It’s curious Gov. Kevin Stitt has made more comments about a war he has no control over than Oklahoma’s COVID-19 crisis, for which he wields tremendous influence.
If all politics is local, as U.S House Speaker Tip O’Neill once claimed, then the governor is missing the mark by miles.
In the past couple of weeks, Stitt has wasted no time in making a video and social media posts slamming President Joe Biden over the evacuation of U.S. forces and personnel at the end of the Afghanistan war.
That’s an expected response and one we find ourselves in agreement.
But, Stitt’s job is not figuring out how to get out of Afghanistan, it’s to get Oklahomans safely out of the pandemic. And he has been mum about COVID-19.
Stitt came into office two years ago promising to make Oklahoma a Top 10 state. We have done that with the coronavirus: No. 5 in the death rate, No. 6 in new test positivity and No. 4 in hospitalizations.
Stitt’s COVID-19 policy of personal choice has failed. The status quo is not working, and it’s killing and sickening Oklahomans in strained health care systems.
The state Health Department stayed silent for four months while Oklahoma’s hospital leaders made the unprecedented move of holding regular joint press conferences to inform the public about capacity.
The governor’s choices of political battles are more in line to get national attention than in serving the best interests of Oklahomans.
That has been in a trend in politics for about a decade. The rise of political punditry as entertainment on cable networks pushed aside local priorities in favor of amassing followers.
Governors across the country stake out positions to grab that national spotlight. There’s more concern about appearances on Fox News than in solving state problems.
Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis is a darling subject among national commentators, who believe he is positioning for a presidential run. So, are his decisions based on improving his state or on what plays best to a right-wing base?
The same question could be asked of Stitt.
The issues Stitt chooses are ones squaring off with the federal government, which is controlled by Democrats at the moment.
Those include privatizing the management of Medicaid despite shutdowns by the Legislature and state Supreme Court. He has challenged tribal nations over gaming compacts and the McGirt Supreme Court decision.
Stitt criticized schools in distance learning. With the governor’s support, Attorney General John O’Connor plans legal action against school districts defying a law about mask mandates.
Those positions haven’t been productive in problem-solving or crisis management. They do play well to a national audience in soundbites and 280-character tweets.
If Stitt one day seeks higher office, the national rhetoric of today will give way to the outcomes under his leadership. Thus far, those rate poorly.
Oklahoma needs Stitt to give his full attention as governor, prioritizing state issues, not addressing national concerns outside his job description.