John Kevin Stitt (born December 28, 1972) is an American businessman and politician who has served as the governor of Oklahoma since January 2019. He founded and is a former chairman and CEO of Gateway Mortgage Group. A Republican, he was elected governor in 2018. A member of the Cherokee Nation, Stitt is the first tribally enrolled Native American to serve as governor of a U.S. state, and Oklahoma's second governor of Native descent after Johnston Murray. Stitt grew up in Norman, Oklahoma, and graduated from Oklahoma State University with a degree in accounting. He and his wife, Sarah Stitt, have six children.
|28th Governor of Oklahoma|
|Assumed office |
January 14, 2019
|Preceded by||Mary Fallin|
John Kevin Stitt
December 28, 1972
Milton, Florida, U.S.
|Education||Oklahoma State University–Stillwater (BS)|
Stitt was born in Milton, Florida, and spent his early years in Wayne, Oklahoma. He later moved to Norman, where his father was the pastor of Riverside Church. He graduated from Norman High School and from Oklahoma State University with a degree in accounting. Stitt helped pay his way through college by selling educational products door-to-door with Southwestern Advantage. He was the first person in the company's 115-year history to achieve the top sales as a first-year salesperson. Stitt is a member of the Gamma Lambda chapter of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity.
Financial services careerEdit
Stitt worked in the financial services sector before starting Gateway in 2000. He founded the company and was president and CEO until January 2014, when he became chairman-CEO. Stitt has said he started Gateway in 2000 with "$1,000 and a computer." His first obstacle was to get approved as a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) lender, for which the company needed a net worth of $50,000. To achieve that, Stitt put forward the equity in his home. In 2002, Gateway secured its first warehouse line, began obtaining licensing in states other than Oklahoma, and started recruiting loan officers. By 2006, it had over 400 employees.
In August 2018, Stitt stepped down as CEO and hired outside management. Legal Counsel Scott Gesell became CEO in 2020 and Stitt remained chairman until shortly before his inauguration as governor. Gateway is a midsize company based in Jenks, Oklahoma. It employs more than 1,200 people and originates mortgages in 41 states.
Gateway's mortgage licensing issuesEdit
After a decade of rapid growth, a few Gateway employees were fired for making non-compliant loans. In 2009, Gateway was listed in a Business Insider article as one of the 15 shadiest lenders in the government-backed mortgage industry. The article said Gateway originated nearly twice as many bad mortgages as its competitors. An August 19, 2018, Oklahoman newspaper article highlighted the Business Insider article's inaccuracies, reporting that "in the Illinois case, a consent order states that the Illinois banking agency investigated a Gateway loan originator for an 'alleged real estate, appraisal, and mortgage fraud scheme.' Gateway fired the employee, asked for a hearing and then agreed to what investigators found. Gateway agreed to a $10,000 fine. ... Stitt campaign spokeswoman Donelle Harder said the license in Illinois was never revoked. The state agreed after the appeal not to revoke the license, she said."
NEWS9 also said that according to Georgia's Department of Banking and Finance, Stitt was banned for five years and the company was banned for life from origination mortgages in Georgia. According to the Oklahoman, a Gateway corporate attorney said there were misrepresentations and insufficient background checks by employees in the Georgia office but Stitt was not involved. The employees were fired and Gateway paid a $2,000 fine. The state overturned the lifetime ban on Gateway, effective November 2017. Gateway is able to do business in all 50 states.
During Stitt's gubernatorial campaign, Oklahoma Watch reported that Wisconsin regulators fined Gateway for a "clerical error" regarding its history with regulators from other states. Gateway corrected the application and was issued a license in 2009. It remains in good standing in Wisconsin.
