Kevin Stitt began his tenure as governor one year ago Tuesday full of energy and ambition.
Nothing yet has taken the wind out of his sails.
“I’d give myself an ‘A’ at this point,” Stitt said in a telephone interview last week. “We can always do better, but I’m really proud of what our team has accomplished.”
Stitt and his administration did have a pretty good run of successes in its first year. On this occasion, Stitt mentioned teacher pay, roads and bridges, and government transparency, but he could also have listed government reorganization and criminal justice reform.
For gun rights advocates, there was the permitless carry bill, the first Stitt signed as governor. And he was able to carry through with his determination to hold back, above and beyond the state’s constitutional reserve fund, $200 million available for appropriation.
But few victories are total or without reservation.
A lot of toes were mashed in the stampede to give Stitt more administrative power than any Oklahoma governor has ever had.
Even more were mashed when he decided in mid-year to take on the state’s Indian tribes over gaming — a move he says he does not regret in the least.
Permitless carry was and is bitterly opposed by a significant segment of the population. Some saw the teacher pay raise as more of a figurative photo op than real reform of education funding.
And the nonrecommendations issued last week by Stitt’s task force on criminal justice reform suggest to some that he’s ready to declare victory on that issue and move on.
Stitt, though, is judging results by a broader measure.
“I really feel like we’ve changed the momentum and the direction and the attitude and the outlook in Oklahoma,” he said. “The things we’re doing, the communications, the working with the state agencies, bringing them together for leadership training, it’s just been going great as we’re digging in and setting a vision and goals for them to become top 10 in whatever they’re working on.”
In Stitt’s view, the state’s frame of mind seems to be of utmost importance.
“Oklahomans elected me to look at things differently,” he said, “to bring a fresh approach, a business approach, to state government, and not to recycle the same-old same-old. To do that I had to bring in a lot of new faces, new leaders, people with fresh ideas. That’s what we’re doing. And you see it working.
“Not that I’m 100% right or anything like that, but you have to have one single strategy,” he said. “You’ve got to have somebody who can pull it all together. … That’s why I really focused on getting the structure right.”
Just months in office, Stitt persuaded legislative leaders to give him direct control of five of the largest state agencies — the Health Care Authority, Corrections, Human Services, Juvenile Affairs, and Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
Stitt replaced three of those five agency heads and the leadership in a total of 18 state agencies. State Chancellor Glen Johnson agreed to retire at the end of this year following a very public campaign by Stitt to pressure him out.
Stitt said gaining even greater control over state agencies is one of his priorities for the coming year. He’s made it clear he intends to exert influence on the selection of Johnson’s successor and says he’d like the state superintendent of public instruction to become an appointed rather than elected official.
“Making the change inside the agencies is really hard,” he said. “They’re used to doing things a certain way. … Sometimes you have to talk to boards and commissions and explain to them that we’re not moving the needle in this agency they’re overseeing so we’ve got to change the direction or the director.”
Stitt’s first year was made easier by the easing of a financial crisis that had afflicted state government for years. His second budget is expected to be much tighter as revenue to the state slows.
Stitt, though, does not seem too concerned about maintaining momentum as he heads into his second year.
“A lot of agency accountability and delivery of services is more management,” he said. “I’m not overly concerned about not being able to keep up with some of my agenda items. The criminal justice stuff is more looking at the criminal code and bail reform and sentencing reform all together.”
Stitt said the administration is still “kind of fine tuning” plans for 2020 but said “health care is going to be a big topic that I’m going to be working on. More regulatory reform. I’m really excited about some of the things we’re doing on the regulatory side. And we’ll continue to have agency accountability language that we’ll be promoting this year.”
OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter filed a state lawsuit against three major opioid distributors Monday, accusing them of helping fuel the state’s deadly opioid crisis by oversupplying the state with the highly addictive painkillers.
Named as defendants in the lawsuit are Cardinal Health Inc., AmerisourceBergen Corp., McKesson Corp. and related entities.
“Our lawsuit will show that these companies poured opioids into communities across this state while ignoring red flags and suspicious orders,” Hunter said at a news conference.
Local community leaders and elected officials gathered outside City Hall on Monday morning to denounce the city’s participation in the “Live PD” television show.
“It is a shame; it is a travesty; it is embarrassing that in a city that knows the damage police can do when they are not on the side of the citizens, that we would allow something like that to happen,” said community organizer Gregory Robinson II.
City Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper, state Rep. Regina Goodwin, former Police Chief Drew Diamond and about two dozen other people joined Robinson at a news conference to discuss the television program and Mayor G.T. Bynum’s process for selecting a new police chief.
Hall-Harper noted that last week during a town hall meeting Bynum refused to commit to ending the Police Department’s involvement in the television show. She said she stands in solidarity with those who want to see it go away.
“We want an immediate end to ‘Live PD,’ ” she said.
The city’s agreement with “Live PD” is handled by the Mayor’s Office. The City Council has no legal authority to determine whether the city should participate in the program.
