Via The Altus Times
Tulsa Republican gubernatorial candidate Kevin Stitt stepped off the normal campaign trail Tuesday to visit with students in Jessica Robinson’s Altus High School Advanced Placement Government class.
While candidates usually attend partisan political rallies and get-togethers where they can give their stump speech, seek support and perhaps ask for campaign donations, Stitt’s visit to the class was more about the logistics of running for the office.
Though he did start with his stump speech, he tried desperately to make it relative to the students’ lives. And he didn’t ask for their lunch money.
Robinson’s government class goes beyond normal civics lessons by creating a mock legislature during which students join political parties and become legislators where they draft, debate and vote on bills. Students also actively follow political races, including the Oklahoma gubernatorial race.
Students saw that he had visited Frederick High School and encouraged Robinson to invite him to class.
On Tuesday, Stitt spent the morning in Lawton, then went to the high school before later visiting Altus Air Force Base, a hosted reception at Just Brew It Coffee House and ended the evening at the Southwest Oklahoma Republican Women’s monthly meeting.
During his stump speech, Stitt touts how he grew up in Norman but graduated from Oklahoma State University with an accounting degree. After working in other businesses, in 2000 he launched Gateway Mortgage Group with $1,000 in cash and a computer. He grew that business to 165 offices with more than 1,100 employees in 40 states. Gateway generated more than $6 billion in new loans in 2017.
Stitt said he wants to use his business knowledge to rebuild the state’s economy. He repeatedly said that the state needs to look to new leadership instead of re-electing the same old politicians to higher levels of office.
“We need a fresh approach,” he said. “We need to elect people who don’t need a job,” he added, referring to career politicians.
“I want to focus on the next generation, not the next election,” he said.
He said his approach to solving the state’s problems would follow his business model. He said the state has a $22 billion budget and it needs a leader who knows how to work with both parties to solve its problems. He said he would look at neighboring states, such as Texas which has a booming economy, to see what it does differently than Oklahoma.
He pointed out that Oklahoma ranks 47th in the country in teacher pay but sixth in administration pay.
Stitt said Oklahoma invests about $13,000 a year on each student, a similar amount that neighboring states spend. But other states are doing a better job of educating their students. He said 40 percent of Oklahoma high school graduates need to take remedial classes before going on to college.
He said in many instances, teachers who graduate from Oklahoma colleges and universities often go to other states where they command higher salaries. He also said the state needs to work on reciprocity agreements with teacher certifications from other states so that teachers, such as spouses at Altus Air Force Base, can teach when they arrive, not having to take additional courses to get certified in Oklahoma.
He discussed the need to reform the justice system. He said the state has the highest female incarceration rate in the county. He gave an example of a woman in eastern Oklahoma who is serving a 45-year prison term because she possessed $200 worth of illegal drugs and a prescription drug in her purse. He said providing rehabilitation from addiction would help the woman and not cause the state to spend the money to incarcerate her for an extended period.
He said he understands the need to keep hard and violent criminals in jail but the state should look at other methods for less violent crimes.
When students asked him for advice he encouraged them to take responsibility for their lives and not blame others for their shortcomings. “You have everything in front of you,” he said.
Another student asked him what he has discovered about the election process. “They don’t give this away; you have to work your butt off,” he said.
What has been the most unique experience in his campaign? Meeting with country music superstar Toby Keith who invested in his campaign, he said.
When he stepped back onto the campaign trail at the Just Brew It Coffee House, he spoke to the more traditional Republicans. About 30 people attended the gathering. Steve Cesar, owner of SBC Consulting Engineers, said he visited with Stitt when he came to Altus about two months ago at a “meet and greet” and the campaign connected him with Rick Vernon, a local attorney who serves as the Jackson County campaign chairman for Stitt.
Cesar and Vernon hosted the reception to help get him name recognition, something Stitt said he needs since he’s not one of the career politicians who might have been running for office as long as 30 years.
At the end of Stitt’s presentation with the government class, Robinson took a selfie with Stitt and all the students to post on her Facebook page and he posted a similar one on his. Both had more than 50 likes by Wednesday morning. Following the coffeehouse meeting, the more traditional Republicans signed up for information about his campaign as well as taking bumper stickers and yard signs.