2018 Oklahoma gubernatorial campaignEdit
In July 2017, Stitt announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for governor in 2018. Facing nine other candidates in the primary election, he ran a statewide campaign with stops in nearly every city and town in all 77 counties. He finished second, defeating, among others, Lieutenant Governor Todd Lamb. In the August 28 primary runoff, Stitt defeated Mick Cornett, a former mayor of Oklahoma City. In the November general election, Stitt defeated the Democratic nominee, former Attorney General Drew Edmondson, and Libertarian Chris Powell.
In the GOP runoff, political newcomer Stitt received crucial support from a trio of conservative leaders as U.S. Senator Ted Cruz and former U.S. Senators Rick Santorum and Tom Coburn endorsed him. In the general election, Stitt was endorsed by former primary rival Mick Cornett, the incumbent governor of Oklahoma, Mary Fallin, and President Donald Trump. The Oklahoman reported that the Stitt campaign rejected Fallin's endorsement: "'We did not seek [Fallin's endorsement], and Kevin Stitt has run on a campaign message that he will do things a lot differently,' said Donelle Harder, spokeswoman for the Stitt campaign. 'He is focused on changing the structure of state government and cleaning up the mess we are currently in at the Capitol.'"
During his campaign, Stitt called himself "the only job creator with proven business experience" running for governor and emphasized his business background. He called on the state to become "top 10 in job growth, top 10 in education and top 10 in infrastructure."
Governor of OklahomaEdit
After the election, transition activities began as Stitt prepared to assume office. A spokesperson for the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services announced that Stitt would occupy temporary office space in the Capitol, which was under renovation, and not occupy the Governor's Office until early 2020 due to the restoration project. Stitt also announced that he would not immediately move his family into the Oklahoma Governor's Mansion in Oklahoma City, instead remaining in Jenks until summer 2019 to allow his daughter to graduate from high school.
Stitt was inaugurated on January 14, 2019, at the Oklahoma State Capitol. Chief Justice of Oklahoma Noma Gurich swore him and Lieutenant Governor Matt Pinnell into office. Stitt then gave a 15-minute inaugural address.
|The Cabinet of Governor Kevin Stitt|
|Lieutenant Governor||Matt Pinnell||2019–present|
|Chief Operating Officer/Secretary of Agency Accountability||John Budd||2019–present|
|Secretary of State||Michael Rogers||2019–2020|
|Secretary of State and Native American Affairs||Brian Bingman||2020–present|
|Secretary of Energy and Environment||Kenneth Wagner||2019–present|
|Secretary of Agriculture||Blayne Arthur||2019–present|
|Secretary of Transportation||Tim Gatz||2019–present|
|Secretary of Public Safety||Chip Keating||2019–2021|
|Secretary of the Budget||Mike Mazzei||2019–2020|
|Duties largely moved to CFO as staff position|
|Secretary of Commerce and Workforce Development||Sean Kouplen||2019–2021|
|Secretary of Tourism and Branding||Matt Pinnell||2019–present|
|Secretary of Health and Mental Health||Jerome Loughridge||2019–2020|
|Secretary of Human Services and Early Childhood Initiatives||Steve Buck||2019-2020|
|Secretary of Science and Innovation||Kayse Shrum||2019–2020|
|Secretary of Native American Affairs||Lisa Johnson Billy||2019-2019|
|Position Consolidated with Secretary of State|
|Secretary of Digital Transformation and Administration||David Ostrowe||2019–present|
|Secretary of Licensing and Regulation||Susan Winchester||2021–present|
|Secretary of Economic Administration||Jennifer Grigsby||2021–present|
|Secretary of Veterans Affairs and the Military||Ben Robinson||2019–present|
|Secretary of Education||Michael Rogers||2019–2020|
|Chief of Staff||Michael Junk||2019–2020|
|General Counsel||Mark Burget||2019–2021|
|Chief Financial Officer||Amanda Rodriguez||2020–present|
|Adjutant General||Michael C. Thompson||2019–present|
Before taking office, Stitt nominated former state Representative Michael Rogers as his Secretary of State and Tulsa Deputy Mayor Michael Junk (a former advisor to U.S. Senators Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn) as his chief of staff.
