Friday, June 22, 2018

Kevin Stitt answers MuskogeePolitico Survey


Late last week, I sent out a survey to the top six Republican candidates for Governor. Each of them were asked ten questions, nine of which were identical and one which was uniquely tailored to each of them. I will be posting them in the order of the candidates' responses.

I tried to make the questionnaire interesting, wide-ranging, and tough for all, but I believe the questions are still fair to each. I am personally uncommitted still, and have attempted to use this survey for people like me who are still trying to decide how to vote on June 26th.

Kevin Stitt was the fourth candidate to send in his survey, so he gets this fourth post.

2018 MuskogeePolitico.com GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Questionnaire

Jamison Faught: How has your experience prepared you to serve as Governor?
Kevin Stitt: In July, Oklahoma will be turning over the largest budget in state history that will be spent by 120 various state agencies. We can either hire a career politician who has never set strategy, built and managed a sustainable budget or hired people. Or, the state can elect someone from the outside with proven leadership experience. Nearly twenty years ago, I founded my mortgage company, Gateway, with a $1,000 and a computer, and we have grown into 41 states with 165 offices, servicing $17 billion in loans. I am proud that in Oklahoma we employ hundreds of people across nine cities. Despite the ups and downs in the economy over the years, my company has experienced tremendous success. Last year, when my industry was down 15 percent, Gateway grew 20 percent. Why? Because of vision. My time in business has been centered around casting vision, problem solving and creating sustainable budgets. Day one, I will be ready to do this as governor of Oklahoma to fix the mess we are in and put Oklahoma on the path to being a Top Ten state.

JF: What needs to be done to fix Oklahoma’s budget process?
KS: There are commonsense solutions that the Legislature can implement like line item budgeting and zero-based budgeting – every candidate is endorsing that Oklahoma gets back to this practice. But there is even more the governor can do to lead our state in delivering transparency and accountability for the full $22 billion. Right now, the Legislature only appropriates roughly 1/3rd of the budget. That is like having 2/3rd of your checkbook on auto-draft. Anything on auto-draft is easy to lose sight of over time, such as the cost to run government and need for efficiency. To regain control of the total $22 billion budget we will start with the following steps in a Stitt administration: First, we will reverse our state’s current D+ rating for online budget transparency. It’s time Oklahomans see, in near real time, the state’s checkbook and how agencies are spending our hard-earned tax dollars so that agencies like the Health Department can’t tuck away a $30 million slush fund. Second, we will conduct regular audits of agencies and apply performance metrics so that you can see real outcomes. Finally, I will ask the Legislature to make the governor more accountable for state government by allowing the governor to fire poor performing agency heads. After the Health Department crisis, the Legislature changed the structure to give the governor more accountability to take swift action with the leadership of this agency. We shouldn’t wait for the next crisis to change this structure in other major state agencies.

JF: Tax revenue has increased dramatically over the past few months to nearly-record setting levels. There may be a surplus of over one billion dollars available for budgeting next year. What would you propose be done with any budget surplus during the next legislative session?
KS: Every business person knows you need to have an adequate emergency fund in order to avoid disaster when the economy takes a sudden downturn.  I believe the only way to stabilize the budget in a volatile economy is to reform the budget process and increase our state’s savings account.  We should either revisit the Vision Fund that Governor Fallin vetoed, despite wide support in the House and Senate, or we should create what other states’ call a “stabilization fund”. As I have dug into what other states are doing and assessed the volatility of our state’s revenue sources, I believe we need to have $2 billion in savings to protect against draconian cuts to core services next time Oklahoma’s economy faces a recession, whether that is triggered by a $30 barrel of oil or a drop in agriculture commodity prices. A strong savings account is foundational to protecting the advancements a Stitt administration will make in education and infrastructure.  It will give job creators more certainty that they will not face knee-jerk tax hikes at the very time they are struggling to keep their doors open. In a Stitt administration, we are going to deliver Top Ten outcomes in growth, education, and infrastructure, and it is critical we protect these advances with proper budget planning. This is also a good opportunity to implement tax reform and reorient our outdated tax structure toward spurring economic growth.

