To anyone watching the war of words between Oklahoma tribal leaders and the Governor’s Office, the past several days have been a dizzying display of escalation.
During a meeting of Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes on Friday, Cherokee National Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said he’d oppose Gov. Kevin Stitt’s reelection.
Choctaw Chief Gary Batton and Muscogee Principal Chief David Hill likewise criticized Stitt’s handling of a number of issues important to the tribes, with Hill saying they want to “get someone in office that’s going to work with the tribes and not against us,” according to The Oklahoman newspaper.
The tribes have been at odds with Stitt since the governor tried to force the tribes to renegotiate their gaming compacts with the state. That went nowhere, with a federal judge siding with the tribes’ claim that those agreements automatically renewed.
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Tensions were further fueled by a similar breakdown over compacts the state had with the tribes over hunting licenses. As with the gaming issue, Stitt wanted a better deal for the state, and the tribes believed the compacts were fine the way they were.
That impasse pretty much scrapped the system, one in which the tribes paid the state $2 apiece for licenses that were then distributed for free to tribal members. In turn, the state received hundreds of thousands of dollars for the licenses, plus tens of millions of federal dollars based on how many new licensed hunters and anglers the state could rightfully claim.
But the biggest bone of contention centers on the U.S. Supreme Court’s McGirt decision, which ruled that the Muscogee Nation’s reservation was never disestablished by Congress. State courts have ruled that McGirt also applies to the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Quapaw and Seminole reservations.
The tribes took this as a win for Indigenous sovereignty; Stitt and state Attorney General John O’Connor say it’s causing chaos in the state’s criminal court system and could have more far-reaching implications that threaten state authority over eastern Oklahoma.
The state is seeking to have the Supreme Court overturn the McGirt decision.
One might have thought there were brief signs of hope last week when O’Connor, speaking to the Republican Women’s Club of Tulsa County, told attendees that he’s reached out to the tribes. Hoskin confirmed that he has received a call from O’Connor, mostly to talk about issues relating to McGirt.
But Hoskin said that conversation was months ago, and with the 2022 campaign season heating up, McGirt is going to be at the center of tribal opposition to Stitt’s candidacy.
Stitt appeared to welcome the confrontation, invoking Martin Luther King Jr. during a Monday observance in Oklahoma City of the national holiday honoring King’s life and legacy.
“I believe that freedom fighters like Dr. King would be astounded, maybe even disgusted, by the McGirt ruling,” Stitt said during his speech. “The ruling created two sets of rules for Oklahomans based on their race. In eastern Oklahoma right now there is not equal protection under the law.”
(It should be noted that King championed Indigenous rights, going so far as to say this in his 1963 book, “Why We Can’t Wait”: “We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its Indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or feel remorse for this shameful episode. Our literature, our films, our drama, our folklore all exalt it.”)
Tough talk aside, solving the complexities caused by McGirt appears to be happening more between tribal and local officials.
Tribes are recognizing legal gaps where crimes either don’t rise to the level of federal prosecution for major offenses or aren’t covered by tribal law.
And in Broken Arrow, City Manager Michael Spurgeon said the Muscogee Nation has “bent over backwards” to work with the city in navigating this new legal maze.
Cross-deputization, state-tribal compacts and expanded tribal court systems may offer actual solutions to the far-reaching set of challenges the McGirt decision has brought, barring the Supreme Court’s reversing itself.
But policy and politics are not the same. On the political front, a confrontation seems set. Whether tribal members follow their chiefs’ lead is yet to be seen — the tribal vote is far from monolithic in Oklahoma. But a clash is coming, and for the tribes and the Governors’ Office, it’s game on.
Tulsa World Opinion: There’s always someone ready to take away a right
Your opinions on Gov. Kevin Stitt: A collection of letters to the editor
Letter: Wouldn't it be nice if we had a real governor?
Wouldn't it be nice if Oklahoma had a governor who understood American history and the Constitution?
Wouldn't it be nice if Oklahoma had a governor who didn't use citizens' tax money for his own political agenda?
Wouldn't it be nice if Oklahoma had a governor who didn't treat health care like a political football?
Wouldn't it be nice if Oklahoma had a governor who knew the history of Native American tribes in Oklahoma and understood the legal relationships between them and the state?
Wouldn't it be nice if Oklahoma had a governor who believed that Black lives matter regardless of Oklahoma's endemic racism?
Wouldn't it be nice if Oklahoma had a governor whose economic theory included concern for all of Oklahoma's citizens and not just those who own big businesses? There is no "trickle down" in Oklahoma.
Wouldn't it be nice if Oklahoma had a governor who wasn't afraid of Donald Trump?
Wouldn't it be nice if Oklahoma had a governor who supported public schools?
Wouldn't it be nice if Oklahoma had a real governor?
Letter: More moderate leaders needed to save Republican Party
I welcome Joy Hofmeister's declaration to run against Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt next year. Oklahoma politics have forced Hofmeister's move to the Democratic Party and should signal that the Republican Party has moved too far to the right.
My daughter teaches in the Tulsa Public School system and she had expressed surprise that any Republican, including Hofmeister, would be so supportive of educational issues, made even more urgent during the recent pandemic.