On December 23, 2019, citing disagreements with Stitt over his handling of negotiations with the state's various Indian tribes about gambling compacts, Lisa Johnson Billy became the first member of the Stitt's cabinet to resign. A member of the Chickasaw Nation and former Republican state representative, Billy viewed Stitt's negotiation position as one of "unnecessary conflict." Stitt tapped his Secretary of State Mike Rogers to assume those duties and temporarily combined the two positions.
Oklahoma has a long history with capital punishment, having conducted the third-most executions since the death penalty was reinstated in Gregg v. Georgia (1976). But in 2015, a moratorium was placed on all state executions following the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in April 2014 and the execution of Charles Warner by unauthorized methods in January 2015. On February 13, 2020, Stitt announced that the moratorium would be lifted.
Criminal justice reformEdit
Beginning with the adoption of State Question 780 by Oklahoma voters in 2016, advocates for criminal justice reform sought additional measures. SQ780, which changed the classification of simple drug possession crimes from felony to misdemeanor and increased the cap for property crimes to be considered felonies, had already reduced the rate of felony prosecution statewide by 26% by 2018. In May 2019, Stitt proposed several ideas, including making SQ780's sentencing standards retroactive, prohibiting criminal records from being considered for professional licensing, and restructuring the funding scheme for the various district attorney offices. The legislature made SQ780 retroactive by allowing parole for those convicted before SQ780 became effective and reforming professional licensing, but did not approve bills to reform Oklahoma's cash bail system. In response to legislative defeats, Stitt issued an executive order to form a study group to make recommendations for future criminal justice reform for consideration during the 2020 legislative session, with particular emphasis on reducing Oklahoma's incarceration rate.
Critical race theoryEdit
In 2021, the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, Stitt signed a bill prohibiting the teaching of critical race theory or its gender equivalent in public schools. The Oklahoman wrote that it was unclear whether critical race theory was taught at any Oklahoma public schools. Opponents of the bill said it was intended to discourage nuanced discussions about race and whitewash America's history on race. Stitt invoked Martin Luther King Jr. when he signed the bill.
In mid-2018, Oklahoma voters approved State Question 788, which legalized the licensed use, sale, and growth of marijuana for medical purposes. As a candidate, Stitt cited a need to implement the results of the election by enacting a comprehensive regulatory scheme. After months of negotiation with legislative leaders, Stitt signed HB2612, the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana and Patient Protection Act. Also known as the "Marijuana Unity Bill", HB2612 provided an extensive medical marijuana framework, including licensing requirements and rights for patients.
In his first state of the state address, Stitt called for increased appointment power over major state agencies. The legislature granted his request by adopting five new laws, giving him direct control over the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, the Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs, and the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. These agencies were previously under the control of multi-member boards or commissions that acted independently of the governor.
In exchange for additional appointment powers and at legislative leaders' request, Stitt signed into law SB1, which established the Oklahoma Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency in the legislative branch. Under the direction of an oversight committee composed of members of the State Senate and House of Representatives, the office will provide auditing, evaluation, and investigative services for the legislature relating to the governor's proposed budget and expenditures by the executive branch.
The first law Stitt signed after taking office permitted anyone 21 or older, or 18 if a member or veteran of the United States Armed Forces, to carry a firearm without obtaining a permit or completing training. Stitt also signed HB2010, which expands the places a firearm may be carried to include municipal zoos and parks, regardless of size, as long as it is concealed.
Stitt opposes Medicaid expansion in Oklahoma. His refusal to expand the program resulted in the filing of an citizens' initiative petition, State Question 802, to enact the expansion into the state constitution notwithstanding Stitt's opposition.
