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Gov. Kevin Stitt says government is 'too big and too broken' in second State of the State speech

OKLAHOMA CITY — Gov. Kevin Stitt told lawmakers Monday that the greatest challenge to the state is government bureaucracy.

“In my first year of public service and as chief executive, I have found government too big and too broken,” Stitt said during his State of the State address to a joint session in the House chamber.

Stitt, a Republican serving his second year in office, called for continuing to make appointments to the Pardon and Parole Board but passing legislation that absorbs the rest of the agency’s functions into the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.

Stitt also called for combining back office and common functions of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority and the Oklahoma Department of Transportation into one shared service entity for both agencies.

He also wants to merge the Oklahoma Office of Emergency Management with Homeland Security.

“Some will cry that consolidation is disruptive,” Stitt said. “Let me be clear: It will be for political insiders and those that find comfort in big bureaucracy.”

He also touched on his recently announced SoonerCare 2.0, an expansion of Medicaid through block grants. He said the program will have moderate premiums and work requirements.

The governor also called for reforming the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust, created through a constitutional amendment approved by the people following a settlement with tobacco companies.

“Let’s protect the current corpus yet reallocate future funds towards improving the delivery of rural health care,” he said.

Such a move would require a vote of the people.

Stitt took aim at State Question 802, which seeks a straight expansion of Medicaid. Supporters gathered enough signatures to get a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot. Stitt has yet to set an election date.

“With straight Medicaid expansion, Oklahoma will be left with the same ineffective and unaccountable program that has failed to bring us out of bottom 10 rankings,” he said.

Stitt called for the consolidation of the functions of the state Department of Health, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the Department of Mental Health, and all of the state’s licensing boards that deal with health.

Stitt expressed support for legislation that would create pricing transparency for medical bills and put an end to surprise medical billing.

In an effort to reduce the teacher shortage, Stitt said he backed legislation that would direct the State Board of Education to issue teaching certificates for those who hold a valid, out-of-state teaching certificate, with no other requirements except a criminal history check.

He also wants to increase the cap to $30 million on the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship.

“Increasing the tax credit cap will provide additional incentives for donors, resulting in more public school grants and private school scholarships,” Stitt said.

Stitt also addressed his dispute with tribes over gaming fees.

He said he will ask for legislation for the remaining cash balance from 2019 exclusivity fees and funds from the Revenue Stabilization Fund to be leveraged, if needed, to make up for any pause in Class III gaming fees.

Stitt believes the gaming compacts with the tribes expired Jan. 1 and current Class III gaming is illegal. He is seeking higher exclusivity fees.

Three tribes have sued the state seeking a declaration that the compacts automatically renewed. They have continued Class III gaming, which includes slot machines, roulette and craps.

The tribes pay the state fees ranging from 4% to 10% for exclusivity rights to operate Class III gaming.

House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said Stitt’s health care plan comes from Washington, D.C., and is not an Oklahoma plan.

She said the Trump administration is using Oklahoma as a guinea pig.

“Frankly, our citizens deserve better than an unproven program,” Virgin said.

In the area of criminal justice reform, Stitt failed to talk about changes to mandatory minimum sentences or reducing recidivism rates, Virgin said.

She said Stitt’s proposal to consolidate health care agencies will “be an unworkable nightmare for citizens trying to navigate this huge agency.”

Virgin said she found it interesting that Stitt said bureaucracy is the biggest obstacle the state faces.

She said if every Oklahoman were to be polled, none of them would say bureaucracy is the biggest issue facing the state. They are talking about access to health care and lower class sizes, Virgin said.

“When he says the biggest obstacles we are facing is bureaucracy, it certainly seems like he is out of touch,” Virgin said.

Legislative session starts Monday: Assault-style rifle ban, ‘Year of the Bible’ among bills proposed for Oklahoma

Gallery: Bills proposed for Oklahoma's 2020 legislative session

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Black History Month: Boley once boasted more than 4,000 residents

“The most enterprising and in many ways the most interesting of the Negro towns in the United States.”

