New Governor Discusses Plans to Make Oklahoma a Top 10 State
Gov. Kevin Stitt took office Jan. 14, 2019. Since then, he’s hit the ground running, separating the political wheat from the chaff and setting a clear vision for his cabinet members. Tulsa Lifestyle magazine caught up with him at the Capitol a few weeks into his office to discuss his plans to make Oklahoma a Top 10 state.
TL: Your first executive orders are about cost savings, transparency and accountability. Is this a theme?
Gov. Stitt: Absolutely. Oklahomans elected me to be the chief executive officer of the Executive Branch. I am in charge of running 400 agencies. First, I hired a chief operating officer, John Budd, from the business sector. The state has never had a COO before. His business development experience will help our agencies deliver efficient, customer-focused services. He will also serve as secretary of agency accountability.
Next, I went through all the agencies to make sure they were structured correctly. I was amazed to learn that some insiders had never heard of some of these commissions. Did you know we have a Santa Claus Commission and a Boll Weevil Eradication Commission? Also, Health and Human Services was under one secretary. That’s a hundred different agencies managing $8 billion. I broke it up because I wanted to focus on health/mental health and human services/child services in two separate areas. Then I combined some smaller areas like the veterans administration and military, which had been separate, but made more sense to be together.
One of my first executive orders was to sell the state’s private airplane. I am a pilot and a huge aviation supporter but selling it will save the state money, and since I made that decision, I’ve found two more King Airs we didn’t know we had.
TL: Have you added any new positions?
Gov. Stitt: Yes, in addition to the chief operating officer and secretary of agency accountability, I added a secretary of budget and secretary of digital transformation. The latter was essential because everyone has a cell phone now and are used to getting services that way. It’s time for Oklahoma to have a customer-focused government and start delivering services to our citizens a little bit differently.
TL: A recent report states that trust in local politicians is nearing an all-time low. How will you change that perception?
Gov. Stitt: Through communication and setting the tone for success. I feel the reason why trust is so low is because politicians have historically made poor decisions right from the start. Oklahomans are smart and have witnessed self-dealings of the past. For instance, it’s common to appoint a campaign manager as chief of staff, who is left to run the cabinet positions and agencies. I decided to do things differently by hiring a chief operating officer. I think my openness and communicating directly to Oklahomans about the decisions I am making, and why I am making them, will start building back their trust.
TL: How is managing a government different than managing a business?
Gov. Stitt: As an entrepreneur, I want to do everything “today,” but I’ve learned to be patient and focused. I have surrounded myself with the best and smartest people for the job and have been very clear in our vision. I am relentlessly boring with my team on driving our priorities forward. That’s what a good CEO and leader does, and I am very centered in making sure our people come back to our message and what we are trying to accomplish.
TL: Your team looks like a good mix of business leaders and politicians.
Gov. Stitt: Yes, you need insiders that know how the system works. Secretary of State Rogers is a former legislator. He was the education chair of the House and pushed the hardest piece of legislation through last session. I wanted him to be a part of the team. And I chose Michael Junk, Tulsa deputy mayor, as chief of staff. He is a committed public servant and his expertise at the federal and local level will be instrumental in building a Top 10 state.
TL: You are focused on making Oklahoma a Top 10 state. How can you achieve this in four years, or even eight years, when it seems like we are at the bottom of almost every category?
Gov. Stitt: We must have a clear vision and direction. It’s like a rubber band. I am pulling the rubber band and I am pointing it to where we are going. I don’t want to pull it so hard that it breaks, but I certainly don’t want the rubber band just sitting in my hand with no direction. And that is where our state has been. I want everyone to know that we have a fantastic state and we have all the resources to be Top 10. I am challenging all my agency secretaries to think big and look at states that are doing better than us. It may not happen in four years, or even eight, but this is the direction we are going.
TL: Education is a critical issue for our state. What plans do you have to improve our school systems?
Gov. Stitt: This session, we are going to remove the unnecessary red tape that costs time and money for teachers. I want to give them another pay raise to make sure they know they are valued. But at the end of the day, the magic happens between the teachers and the students in the classroom. I have a recruiting bonus planned to get more teachers into our state.
The bigger picture may come in year two or three as we reimagine education in our state. I also must work within the system. State Superintendent of Schools Joy Hofmeister was separately elected. I chose not to add a separate secretary of education so we would have more direct communication. Overall, there isn’t just one lever when it comes to education, there are 25 things and I’m working on all of them.
TL: Who inspires you?
Gov. Stitt: My faith drives me and reading the proverbs. I also listen to leadership podcasts during my travels between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. But doing my best and moving my state forward to be a Top 10 state is a huge motivator. Our purpose as a staff and why I am doing this is to change the future of Oklahomans. That is what drives me and why I’m so excited to get up every morning.
“We must have a clear vision and direction. I am relentlessly boring with my team on driving our priorities forward.” – Gov. Stitt