County chambers of commerce host appearance
By Traci Chapman
Gov. Kevin Stitt has a message for Oklahomans and it was one he made loud and clear last week for Canadian County officials, residents and businesspeople – the state has a bright future ahead of it in a journey that must be made together.
“My vision is one of a top 10 state, and it’s a vision that’s absolutely achievable,” Stitt told attendees of a June 27 luncheon held at Town Center and hosted jointly by Mustang, El Reno, Yukon and Piedmont chambers of commerce.
It was a vision Stitt conveyed with more than a little humor but one which he said was the key to moving Oklahoma forward, and it was something he hit the ground running with since his November 2018 election.
The path to that achievement began internally, as Stitt started a tour of state agencies that house about 33,000 employees, many of whom had never heard of – let alone experienced – a gubernatorial visit to their workplace, Stitt said. New to the world of politics, the Tulsa businessman said he was surprised to find how little interaction and communication there appeared to be, not only between and even within departments, but also with the executive branch.
“One of the first visits we made was to the state department of education – they told me the last time they’d had a visit from a governor was in 1991 for a press conference; before that it was in 1978 when they opened the building,” the governor said during his June 27 remarks.
That wasn’t acceptable, as Stitt traveled throughout department corridors meeting employees; also part of the process was a first of its kind summit for agency heads, as well as audits to determine how things might be changed to make operations more efficient.
With about 400 agencies and commissions also comprising state operations that wasn’t the easiest accomplishment, but one necessary to fully realize Oklahoma’s potential moving forward.
“These things need to change – so are working to reform five of the 12 largest agencies so state agency leaders answer to the executive branch,” Stitt said. “Accountability, transparency, these are key.”
A major partner in the governor’s transformative vision would be the state Legislature, more of a known quantity now to a governor with the latest session now behind him, Stitt said. While a great deal was achieved during the session, some issues were identified, the governor said – including a mindset that continues to dwell on political party affiliations and conflicts. That became clear in working toward his agency accountability referendum, Stitt said.
“We need to bring people together – this is not a political issue,” the governor said. “We’re all Oklahomans here – we’re just supposed to work together, move the needle forward and make things better for all Oklahomans.”
While political issues remain, Stitt focused almost exclusively on the positive during his remarks, thanking legislators representing Canadian County for their work to move forward together, across party lines, and their dedication not only to making his top 10 vision a reality but to help all Oklahomans.
Work to do just that started quickly during the last legislative session, as a state governmental body known in recent years for not being able to come together to accomplish much was able to achieve several milestones, Stitt said. Among those was the allocation of pay raises for teachers across Oklahoma – their second increase in as many years and the first time in state history they received pay hikes two years in a row, he said.
Other significant items included a major accomplishment, Stitt said, as the state allocated $200 million to savings, with the goal of that fund increasing to $1.1 billion by the end of 2020. That was a way not only to prepare for times when the economy might flounder, but also as a signal of a bigger picture – an investment in infrastructure, education, economic development, and, most importantly, people, Stitt said.
“We invest in our state, we invest in ourselves – if we get our economy going it helps everyone,” the governor said. “The biggest asset we have is our people.”