Stitt signed legislation reorganizing the Oklahoma Supreme Court and the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals. Prior to the reforms, Supreme Court justices were appointed from nine separate districts representing various collections of counties. Under the legislation, as of 2020 the Court's nine judicial districts were redrawn such that five were made coequal with the state's five congressional districts and the other four are at large with the state as whole. Similarly, the five judicial districts used to appoint judges to the Court of Criminal Appeals were made coequal with the congressional districts. The legislation left the method for appointing appellate judges via the Oklahoma Judicial Nominating Commission unchanged. The reform's ostensible purpose was to increase the pool of applicants to the appellate courts.
Under the authority of the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, in 2004 Oklahoma voters approved State Question 712, which adopted the Oklahoma State-Tribal Gaming Act. Under the Act, the State of Oklahoma offers each federally recognized Indian tribe the right to conduct commercial gambling within its territory upon accepting the terms of a uniform state-tribal gaming compact. The compact allowed the compacting tribes to conduct gaming in return for "exclusivity fees" to the state treasury averaging 6% of gaming revenues. The compact was scheduled to automatically renew on January 1, 2020.
In a July 2019 op-ed in the Tulsa World followed by a letter to the chiefs of 35 Oklahoma tribes, Stitt called on tribal leaders to renegotiate the terms of the compact before its expiration date. In particular, he called for increasing the exclusivity fees to between 13% and 25%. Stitt's office maintained the compact is not subject to automatic renewal, a claim the tribes rejected, believing it will continue indefinitely unless changes are mutually agreed upon. In either event, the Oklahoma Legislature would presumably have to be involved in any renegotiation, since the state's compact offer is defined and controlled by state statute, and federal law requires that the United States Department of the Interior approve any new compact terms.
In August 2019, the various tribes refused to meet with Stitt to negotiate the amount of the exclusivity fees unless he conceded that the compact would otherwise automatically renew. Stitt had proposed a September 3 date to begin discussions but the tribes rejected it.
At the end of December 2019, the Choctaw, Cherokee, and Chickasaw tribes filed suit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma to end the dispute over the compact. On December 31, Stitt signed an extension to the hunting and fishing license compact with the Choctaw Nation, a previous point of contention.
On July 28, 2020, U.S. District Judge Timothy DeGiusti ruled in the tribes' favor, holding that their compacts with the state automatically renewed for an additional 15-year term on January 1, 2020. A week earlier, on July 21, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that the new gaming compacts signed by the state and the Comanche Nation and the Otoe-Missouria Tribe are invalid under state law. The Court ruled that Stitt "exceeded his authorities" in entering into the compacts because they would have allowed gaming that is illegal in Oklahoma, like sports betting.
In March 2020, Stitt went out to restaurants amid the coronavirus pandemic and posted a photo on Twitter of him doing so with two of his children. He later deleted the tweet, and his spokesperson said, "the governor will continue to take his family out to dinner and to the grocery store without living in fear and encourages Oklahomans to do the same." President Trump said he did not advocate going out to eat but did not criticize Stitt. In the tweet, Stitt wrote, "Eating with my kids and all my fellow Oklahomans ... It's packed tonight!" The photograph he posted with his kids showed them smiling while surrounded by restaurant patrons. On June 20, Stitt attended the Trump rally in Tulsa, and was seen without wearing a mask. On July 15, Stitt announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19. He is the first United States governor diagnosed with COVID-19.
In April 2020, Stitt ordered a massive purchase of hydroxychloroquine, a drug of unproven efficacy as a treatment against the coronavirus but which had been heavily promoted by Donald Trump and his allies. By January 2021, Oklahoma had a $2 million stockpile of hydroxychloroquine which it sought to offload.
