NORMAN — Members of Norman’s senior citizen community got a first-hand look at the Oklahoma gubernatorial race when Republican candidate Kevin Stitt visited Friday.
The Tulsa-based businessman, one of six Republicans vying for the spot, made a campaign stop at owner Bob Thompson’s Midway Deli on Eufaula Street. He hosted a meet-and-greet that turned into a sort of town-hall-style meeting where he pitched his message and took questions from the crowd, who didn’t mind the rainy weather.
“When I look and see who’s running for governor, it’s just more of the same career politicians, and I truly believe we’ll be in the same situation eight years from now if we keep electing the same folks,” Stitt said.
While Stitt is known for his Tulsa-area ties, he grew up in Norman and graduated from Norman High School. Richard Bailey, of the Norman Seniors Association, said Stitt’s campaign reached out to them to have a meeting.
Voters over the age of 50 are a key demographic in statewide races, as they are the group most likely to vote.
“We don’t endorse candidates in the statewide races,” Bailey said. “We’re here as a participant. We work to encourage all of our members to be well-informed. But we’re happy Kevin and his campaign thought of us.”
Though Stitt is listed as a Republican candidate, he is modeling himself as more of a centrist, someone willing to do what is necessary to grow the state’s economy. He talked about his experience in growing his business, Gateway Mortgage, which he started “with $1,000 and a computer” and expanded it to 40 states.
“Whether it’s been Democrats or Republicans in charge, it’s just been more of the same,” Stitt said. “We need an outsider, a business person. Our forefathers never envisioned career politicians. They wanted us to temporarily leave our farms or businesses and serve our country. That’s my idea of how it should work.”
Stitt said he wants to focus the most on the economy. In his business travels, he said he sees other states thriving and wants Oklahoma to be in the same position.
“I see all kinds of job creation and positivity,” Stitt said. “I come back to Oklahoma and I feel like we’re a little down in the dumps. We’re going to four-day school weeks trying to save money.”
And though he wants to be a governor for business, that doesn’t mean he wants to be overly friendly. In addressing a question about the gross production tax on oil and gas wells, Stitt said he wants to see one based on the market.
“I love all industries,” he said, “but I would look at the market and not let one particular industry get a better deal.”
Stitt lines up with some tried-and-true Republican mantras. He said he is pro-life and believes in Americans’ rights to own and carry firearms.
One attendee asked Stitt about arming teachers as a way to protect against school shootings, a topic of discussion recently after President Donald Trump warmed up to the idea. Stitt said he wouldn’t oppose something like that in Oklahoma but would prefer to keep guns out of classrooms.
“I think I’d prefer it for people like principals or those in administration roles,” he said, “but I wouldn’t oppose that idea.”
On the same topic of education, Stitt said he believes Oklahoma can streamline its public education. He’s open to school district consolidation, pointing out that Oklahoma has far more school districts than a state like Florida, but with a much lower population.
He also believes, just like the GPT, teachers should be paid at a market rate, something Oklahoma is well below nationally at the moment.
“We’re not as good as other states when it comes to getting dollars to classrooms,” Stitt said. “We need to pay teachers at the market rate. There’s a problem with our funding formula.”
The Republican primary will be June 26, when voters will choose between Stitt, Mick Cornett, Todd Lamb, Gary Richardson, Gary Jones and Dan Fisher. Side note: That’s the same day Oklahomans vote to legalize medical marijuana, and Stitt said he is open to the medicinal use of the drug but is against recreational use.
To stick out, Stitt is positioning himself as an outsider, someone new to the game. If his campaign fundraising is anything to go by — at the end of last year he was out-raising everybody — that seems to be working.
“We just think we need a business person, we need an outsider,” Stitt said. “We need someone focused on growing our state and not worrying about this industry or special interest group. That message plays well with seniors and everybody all over the state.”