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Editorial: Gov. Kevin Stitt should be more aggressive in vaccination advocacy
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Editorial: Gov. Kevin Stitt should be more aggressive in vaccination advocacy

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Tulsa World editorial: "The resistance of far too many Oklahomans to the vaccines that can protect them from (COVID-19) and a new law hamstringing the ability of schools to respond to the threat make the danger even greater." 

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2020 McGirt decision means Oklahoma doesn’t have jurisdiction in criminal cases involving members of Native American tribes in much of eastern Oklahoma.

Think about your level of concern regarding the decision for a minute.

Here’s how Ryan Leonard, Gov. Kevin Stitt’s special counsel, described the situation to The Washington Post recently: “We are living a nightmare out here. … It’s complete, dysfunctional chaos in the state of Oklahoma.”

Would you use words like nightmare and dysfunctional chaos to describe the state of the state? We wouldn’t.

The same Washington Post story pointed out that the Oklahoma Department of Corrections reported that the McGirt decision had led courts to dismiss or vacate convictions in 129 cases of people serving time behind bars; 57 of those involved very serious crimes. We would classify that as a significant and concerning situation but a bit short of nightmarish chaos.

For an administration deeply concerned about the state’s reputation with potential employers, such hyperbole is puzzling.

The McGirt case has caused a reevaluation of tribal sovereignty in the state, and its implications could well spread beyond criminal justice. We understand and have some sympathy for the governor’s need to defend the state’s sovereignty, but, quite frankly, we see far greater threats to the state’s future at the moment.

The deadly potential of COVID-19 and its delta variant are a much greater threat to the future of the state’s health and economy than McGirt.

The resistance of far too many Oklahomans to the vaccines that can protect them from the disease and a new law hamstringing the ability of schools to respond to the threat make the danger even greater.

The delta variant is a greater threat to younger Oklahomans and especially those who have not been vaccinated. That’s why this is a critical time for the state’s leadership to be pushing members of the public to protect themselves through vaccination. They should use all available resources to market the vaccine creatively and aggressively.

But Stitt has been relatively passive. He was publicly vaccinated and has encouraged Oklahomans to do the same, but he has also said he isn’t planning to declare a public health emergency, which under the new law would be needed for schools to require their students to wear masks.

Stitt has been low-key in his approach, emphasizing the success of his efforts to restart the state’s economy and saying vaccination is a matter of personal responsibility. The contrast here is to Alabama’s Republican Gov. Kay Ivey, who called out unvaccinated Alabamans as the cause of that state’s COVID-19 problems.

Stitt could also take a lesson from U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas, whose Monday Tulsa World op/ed column listed all the reasons why vaccination is safe, effective and necessary.

Last Sunday, two top editors at The Oklahoman urged Stitt to be more proactive in encouraging reluctant Oklahomans to get vaccinated.

“As state leader, your silence is equivalent to encouraging the unvaccinated to play Russian roulette with their lives,” the strongly worded column by Executive Editor Ray Rivera and Managing Editor for Diversity Clytie Bunyan says.

In response, a spokesperson for the governor tweeted that “rather than making the case themselves, @TheOklahoman_ editors accuse @GovStitt of playing politics because he won’t mandate the vaccine (which is what they actually want) and went with the ‘silence is violence’ argument.” The tweet ended with the line: “The new wokelahoman!,” an eye-rolling emoji and a link to the editorial.

There is no dysfunctional chaos in Oklahoma. No nightmare.

But COVID-19 numbers are rising dangerously in the state, and it’s not hard to imagine a nightmarish future. We think Stitt could make a positive difference with a more aggressive level of public advocacy and leadership, and we urge him to do so.

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