CN citizen Kevin Stitt sworn in as Oklahoma governor
Oklahoma Republican Gov.-elect Kevin Stitt, with his wife Sarah Stitt at his side, speaks at his pre-inaugural Redbud Ball on Jan. 12 at the Cox Business Center in Tulsa. The Cherokee Nation citizen was sworn in to office on Jan. 14. MIKE SIMONS/TULSA WORLD VIA AP
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – Oklahoma officially has a new Republican governor, a 46-year-old political newcomer who promised he’d use his business acumen to make state government more transparent and fiscally sound.
Gov. Kevin Stitt and other statewide elected officials took their oaths of office Monday during a ceremony on the south steps of the Oklahoma Capitol.
Stitt, a father of six and a Cherokee Nation citizen, spoke about his family and his childhood in Oklahoma, along with what motivated him to consider leaving his CEO job with the company he founded, Gateway Mortgage, and make his first foray into politics.
“Two years ago, the idea of running for governor was still just a small mustard seed,” Stitt said. “I traveled the country visiting my offices in other states, seeing their economies take off and thrive.
“I would then come home to the state that I love to find us struggling, stuck at the bottom in every category that matters.”
Although details have been sparse, Stitt outlined three areas he’s expected to push for policy changes: Expanding the governor’s power over state agencies, improving public education and reducing the state’s high incarceration rate. Stitt will outline his agenda in a State of the State address on Feb. 4.
With a Republican-led Legislature optimistic to work with a new governor, it’s likely Stitt could push through a substantial portion of his agenda during the upcoming legislative session.
The start of Stitt’s tenure also marks the exit from politics for Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican Party stalwart who broke gender barriers during her nearly 30 years in state politics that also included stints as a legislator, lieutenant governor and congresswoman.
Stitt distanced himself from Fallin on the campaign trail and already has replaced nearly all her top appointees and cabinet secretaries.
But Stitt also will get to take advantage of many of the difficult fiscal decisions Fallin and the Legislature made last year after months of grueling negotiations and special sessions, highlighted by a statewide teacher walkout and the approval of the largest package of tax increases in state history.
Political wrangling over the tax hikes played a part in a dozen GOP legislators losing their re-election bids, but it also helped stabilize Oklahoma’s budget and provide public school teachers with their first pay hike in a decade, an average annual boost of $6,100.
The new revenue from the tax increases, along with Oklahoma’s rebounding economy and a recent boom in the oil patch, has led to an anticipated surplus in excess of $600 million to spend on next year’s budget, along with another $450 million in the state’s rainy day reserve fund.