So proclaimed Booker T. Washington after a 1905 visit to Boley, which left the famed African-American leader duly impressed.

Founded just a couple of years earlier — and boosted by a massive publicity campaign, promising a place where blacks could live as free and equal citizens — Boley had grown quickly into one of the most prosperous predominantly black towns in the nation.

Before long, it would boast two banks, three cotton gins and two colleges.

But after peaking at more than 4,000 residents, the Great Depression and other factors would permanently stall Boley’s growth.

Today one of the state’s few remaining historic all-black towns, it’s best known as a cultural tourism destination and home to the nation’s oldest African-American community-based rodeo.

Poor start: Leadoff Iowa Democratic caucus results delayed

DES MOINES, Iowa — The Iowa Democratic Party said Monday night that results from the state’s first-in-the-nation caucus were delayed due to “quality checks” and new reporting rules, an embarrassing complication that added a new layer of doubt to an already uncertain presidential primary season.

The statement came as Iowa voters packed caucus sites across the state with at least four leading candidates battling to win the opening contest of the 2020 campaign, and ultimately, the opportunity to take on President Donald Trump this fall.

Democrats hoped that Iowa’s caucuses would provide some clarity for what has been a muddled nomination fight for much of the last year. But apparent technology issues delayed the results as the state party suggested turnout was on track to match 2016 numbers.

“The integrity of the results is paramount,” party spokesperson Mandy McClure said. “We have experienced a delay in the results due to quality checks and the fact that the IDP is reporting out three data sets for the first time.”

Des Moines County Democratic Chair Tom Courtney blamed technology issues in his county, relaying precinct reports that the app created for caucus organizers to report results was “a mess.” As a result, Courtney said precinct leaders were phoning in results to the state party headquarters, which was too busy to answer their calls in some cases.

Iowa voters were balancing a strong preference for fundamental change with an overwhelming desire to defeat Trump as they sorted through nearly a dozen candidates in a contest that offered the opening test of who and what the party stands for in the turbulent age of Trump. It’s just the first in a primary season that will span all 50 states and several U.S. territories, ending only at the party’s national convention in mid-July.

For Democrats, the moment was thick with promise for a party that has seized major gains in states since Trump won the White House in 2016. But instead of clear optimism, a cloud of uncertainty and intraparty resentment hung over Monday’s election as the prospect of an unclear result raised fears of a long and divisive primary fight in the months ahead.

The candidates fanned out across the state to rally their supporters.

“I’m the one who can pull our party together,” Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren told supporters on a telephone call before voting began, suggesting her rivals could not. They said they were the ones to bring unity.

One unsurprising development: Trump won the Republican caucus, a largely symbolic victory given that he faced no significant opposition.

Pre-caucus polls suggested that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders might have a narrow lead, but any of the top four candidates — Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden, Warren and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg — could score a victory in Iowa’s unpredictable and quirky caucus system as organizers prepared for record turnout. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who represents neighboring Minnesota, was also claiming momentum, while outsider candidates including entrepreneur Andrew Yang, billionaire activist Tom Steyer and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard could be factors.

New voters played a significant role in shaping Iowa’s election.

About one quarter of all voters reported that they were caucusing for the first time, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of voters who said they planned to take part in Monday’s Democratic caucuses. The first-timers were slightly more likely to support Sanders, Warren or Buttigieg, compared with other candidates. At the same time, VoteCast found that roughly two-thirds of caucusgoers said supporting a candidate who would fundamentally change how the system in Washington works was important to their vote. That compared to about a third of caucusgoers who said it was more important to support a candidate who would restore the political system to how it was before Trump’s election in 2016.

Not surprisingly, nearly every Iowa Democrat said the ability to beat Trump was an important quality for a presidential nominee. VoteCast found that measure outranked others as the most important quality for a nominee.

In Iowa, some 200,000 voters were expected.