JF: Education has been a hot topic over the past few years. What is your plan to address the issues facing common and higher education in Oklahoma?
KSSince day one, I have said that I am committed to delivering Top Ten education outcomes in Oklahoma. As a job creator, with hundreds of employees in Oklahoma, I know how critical it is for us to get this right. Our education system has failed because of political decisions made for more than two decades. Oklahoma needs to pay our teachers competitive wages. We need to ensure our classrooms are properly resourced and that we are reducing classroom size. I believe this is going to require us to reform the funding formula. Currently, if a local community were to increase investment in education, they will lose dollar-for-dollar from the state funding formula. We should be encouraging local investment, not punishing it, while also making sure our poorest communities are receiving the support they need. How we are funding common education today is not working. I am ready to be a problem-solver to lead us through hard decisions to ensure stability and certainty in education funding for the next generation.

We also need to better align common education with both career techs and higher education. We need to help our children be college ready by leveraging modern technology to expand opportunities for AP-credit courses while in high school. We also need to better integrate our career techs into our common education curriculum so that students have the choice and opportunity to graduate career ready as well.


JF: Under Civil Asset Forfeiture, law enforcement can seize and keep property suspected of involvement in criminal activity, even if the property owner is not found guilty of or even charged with a crime. This has resulted in high-profile cases of innocent citizens having property or funds essentially stolen from them with no justification. What is your position on Civil Asset Forfeiture?
KS: We need to review how civil asset forfeiture in Oklahoma is being employed. I support the use of it when targeting clearly illicit proceeds tied to an actual crime. However, I have met Oklahomans across the state who have had family members or colleagues unnecessarily set up for failure by the state due, in part, to excessive use of civil asset forfeiture. We need to create better outcomes for those with minor offenses while giving District Attorneys the tools necessary to get the most egregious drug offenders off the streets and to combat drug trafficking. We must never lose sight of the simple fact that we are a government 'for the people, by the people' and the interests of government should never outweigh the interests of Oklahoma citizens.

JF: How do you plan to hold state government accountable for spending, in light of the scandals we’ve seen over the past year?
KS: This goes back to my plan I offered in question 1 and you can read more about it at www.OKturnaround.com.

In the private sector, my 165 field offices undergo routine audits, and we apply performance metrics to deliver accountability for every dime and to rid the system of bloat and waste. As governor, I will reach out and meet regularly with agency leaders to set performance metrics and post these metrics online so that Oklahoma taxpayers can judge how efficiently the state is delivering results.

I will also post taxpayer dollars online. Right now, Oklahoma has a couple of websites claiming to do this, but one site says the state spent $35 billion in FY’17 and the other says it spent $17 billion annual. What are Oklahomans to believe? Furthermore, when I first made public in May that Oklahoma’s “Open Books” website was out of date, I clicked the link “Where does the state spend money” and would get a screen with incomplete information from FY’10.

Furthermore, U.S. PIRG Education Fund released a national report in April that gave Oklahoma’s “Open Books” site a D+ because the search function didn’t work and they listed Oklahoma in the Bottom Ten of online budget transparency.  The report also highlighted states like Ohio and West Virginia who have clear, easy to use online checkbooks that monitor the state’s spending with very little lag time. These are simple, but important steps to start delivering accountability and transparency to state government.

JF: The current Tribal-State Gaming Compact expires on January 1st, 2020. The next Governor will negotiate for the State of Oklahoma for the next 15-year tribal gaming agreement. What would you hope to achieve in your role?
KS: As a CEO operating in 41 states, one of my primary rolls is ensuring my company is negotiating and signing fair contracts that spur success and growth for our operations. As governor of Oklahoma, I am ready to be a chief negotiator that signs a sound and equitable compact that advances the future of Oklahoma for all 4 million of our citizens and future generations. As a registered Cherokee, I know first-hand what a tremendous benefit the tribes have been to our state, creating tens of thousands of jobs, expanding health care options in rural Oklahoma, and more. When we enter negotiations, I will be looking at what is market (comparable with states around us) with tribal contracts and at what is in the best interest of the entire state of Oklahoma.

