Via The Ada News
As gubernatorial candidate Kevin Stitt sees it, the next governor’s top priorities should include growing the state’s economy, funding essential services and boosting teachers’ pay.
“To me, if I hired underwriters or if you hired staff here and you paid them $10,000 less than the market, you’d get the worst underwriters in my case,” he said. “I’d have high delinquency and eventually, I’d go out of business. So to me, we’ve got to pay our teachers in common education what the market is — what Arkansas, Texas and Kansas pay.”
The founder and CEO of the Jenks-based company Gateway Mortgage Group is one of six GOP candidates seeking the governor’s office in 2018. HIs campaign raised approximately $1.6 million in its first quarter, including $800,000 of his own money.
Stitt discussed his decision to run, his goals for the state and other topics during a recent interview with The Ada News. Here are questions and answers from the interview, edited for clarity and length.
The Ada News: Tell me a bit about your background, please.
Kevin Stitt: I grew up in Norman, Oklahoma. My dad was a pastor there, so I’m a preacher’s son, and I’ve got two brothers.
I went to school in Stillwater — I went to Oklahoma State. Got an accounting degree and then moved to Tulsa. I’ve been married for 19 years to my wife, Sarah. We have six children — the oldest is 17, down to 3. Three boys and three girls.
I got into the mortgage business shortly after college, and then I started my company, Gateway Mortgage Group, with $1,000 and a computer back in January of 2000. Today, we have over 1,100 employees. We do business in 40 states. We have about 155 offices. We have a division that buys loans from banks and credit unions, and then we service all of our loans.
So that’s just been my whole world the last 17 years, is hiring people smarter than me.
So that’s a little bit of my background. Never been in politics.
TAN: What made you decide to start your own company?
KS: I’ve always been very entrepreneurial. I’ve wanted to have my own business ever since I was I was in college — or actually, really high school.
It was just a great opportunity at the time to try and control my own destiny, and I love working with my friends. So in January 2000, I just decided it was good timing for me to launch out on my own.
I learned the business from the sales perspective, and so I started Gateway. …
I just want to bring some of those practical ideas about leadership, about setting the vision and the strategy, to our state. And I want to be the next governor because I want to focus on the next generation and not the next election.
TAN: So this is your first entry into the political arena. What made you decide to get involved on this level?
KS: As a man of faith, for the last year I could not shake this feeling about running for governor, and that’s the best way to describe it. Ten years from now, if I didn’t run, I would feel like I’m missing something. I just feel an obligation to run and take off from my company.
Practically speaking, I get a chance to travel and I go to Texas all the time and South Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas — all the states around Oklahoma. And I see all this momentum and the positivity and the growth. The economy’s booming.
Then I come back to Oklahoma, and I just feel like we’re down in the dumps a little bit. We had a negative 3 percent GDP last year, compared to all the states around us growing. We’re going to four-day school weeks, trying to save money. We’ve got a billion-dollar budget deficit.
When I look at who’s running for governor, to me it’s more of the same. It’s just the career politicians running for their next election, and I think we’ll be in the exact same situation eight years from now if we keep electing the same guys.
I believe our forefathers wanted us to temporarily serve our state and take off from our farm and business and go serve our state, and that’s what I’m doing.
TAN: Have you always been a Republican? What appeals to you about the Republican Party?
KS: Yes. As a Republican, I’ve seen first hand how a free economy works and people starting a business and growing that business. And I see how having the freedom to work where you want and create opportunity has worked very, very well for our society, and I believe that’s just the best way.
We need to get our society growing again. And when I talk about the regulatory environment and making sure that we are the most business-friendly state possible to do business in — I look at Texas and the economic development reports coming out of different industries. Texas is always the number-one place to do business, and Oklahoma’s No. 20.
Day one in office, everybody’s going to know that Oklahoma’s open for business. And only a businessperson can bring that type of leadership and attract companies to move here.
TAN: if you are elected, what would be your top priority upon taking office?
KS: My top priority would be to first put the best team together and bring the smartest people together, because I can’t do government by myself. I can’t do my business by myself. You can’t do your company by yourself. It starts with a great team.
And I’ll tell you what: My team would be from the private sector, and they would be businesspeople and process-oriented people and people that know how to deliver services.
As conservative Republicans, we know we’ve got to deliver core services to our state and to our citizens. We just want to do it as efficiently as possible.