Several speakers at last week’s town hall meetings urged the mayor to end the city’s participation in the program, saying it reflected poorly on the city and its residents and preyed on the most vulnerable.
Goodwin said rather than the Police Department participate in “Live PD,” officers should turn on their body cameras and their dash cameras.
“For all of the officers who are doing the right thing, God bless them,” she said. “But for those officers who continue to prey on this community — that’s what we’re saying — turn your body camera on; turn on your dash cam. (Then) you got your ‘Live PD.’
“And we want a mayor and a chief that is going to make sure there are consequences if those body cameras and dash cams are not on.”
Bynum declined to comment Monday, but he has said previously that he believes the show gives those who wish to watch a chance to see the diverse range of issues officers deal with on a daily basis and to decide for themselves how those situations were handled.
“My concern is this: I have seen in the last year how two people viewing one police encounter can have completely different understandings of what that encounter was,” Bynum said Friday.
He added that he empathizes with those concerned that some of the people appearing on “Live PD” are in vulnerable positions, but he noted that the Police Department has the ability to restrict coverage if it thinks it’s appropriate to do so.
“They only film in the public domain,” the mayor said. “So this is not something only ‘Live PD’ has the ability to do. Anybody could walk up and record someone who is in a difficult situation.”
It is impossible to truly appreciate and understand the range of situations Tulsa police officers deal with every day until you see it, Bynum said.
“This is just one other way for people to access that,” he said.
Former Police Chief Drew Diamond, who served from 1987 to 1991, also called for an end to the city’s participation in the show on Monday.
“Policing is not about entertainment. If you in the news media want to be in the car, you can be in the car. That’s news; this is about entertainment,” he said. “They are using the officers and the city for entertainment value. It’s bad policing; it’s bad policy; and it needs to be stopped.”
Monday’s news conference was organized by Demanding a JUSTulsa and ACTION, local community action groups encouraging more transparency and public participation in the selection process for a new police chief.
A letter outlining community concerns about the selection process and “Live PD” was sent to Bynum on Friday. It was signed by more than 200 people, including Hall-Harper, Goodwin, state Sen. Kevin Matthews and state Rep. Monroe Nichols.
City Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper stood in front of City Hall on Monday and sent a loud, clear message to Mayor G.T. Bynum.
“We must have a selection committee made up of trusted community stakeholders to be included in the search for our new police chief,” she said. “And all candidates must be available for the community (to have) an opportunity to engage, to ask questions and to have a say in who leads us.”
She was not alone. As Bynum begins the next phase of the process to find a successor to Chief Chuck Jordan, who retires Feb. 1, a growing chorus of Tulsans, many from north Tulsa, are demanding that the public be involved throughout the process.
More than 20 community leaders and elected officials, including state Rep. Regina Goodwin, the Rev. Robert Turner, former Police Chief Drew Diamond and the Rev. Chris Moore, gathered for Monday’s news conference.
“We have an opportunity now to ask Mayor Bynum to continue to open his mind and his heart to what is best for all of Tulsa,” Goodwin said.
Monday’s news conference came three days after more than 200 people sent a letter to Bynum demanding a more transparent and inclusive process.
The letter, and the speakers at Monday’s news conference, suggested at least three ways the mayor could accomplish that: create a process by which the public can question candidates and share their reactions; convene a group of stakeholders identified by city councilors to be part of a formalized recommendation process; and extend the search nationwide.
Bynum has indicated that it’s unlikely that he would look outside the Tulsa Police Department to find the next police chief, citing the high quality of the internal candidates and their knowledge and understanding of the challenges the city faces.
Goodwin on Monday seemed miffed by the mayor’s position, noting that he has said he wants the best person in the country.
“How do you do that without searching the nation?” she asked. “How does that happen?”
Gregory Robinson II said many policing initiatives, including an examination of the city’s Equality Indicators reports, undertaken during the last few years happened only after prodding from the community.
“So, here, what we are asking of the mayor is to do what we know is best to do in this city, which is to follow community voices,” Robinson said. “Have us be a part of this process; make it a transparent process so that we can get the right police chief for our city.”
Bynum heard many of the same requests when he held three town hall meetings last week to hear what Tulsans want from their next police chief and the Police Department.
The mayor has questioned the wisdom of holding town hall meetings at which the public would question candidates but has said he is in favor of continued public involvement and hopes to announce what that would look like this week.
Diamond noted after the news conference that he was interviewed by several citizen groups before he was selected as chief in 1987.
“It was either two or three community group boards that interviewed us (candidates), and I … do believe they were a third of the (candidates’) rating,” Diamond said.
Goodwin thanked the mayor for his efforts to include the community in the selection process but said there is more to be done.
Noting the city’s long history of racial strife and racial inequality, Goodwin said it’s important that the community most affected by police practices has a seat at the table when it comes to choosing the next police chief.
“We are taxpayers. We are most affected by this police chief, and we have been along for the ride, and, unfortunately, we haven’t got much out of the ride,” she said.