Three senators in the field left Iowa late Sunday to return to the U.S. Capitol for Trump’s impeachment trial, but did what they could to keep their campaigns going from Washington. While Warren held her telephone town hall, Klobuchar’s husband and daughter appeared at a canvass launch in Des Moines.

In suburban Des Moines, Buttigieg delivered about 100 volunteers a last shot of encouragement before they stepped out into the chill to knock on doors for him around midday Monday.

“We are exactly where we need to be to astonish the political world,” he said, igniting cheers for the 38-year-old former midsize-city mayor, who was an asterisk a year ago and is now among the top candidates.

Meanwhile, Biden and his wife, Jill, delivered pizza Monday to a few dozen volunteers working the phones at his south Des Moines field office.

“I feel good,” he said as he walked in, sporting his signature aviator sunglasses.

Iowa offers just a tiny percentage of the delegates needed to win the nomination but plays an outsize role in culling primary fields. A poor showing in Iowa could cause a front-runner’s fundraising to slow and support in later states to dwindle, while a strong result can give a candidate much needed momentum.

The past several Democrats who won the Iowa caucuses went on to clinch the party’s nomination.

The 2020 fight has played out over myriad distractions, particularly congressional Democrats’ push to impeach Trump, which has often overshadowed the primary and effectively pinned several leading candidates to Washington at the pinnacle of the early campaign season.

Meanwhile, ultrabillionaire Mike Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, is running a parallel campaign that ignores Iowa as he prepares to pounce on any perceived weaknesses in the field come March.

The amalgam of oddities, including new rules for reporting the already complicated caucus results, was building toward what could be a murky Iowa finale before the race pivots quickly to New Hampshire, which votes just eight days later.

New party rules may give more than one candidate an opportunity to claim victory in Iowa, even if they aren’t the official winner.

For the first time, the Iowa Democratic Party reported three sets of results at the end of the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses: a tally of caucus-goers’ initial candidate preference; vote totals from the “final alignment” after supporters of lower-ranking candidates were able to make a second choice, and the total number of State Delegate Equivalents each candidate receives.

There is no guarantee that all three will show the same winner.

The Associated Press will declare a winner based on the number of state delegates each candidate wins, which has been the traditional standard.

Many of the Democratic presidential candidates have possible weaknesses when challenging Trump, VoteCast found.

Some 4 in 10 Iowa voters said it would be harder for a woman to unseat the president. Almost 6 in 10 said a gay candidate would have more difficulty defeating Trump, a potential risk for Buttigieg. Roughly the same share said a nominee with “strongly liberal views” would also face a harder time, while close to half said a nominee older than 75 — Biden and Sanders — would have a tougher time versus Trump.

Trump trial closing arguments aim at voters, history

WASHINGTON — Closing arguments Monday in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial were directed more toward history than to sway the outcome, one final chance to influence public opinion and set the record ahead of his expected acquittal in the Republican-led Senate.

The House Democratic prosecutors drew on the Founding Fathers and common sense to urge senators — and Americans — to see that Trump’s actions are not isolated but a pattern of behavior that, left unchecked, will allow him to “cheat” in the 2020 election.

Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff implored those few Republican senators who have acknowledged Trump’s wrongdoing in the Ukraine matter to prevent a “runaway presidency” and stand up to say “enough.”

“For a man like Donald J. Trump, they gave you a remedy and meant for you to use it. They gave you an oath, and they meant for you to observe it,” Schiff said. “We have proven Donald Trump guilty. Now do impartial justice and convict him.”

The president’s defense countered the Democrats have been out to impeach Trump since the start of his presidency, nothing short of an effort to undo the 2016 election and to try to shape the next one, as early primary voting begins Monday in Iowa.

“Leave it to the voters to choose,” said White House counsel Pat Cipollone.

He called for an end to the partisan “era of impeachment.”

All that’s left, as the Senate prepares to acquit Trump on charges that he abused power and obstructed Congress, is for Americans to decide now and in the November election, as the third presidential impeachment trial in the nation’s history comes to a close.