The governor of Oklahoma is responsible for making appointments to Oklahoma state courts upon a vacancy. Candidates for appointment are reviewed by the Oklahoma Judicial Nominating Commission, which forwards three names to the governor. The governor appoints one of the three without further confirmation. As of 2020, there are 29 appellate court judges (9 Supreme Court justices, 5 Court of Criminal Appeals judge, 12 Court of Civil Appeals judges, and 3 Court of Military Appeals judges) and 156 trial judges (75 district judges, 77 associate district judges, 4 Workers Compensation Court judges) subject to the gubernatorial appointment process.
|#||Judge||Position||Court||District||Former Judge||Appointment date||End of service||Successor Judge||Ref.|
|1||M. John Kane IV||Justice||Supreme Court||2nd||John F. Reif||September 17, 2019||Incumbent||Incumbent|||
|2||Dustin Rowe||Justice||Supreme Court||At-Large||Patrick Wyrick||November 18, 2019||Incumbent||Incumbent|||
|3||Daniel G. Webber||Judge||Military Court of Appeals||N/A||New Position||June 3, 2020||Incumbent||Incumbent|||
|4||Michelle L. Keely||Judge||Military Court of Appeals||N/A||New Position||June 3, 2020||Incumbent||Incumbent|||
|5||Trevor Pemberton||Judge||Civil Appeals||4st||Larry Joplin||August 24, 2020||Incumbent||Incumbent|||
|6||Thomas E. Prince||Judge||Civil Appeals||5th||Kenneth L. Buettner||January 1, 2021||Incumbent||Incumbent|||
|7||TBD||Judge||Civil Appeals||1st||Jerry L. Goodman||TBD|
|8||TBD||Justice||Supreme Court||1st||Tom Colbert||TBD|
|#||Judge||Position||County||District||Former Judge||Appointment date||End of service||Successor Judge||Ref.|
|1||Christine Larson||Associate District Judge||Cimarron||1st||Ronald L. Kincannon||March 8, 2019||Incumbent||Incumbent|||
|2||Timothy King||District Judge||Muskogee||15th||Mike Norman||November 4, 2019||Incumbent||Incumbent|||
|3||Laura Farris||Associate District Judge||Creek||24th||Mark Ihrig||January 17, 2020||Incumbent||Incumbent|||
|4||Erin Kirksey||Associate District Judge||Woodward||4th||Don Work||March 10, 2020||Incumbent||Incumbent|||
|5||Shelia Stinson||District Judge||Oklahoma||7th||Lisa Davis||July 17, 2020||Incumbent||Incumbent|||
|5||Stuart Tate||District Judge||Osage||10th||M. John Kane IV||September 16, 2020||Incumbent||Incumbent|||
|6||Pandee Ramirez||District Judge||Okmulgee||24th||Ken Adair||September 17, 2020||Incumbent||Incumbent|||
|7||James Huber||District Judge||Tulsa||14th||Linda Morrissey||October 16, 2020||Incumbent||Incumbent|||
|8||Michelle Lee Bondine Keely||District Judge||Tulsa||14th||Jefferson Sellers||November 11, 2020||Incumbent||Incumbent|||
|9||Bethany Eve Stanley||Associate District Judge||Cleveland||21st||Stephen W. Bonner||November 23, 2020||Incumbent||Incumbent|||
|10||Abthony Bonner||District Judge||Oklahoma||7th||Kendra Coleman||April 5, 2021||Incumbent||Incumbent|||
|11||Kristina Kirkpatraick||District Judge||Oklahoma||7th||Trevor Pemberton||April 5, 2021||Incumbent||Incumbent|||
Stitt is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation through his great-grandfather, Robert Benton Dawson. Dawson was given land in the Skiatook area because of his tribal citizenship, and the land is still in the family, now owned by an uncle of Stitt's. Stitt's maternal grandparents were dairy farmers in Skiatook. His paternal grandfather was the head veterinarian at the Oklahoma City Stockyards.
Stitt married Sarah Hazen in 1998 and they have six children. The Stitts are active with the Woodlake Church in Tulsa.
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- Executions in the United States, by state
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Kevin Stitt.|
- Governor Kevin Stitt official government website
- Kevin Stitt at Ballotpedia
- Appearances on C-SPAN
- Kevin Stitt at On the Issues
- Profile at Vote Smart
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