Currently, political moderates have no chance of winning most Republican primaries and Democrats offer the only moderate candidates in statewide races. In her current position as state superintendent, Hofmeister's support for education and health issues has often placed her at odds with our governor and a majority of Republicans.
The Tulsa World relates that former Gov. Brad Henry feels a kinship with Hofmeister and her moderate candidacy, as she seeks to defeat our erstwhile governor, who ran a positive campaign, but has since governed like an uncaring extremist.
In a recent New York Times guest essay and an NPR interview, former New Jersey Republican Gov. Christine Todd Whitman asks disaffected Republicans to back centrist Democrats. Likewise, when progressives cannot win, she has called for Democrats to support center-right candidates. According to Whitman, the survival of the Republican Party, as we have known it, is a stake and ultimately centrists must prevail.
Next year, Oklahomans will have a clear choice for governor: Vote for a common sense candidate like Hofmeister or retain an extremist like Stitt.
Letter: State lawsuit against vaccine mandate a waste of money
So, it now seems Gov. Kevin Stitt is ready to waste more taxpayer money on a lawsuit against the mandate for large businesses to help stop the spread of our viruses (“Gov. Stitt vows state would take legal action against Biden's vaccine mandate,” Oct. 15). He says Biden can't do that.
Yes he can! It is a public safety program.
Oh, how we would love for all to help us live a normal life again.
Letter: Gov. Kevin Stitt not anti-mask, he's anti-mandate
On the Tulsa World’s front page, it headlined a story that said Gov. Kevin Stitt was against masks (“Stitt still looks to block masks,” Oct. 3).
Unless the Tulsa World can point me to a statement by Gov. Stitt that shows he is anti-mask, I will have to conclude the Tulsa World’s bias made it to the front page.
To my knowledge, Gov. Stitt has always encouraged anyone who wants to wear a mask or feels safer wearing a mask can by all means wear a mask, anywhere, anytime.
Gov. Stitt, like many state governors, merely objects to mask mandates. Since he is the governor, he can choose to not demand the use of masks.
Please, Tulsa World, reference something that Stitt has said that backs up the headline where he “still looks to block masks.” Someone just reading the headline will walk away thinking Gov. Stitt is anti-mask, which he isn’t.
Letter: Stitt's stance on workplace regulations, vaccinations wrong
In contrast to Gov. Kevin Stitt's statement, “I don’t believe it is the government’s job to dictate polices to private companies,” the government has done this for decades through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in order to maintain safety in the workplace.
OSHA issued an emergency technical standard for health care industries for COVID-19 in June. It says that the law "requires employers to furnish to each worker employment and a place of employment, which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm."
Many Oklahoma employers, including Tulsa Public Schools, have adopted standards to protect their employees, students and customers despite Gov. Stitt. Let’s protect our friends and neighbors. Let’s recover the notion of personal responsibility where everyone does what they can.
Letter: Gov. Stitt distorting true record on education
Typical Republican denial, distortion and dishonesty regarding the damage they have done to Oklahoma over three decades was on full display in their response to State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister’s leaving the party to run for governor on the Democratic ticket.
Among the more outlandish claims of Stitt’s campaign manager, Donelle Harder, were these:
“After decades of politicians leaving us in last place, Stitt has us progressing towards Top Ten in critical categories,” and “the state has increased funding of public education to record highs and enacted another teacher pay raise, all while lowering taxes.”
These carefully chosen comments are typical Republican misinformation that cherry picks isolated positive news (one year of teacher pay raises and increased funding of public schools) while dismissing, ignoring or otherwise concealing the much larger picture, in this case, Oklahoma’s standing among the 50 states on teacher pay and state funding of public education.
Readers are urged to go online and check these two topics to learn the real truth about Republican support of public education in Oklahoma for over three decades. Not only are we not progressing toward Top Ten rankings on either of these issues, we don’t even rank in the top half of the nation. Do not be surprised if you learn we rank in the bottom half of the bottom half; in the bottom quarter on both of them.
If we keep buying their propaganda, it will ultimately have us at the very bottom of the nation on most critical issues.
Letter: Tulsa World shares blame for Stitt's shortcomings
The Tulsa World published an editorial bemoaning Kevin Stitt's lack of attention to our state ("Gov. Stitt needs to address Oklahoma issues here, not national issues in Texas,” Oct. 9), which remains in the grip of an entirely preventable crisis caused by COVID-19.
I would ask the World's editors: When you endorsed the governor on Oct. 21, 2018, what was it you expected to happen? That a mortgage broker, relentlessly focused on himself his entire life, would somehow become a model of good governance?
It is entirely unsurprising and was entirely predictable. He focuses entirely on himself and his own profit, building a network that our state will take decades to dismantle.
The World, and its editors, contributed to this situation. I call for new leadership on the editorial team. This is necessary. When leaders exhibit terrible judgment, they should be removed and new voices put to the forefront. The Tulsa World can improve its standing in the community and rebuild its lost credibility by acknowledging its part in the harm to our state and working to improve its editorial judgment by removing each editor that helped put this terrible man in office.