Most senators acknowledge the House Democratic managers have essentially proven their case. Trump was impeached in December on two charges: that he abused his power like no other president in history when he pushed Ukraine to investigate rival Democrats, and he then obstructed Congress by instructing aides to defy House subpoenas.

But key Republicans have decided the president’s actions toward Ukraine do not rise to the level of impeachable offense that warrants the dramatic political upheaval of conviction and removal from office. His acquittal in Wednesday’s vote is all but assured.

GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska called the president’s actions “shameful and wrong,” but in a powerful speech late Monday she also derided the highly partisan process. “I cannot vote to convict,” she said.

Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Marco Rubio of Florida and Rob Portman of Ohio are among those who acknowledged the inappropriateness of Trump’s actions but said they would not vote to hear more testimony or to convict.

“What message does that send?” asked Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., a House prosecutor. He warned senators that for Trump, the “past is prologue.” He urged the Senate to realize its failure to convict will “allow the president’s misconduct to stand.”

The Senate proceedings are set against a sweeping political backstop, as voters in Iowa on Monday are choosing presidential Democratic primary candidates and Trump is poised to deliver his State of the Union address Tuesday in his own victory lap before Congress.

It is unclear if any Republican or Democratic senators sworn to do “impartial justice’’ will break from party lines. One centrist Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin, W-Va., said he was heavily weighing the vote ahead. He suggested censure may be a bipartisan alternative.

The House Democrats unveiled a striking case centered on Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, running an alternative foreign policy that drew alarm at the highest levels. As part of the “scheme,” Trump held up $391 million in U.S. aid from Ukraine, a fragile ally battling Russia, for his personal political gain, they argued. The money was eventually released after Congress intervened.

As Chief Justice John Roberts presided, the House managers opened with a plea from Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., a freshman and former Army Ranger: “We cannot and should not leave our common sense at the door.”

One by one, the Democrats drew on their life experiences to remind senators, and Americans, of the simple difference between right and wrong in the case against Trump.

Rep. Val Demings, a former police chief, argued that the president is not behaving like someone who is innocent. She warned that if senators do not convict, Trump will try to “cheat” again ahead of 2020.

“You will send a terrible message to the nation that one can get away with abuse of power, cheating and spreading of false narratives,” she told them.

Before Trump’s celebrity defense mounted its closing argument, the president himself already registered his views on Twitter, where he decried the whole thing — as he often does — as a “hoax.”

Kenneth Starr, the former prosecutor whose investigation led to Bill Clinton’s impeachment, complained about the inadequacy of the House prosecutors’ “fast track” case.

Trump attorney Jay Sekulow showed political clips of Democrats calling for impeachment — with many lawmakers of color, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a top Republican foil — to argue this was the “first totally partisan presidential impeachment in our nation’s history, and it should be our last.”

One key Trump lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, who was forced to walk back a sweeping defense of presidential power in last week’s arguments, did not appear. Trump wanted acquittal secured before he arrives at the Capitol for the State of the Union address Tuesday, but that will not happen.

Senators carrying the power of their votes to the history books wanted additional time to make their own arguments, in public speeches from the floor of the Senate. Those began Monday afternoon and were expected to continue until Wednesday’s vote.

The trial unfolded over nearly two weeks and reached a decisive moment last Friday when senators voted against calling witnesses and documents. Key Republicans said they had heard enough. It becomes the first impeachment trial in the nation’s more than 200-year history without any witnesses.

Even new revelations from John Bolton, the former White House national security adviser, whose forthcoming book discloses his firsthand account of Trump ordering the investigations, did not impress upon senators the need for more testimony.

Bolton said he would appear if he received a subpoena, but GOP senators said the House should have issued the summons and the Senate did not want to prolong the proceedings.

Prosecutors relied on a 28,000-page report compiled over three months of proceedings in the Democratic-controlled House, including public and private testimony from 17 witnesses, among them current and former ambassadors and national security officials with close proximity to the Ukraine dealings.

The case stems from Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine that he maintains was “perfect.” A government whistleblower alarmed by the call filed a complaint that sparked the inquiry.