Stitt delivers State of the State to a divided audience
Gov. Kevin Stitt delivered his State of the State address on Feb. 5, which was met with protests, discussions over education in Oklahoma, as well as debates between the Oklahoma state government and Native American tribes within the state.
Before the governor began his address, a protest in support of Palestine broke out within the Capitol. Protesters gathered, chanting “Free, free, Palestine, in our lifetime.”
The protest was met with counter-protesters in support of Gov. Stitt and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters. Counter-protesters took to the Capitol chanting, “USA. USA.”
Before the governor began, The Vista, The Oklahoman and The Tulsa World were all barred from entering the press box and watching the event. Instead, the publications watched the live stream on OETA.
Stitt began his address by discussing his hopes for bringing in more businesses to Oklahoma, and making it the “perfect place for new industries looking for a home.”
Stitt credits Oklahoma’s low-cost of energy, centralized location and workforce as reasons why companies should be coming to Oklahoma.
Along with plans to attract more companies, Stitt also discussed expanding the aviation industry in Oklahoma.
“More schools, more innovation, more freedom,” said Stitt in reference to the education changes and introduction of aviation schools in Oklahoma.
State Superintendent Ryan Walters played a role in introducing aviation programs in K-12 grades, and after Stitt’s address, Walters told The Vista, “We are looking to provide more of an opportunity to modify curriculum.”
“To be directly workforce related, you see this a lot in career techs,” Walters said. “We’d love to see that in K-12, specifically 7-12 grade.”
After the discussion on aviation education, Stitt moved his attention to charter schools and colleges.
“Additionally, I want to empower our colleges and our universities to be the very, very best in the nation,” said Stitt. “And to be the best, we need to shift our focus to outcome based higher education models, and stop subsidizing institutions with low-enrollment and low-graduation rates.”
The three major campuses in Oklahoma, those being the University of Central Oklahoma, University of Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State University all have shown a dip in enrollment and graduation rates through the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the official numbers for UCO show that there is a 37.9% graduation rate as of 2023. OU had a graduation rate of 68.3% as of 2023. And OSU had a graduation rate of 67.5% as of 2022.
After discussing business and aviation education within Oklahoma, Stitt would go on to address other hot button issues, such as the current border situation.
“I have been very vocal about my support for Texas and Governor Greg Abbott,” said Stitt. “As they fight to secure our southern border and put pressure on the Biden Administration.”
Stitt went on to say he will continue to offer the Oklahoma National Guard to Texas. As of Feb. 4, 14 states are offering their national guards to Texas.
These are states are:
- North Dakota
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
The conflicts in Texas stem from a perceived influx of immigrants into the state. Abbott seeks to pressure the Biden Administration into implementing stricter laws around the southern border.
As well as conflicts within Texas, Stitt also discussed a conflict between the Oklahoma government and tribal nations within the state.
“Today there are tribal governments supporting a woman named Stroble in her lawsuit before the Oklahoma Supreme Court,” said Stitt.
Stroble v. Oklahoma is an Oklahoma Supreme Court case which argues that tribal citizens who live on reservations and work for tribal entities are required to pay state income tax.
This comes after the 2020 McGirt v. Oklahoma case, which was also mentioned by Stitt in his address, which saw the change in jurisdiction on tribal land. As of the 2020 case, the federal government has jurisdiction over major crimes on tribal land.
Stitt announced that he planned to create a task-force which would establish cross-jurisdiction for law enforcement on tribal lands and within the state of Oklahoma.
“Three years after McGirt, we are still operating under a confusing, conflicting patchwork of jurisdiction across our state,” said Stitt. “It is imperative that we clarify our law enforcement relationships immediately.”
Shortly after the State of the State address, the Cherokee Nation released a statement on Gov. Stitt’s comments.
“Once again, instead of embracing tribes and our culture and economic contributions to the state of Oklahoma,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. “The governor treats us as problems that need to be solved.”
Stitt compared Oklahoma reservations to Navajo reservations in Arizona, where he talked about how reservations in Navajo don’t get roads, infrastructure and funding from the Arizona government.
“There are tribal governments who want Tulsa, and eastern Oklahoma to look like the Navajo reservation,” said Stitt.
Stitt claims that the Navajo reservation leaves Native Americans worse off than the system established in Oklahoma.
Stitt ended his State of the State address by calling on all businesses, officials and organizations in Oklahoma to serve God.
“And as I conclude today, I want to declare, as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” said Stitt. This deviated from his original script which stated, “as for me and my state.”