Kevin Stitt is a successful businessman who was elected to serve Oklahoma as its governor, but not as its king. This nation's founders rejected the idea of a monarch 230 years ago, and this state’s founders 112 years ago embraced populism: a government of, by and for “ordinary” people who feel that their concerns are disregarded. Stitt wants to place every state office under his thumb. Yet Oklahoma’s populist streak remains from Statehood days. The “average Joe” likes to have a say in who is chosen to occupy some state offices, rather than handing all of that power over to a millionaire, his rich cronies and his wealthy campaign contributors. Sen. Greg Treat, the now-Senate President Pro Tempore, tried unsuccessfully in 2013 to consolidate all executive branch power under Oklahoma’s governor. Treat still thinks it would be a dandy idea to expand the governor’s appointment power to include executive branch officials who are currently elected: the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Labor Commissioner, the State Treasurer, the Insurance Commissioner, the State Auditor and Inspector, and the state’s Attorney General. Thankfully, that would require amendments to the state Constitution rather than just a majority vote of partisan legislative sycophants. If we voters don’t like how elected officeholders perform their duties, we can oust them every four years. We voters elected – and re-elected – State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister. We voters elected – and re-elected – Gary Jones, who was a superb public servant during his eight-year tenure as the State Auditor and Inspector. We voters elected Ken Miller and his successor Randy McDaniel to serve as State Treasurer, and we elected Insurance Commissioner Glen Mulready and Labor Commissioner Leslie Osborn.
Twice we elected Brad Henry to be Governor. And we elected and re-elected Drew Edmondson, who performed outstanding service as Attorney General in his efforts to clean up the waters of eastern Oklahoma polluted by poultry litter. The list goes on and on. I doubt that Governor Stitt could do a better job of filling those posts than we voters have done. Republican Oklahoma legislators have demonstrated a propensity to hand two consecutive Republican governors virtually anything they want. For example, they supported Mary Fal- lin’s proposal to reduce the number of state boards and commissions and to consolidate various state agencies under a select group of gubernatorial appointees. And the Republicans enthusiastically embraced Fallin’s proposals to slash the state income tax without providing a substitute levy – which nearly wrecked state government with budget deficits that totaled $3 billion-plus over a period of five years. And now GOP Gov. Kevin Stitt wants to pick up where Fallin left off and consolidate even more power in the state’s chief executive officer. Would Republicans view this issue the same way if a Democrat occupied the Governor’s Office? They certainly didn’t propose any such legislation during the eight years when Democrat Brad Henry was Governor.
Treat, R-Oklahoma City, apparently has forgotten the maxim, which is as true in politics as it is in life: no matter how long it takes, what goes around comes around. Stitt told an Oklahoma City newspaper that he’s “frustrated by his limited ability to affect education.” Oklahomans “expect the governor to make education reforms but don’t understand the governor’s hands are tied,” he said. “When the governor’s elected by all four million Oklahomans, the people think that he or she’s supposed to be able to go in and make some different moves on education to get outcomes,” Stitt was quoted as saying. For starters, Stitt wasn’t elected by four million Oklahomans. Some 2.12 million Oklahomans were registered to vote in November 2018, and only 1,186,385 of them (55.7%) cast a ballot in the general election. Stitt was favored by 644,579 of those who took the time to vote in the 2018 Governor’s race; thus, he was elected to office by just 30% of all Oklahomans who were registered to vote at that time. Moreover, Kevin Stitt wasn’t elected to manage Oklahoma’s education system. That duty resides with the State Superintendent of Public Instruction and the State Board of Education. Article 13, Section 5, of the Oklahoma Constitution, decrees that, “The supervision of instruction in the public schools shall be vested in a Board of Education...” Ms. Hofmeister is the elected State Superintendent; as such, she is the chief education officer of the state and is head of the state Department of Education – and, incidentally, received almost 43,000 more votes than Stitt did. The governor appoints six of the seven members of the State Board of Education and has a Cabinet Secretary who focuses exclusively on education. In addition, the governor and the Legislature control the Education Department’s purse strings. The education of Oklahoma’s children is the responsibility of parents and teachers and school administrators and school board members and legislators and the Education Department and the State Superintendent – not just the Governor. What we need in government today is more statesmen and -women, not more power-hungry politicians.