JF: Republicans are often characterized as being for “big business”, “crony capitalism” or “corporate welfare”, sometimes deservedly and shamefully so. Oklahoma has a history of handing out sweetheart deals to large corporations in order to entice them to move to Oklahoma. Meanwhile, small businesses, the backbone of our economy who operate without high-paid lobbyists, often get overlooked. How do you intend to promote and incentivize entrepreneurship and small business growth in Oklahoma?
KS: An eye-opening experience for me on the campaign trail has been meeting the many individuals hired by corporations to write legislation benefiting the company and using their relationships with elected officials to get it passed into law. Jamison poses an interesting question that I can relate to first hand. In my 20s, I took a risk and left a stable job, while my wife was pregnant with our first child, to start our company with just $1,000 and a computer. My company’s growth and success has really taken off in the past 10 years, and I never once called on a lobbyist to help make this growth happen. We have to promote our entrepreneurs and small businesses in Oklahoma, and we will do this in a Stitt administration by promoting a free market, cutting unnecessary and outdated red tape, building Top Ten infrastructure across the state, and maintaining our low cost of living. I am also committed to being Oklahoma’s #1 recruiter of job creators of all sizes. You never know when one small business and one idea can turn into the next Amazon or major cyber security firm employing thousands of Oklahomans.

Regarding incentives, I don’t believe in sweetheart deals. I do believe Oklahoma must be competitive with other states.  I do not want to put our companies or our state at a disadvantage.  I’ll look at the market.  What are the states around us doing?  Our incentives will match the competition, but we won’t go beyond that.

JF: In your position as a corporate CEO you made decisions and policy that affected your entire company, however, the governor does not have that same unilateral power. As an outsider, how will you be effective as governor not having navigated those waters previously, and given your previous lack of involvement in even voting regularly as a private citizen?
KS: I’m a life-long Republican and voted for President Trump. For the past 20 years, I have had my head down, raising my six kids and building Gateway from scratch and into a company that employs hundreds of Oklahomans across 9 cities. I am new to politics, and I am running for Governor because our state is in crisis and I don’t believe the career politicians who got us into this mess can get us out. Oklahomans are ready for change, and our campaign is seeing a surge in support because they know we need a conservative outsider to clean up the mess.

JF: As the primary approaches, what one thing do you want voters to remember about you as they go into the voting booth?
KS: I am not a politician, and I’ve never run for public office. Some of my opponents are using this fact to scare people, as if a plane is crashing and a ticketed passenger, who happens to be a licensed pilot not on duty, can’t take over. But anyone using the analogy lends me to question their support for President Trump and what he has done to reinvigorate our nation’s economy and advance the pro-life cause, all of which has been possible because he came from outside the political spectrum.

I am running for governor because the state that I love continues to face the same problems over and over in Oklahoma City, and it is time we end the cycle that has left our state in last place in all the vital categories like education and government transparency and first place in incarceration rates. If you want conservative change, if you are ready for Oklahoma to be a Top Ten state, if you want a leader that is a proven problem-solver who will root out waste in state government and deliver results with your hard-earned tax dollars, then vote for me, Kevin Stitt.

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I'd like to thank Kevin for his time and for filling out this survey. I hope you find the questions and answers informative and helpful as you make your decision for the upcoming primary election. Stay tuned for further posts with responses from the rest of the candidates.

You can learn more about Kevin Stitt and his campaign for Governor by visiting StittForGovernor.com.

ADDITIONAL SURVEY POSTS:

  • Gary Jones 
  • Dan Fisher
  • Gary Richardson
  • Kevin Stitt
  • Todd Lamb (coming at 11am Friday) 
  • Mick Cornett (coming at 4pm Friday)
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