigating how the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department, then under the direction of Jerry Winchester, a Stitt appointee, handled a contract with Swadley’s Barbecue to put restaurants in six state parks. According to a report from the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency, the state paid more than 14 million than the original budget and contract allowed, so those investigations continue.
In July, a federal audit found problems with how some of the nearly $40 million in Governor's Emergency Relief funds or GEER funds were managed in spirit by the state of Oklahoma. One of those programs was overseen by Superintendent-elect Ryan Walters prior to his appointment as Secretary of Education. The state could still be required to pay back some of those funds, depending on the findings of federal officials. And one controversy we may hear more about in the coming year is the plan by the Friends of the Governor's Mansion to build a new home on the current mansion grounds for the state's chief executive using private funds.
Dick Pryor: The number two story of 2022 - conflicts between the legislature and the governor.
Shawn Ashley: Lawmakers in May changed the way they were distributing the state's $1.87 billion of American Rescue Plan Act funds, effectively removing Governor Stitt from the process. According to Stitt they also excluded him for much of the budget process for the current fiscal year. Governor Stitt did not sign into law many of the ARPA bills, allowing them to take effect absent his signature. And he also did not sign most of the bills related to the fiscal year 2023 budget. And remember in March, Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat’s school choice or voucher bill that was backed by the governor failed to win Senate approval and much of the opposition came from Republicans.
Dick Pryor: And the number one story of 2022 on our Capitol Insider top ten countdown - the reelection of Kevin Stitt to a second term as governor.
Shawn Ashley: Going into the general election, it seemed like the governor's seat might be up for grabs, but Stitt defeated Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, who changed parties and became a Democrat in 2021. Stitt’s margin of victory over Hofmeister was greater than his margin over former Attorney General Drew Edmondson in 2018. Is that a mandate? Maybe not. Stitt’s vote total was the lowest of any of the general election winning candidates in other races on November's general election ballot. And House Speaker Charles McCall has noted that Stitt’s margin of victory, although greater than his original election, was not as big as the margin of victories notched by some of the House Republican Caucus members. And remember, too, Stitt’s hand-picked attorney general, John O'Connor, failed to advance in the June primary election, failing to Gentner Drummond. But on the bright side, Stitt did see Ryan Walters, his secretary of education, elected as the state's new superintendent.
Dick Pryor: So that's it. Thanks, Shawn.
Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.
Dick Pryor: We can now officially send 2022 into history and start thinking about 2023, which we'll do when we're back with our first Capitol Insider segment of the New Year on January 6th. If you have questions, email them to email@example.com or contact us on Twitter @kgounews and @QuorumCallShawn. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I’m Dick Pryor. Happy New Year, everyone!