Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt made a stop in Duncan on Wednesday, Sept. 8, and while in the area he visited the Duncan Rotary Club’s weekly meeting where he discussed topics such as the McGirt decision, the Afghanistan situation and COVID-19.
Before digging into the conversation, Stitt told the audience in his opening he visits communities across Oklahoma once a week so he can hear from constituents about what’s happening in their communities. He also made brief remarks about the last session, which he called “great,” noting they entered session with a $1.6 billion surplus while most states were “really struggling … with billions of dollars in deficits.”
Stitt went over figures for how CARES funds were distributed and some of the upcoming projects throughout the state as far as infrastructure is concerned and touched on economic development when it comes to companies moving into the state before broaching the topic of McGirt and its side effects.
“The most pressing issue in the State of Oklahoma … is the McGirt Decision,” Stitt said. “Last Summer … the Supreme Court said in a 5-4 decision that the reservations were never disestablished. This creates tremendous uncertainty in our state. It really threatens the Oklahoma sovereignty and it creates a public nightmare for victims, for law enforcement.”
Stitt, who said he was a member of the Cherokee Nation, said this “isn’t an anti-Tribal thing,” and stated he had discussed with District Attorney Jason Hicks and discovered of the counties Hicks represents, one-third of the cases are affected under the ruling.
The good news, Stitt said, was the most recent ruling prevents retroactivity for cases which have already been convicted.
Still, the ruling creates other issues, Stitt said.
“One of the five tribes sent out a letter announcing their authority to levy taxes on the oil and gas producers within their reservations — think about that,” Stitt said. “If a reservation still exists, it’s no longer Oklahoma, it’s actually a reservation — then they’re going to enforce their laws, they’re going to try to maximize revenue. That is what happens every time that I’m trying to let Oklahomans know about.”
Despite these issues, Stitt said the case that bothered him most was the one of Miles Bench.
“This is a convicted murderer from Velma and nine years ago, Miles Bench beat 16-year-old girl Braylee to death in Velma,” Stitt said. “This community probably remembers that, there’s probably a reaction when you think about it. In 2015 he was convicted of murder and sentenced to death but in May his sentence was overturned due to McGirt. Sheriff McKinney called that, ‘the most stupid, idiotic thing’ he had ever heard the Supreme Court do.”
State pointed to other cases throughout the state of Oklahoma and said ultimately “there has to be one set of rules” for everybody to follow to ensure “equal protection under the law.”
“Let me be clear — we are seeking the complete restoration of Oklahoma sovereignty,” Stitt said. “We’ve got several cases before the Supreme Court asking them to overturn this McGirt case. One of the most basic functions of a state in The United States of America is the ability to enforce the rule of law. This fight over who has the ability to regulate law and order, it affects all of us across the state of Oklahoma. This is where we live. This is where we start our families. This is where we have our businesses. I agree with Sheriff McKinney that we have to have one set of rules regardless of your race.”
Further, Stitt said one of the Tribes “hired legal counsel to try to help their Tribal members protest taxes,” and noted the Tax Commission has thousands of these protests claiming they don’t live in the State of Oklahoma.
“This is not Gov. Stitt versus the Tribes, this is really the fundamental sovereignty of the State of Oklahoma and how we’re able to operate as a state and that’s what we’re fighting for,” Stitt said. “This issue is about fairness, it’s about justice, it’s about equal protection under the law.”
Stitt then opened the floor for questions. One of the first questions asked about McGirt as it relates to civil cases.
The biggest concern, Stitt said, lies with State of Oklahoma losing the right to operate mines on reservations in Eastern Oklahoma, which has previously occurred since statehood.
“The big issue is zoning,” he said. “So we have a court case in Eastern Oklahoma, one of the towns filed against a tribe because the Tribe was coming in right next door to a business, to a farm, whatever the case is, and they’re refusing to follow the zoning, the environmental laws.”
Stitt said ultimately it wouldn’t work longterm on this front either.
Further questions brought up the topic of Afghanis, COVID-19 and the outlook of Oklahoma right now as well as a First Lady Sarah Stitt initiative.
When it comes to Afghanis arriving in Oklahoma, Stitt said what’s happening overseas is “atrocious.”
“You saw Afghanis literally holding onto military planes because they saw their freedom slipping away,” Stitt said. “We’ve got military personnel, we’ve got the National Guard who will literally work right alongside the translators and people who are trying to get help out, too.”
Stitt said he set up a nonprofit called Be A Neighbor which he plans to use to coordinate logistics.
“Churches can be invited to look at Be A Neighbor and say, ‘hey, we want to help with whatever needs for a few of those folks,’” Stitt said, noting the nonprofit can be used for other situations as well.
Touching on COVID-19, Stitt said 86% over the age of 65 have been vaccinated in the state. He said around 66% over 18 have been vaccinated and 92% of people in the hospital across the state — which totaled about 1,450 as of Wednesday — Stitt said, are unvaccinated.
“We believe the vaccine is the safest way to keep you from getting seriously ill, but the natural immunities are really, as far as keeping you from getting COVID, are really looking really good,” Stitt said. “What I mean by that is I track how many COVID positive we have on a daily basis. About 14% of those are breakthrough cases — people who have been vaccinated are getting COVID. Like 0.1% are reinfected, meaning they have COVID previously. So those natural immunities … are really, really productive.”
Ultimately, Stitt said he believes in “personal responsibility” when it comes to Oklahomans and them deciding what is best for their health.
In final news, Stitt spoke about the First Lady’s Hope Rising initiative. The Banner will publish a story with more information about this in future editions.