Oklahoma Governors 2018—: Kevin Stitt (1972—)
This son of a Norman preacher and father of six blew onto the Oklahoma political scene like a Tornado Alley twister early in the 2018 gubernatorial campaign. A self-made titan of finance, he possessed no political experience and no interest in having any until a sleepless night shortly before he and his family departed for a year’s sabbatical in Spain.
Reminiscent of Old Testament patriarch Jacob’s all night brawl with the “angel,” Stitt was startled, after hours of pacing and praying, to sense God’s calling him to run for governor of the state. Soon, royal blue yard and fence signs with the unfamiliar name “STITT” sprouted across the state. Knowledgeable observers’ reactions ranged from amusement to bemusement, in light of a powerful Republican primary field.
In one of the biggest American political feats of 2018, however, Stitt proved unstoppable. He won a primary run off, then in the general election routed perhaps the state’s most powerful Democratic politician, former four-term Attorney General Drew Edmondson.
Stitt piled into his new job with the same passion that had made him the first college student in the Southwestern Company’s 115-year history to sell more books his first summer on the job, going door to door every day, than anyone else in the country. His decisive leadership as governor quickly ended the statewide furor over public school teacher pay, which had erupted into a weeks-long strike and tumultuous state capitol protests earlier in 2018.
Even as he visited communities from one end of the state to the other, his probing eye and organizational genius scoured the state government apparatus. Everywhere, he took action to raise standards, cut waste, heighten accountability, and increase efficiency. In contrast to many past governors, Stitt won legislative approval to assume authority over the major state agency directors. This allowed him to build “a winning strategy with everyone moving in the same direction.”
One of the great confrontations in state history shaped up heading into the 2020s. It pitted Stitt—a member of the Cherokee Nation, the largest Native tribe in America—against the leadership of his own tribe, along with dozens of others based in Oklahoma. He insisted on negotiating an increase in the state’s share of billions of dollars in annual Indian casino revenues. He cited numerous other states receiving significantly higher percentages.
The tribes, meanwhile, denied the state’s right to demand a change. The dispute shaped up into a contest between state and tribal power of a magnitude not seen since before statehood. In a reversal of much past Oklahoma and American history, and to the co