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Why the debate over Cabinet appointments between Gov. Stitt and AG Drummond? | Analysis

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Why the debate over Cabinet appointments between Gov. Stitt and AG Drummond? | Analysis


For the past couple of weeks, Gov. Kevin Stitt and Attorney General Gentner Drummond have waged a battle of rhetoric.

The governor has complained that Drummond “weaponized” the AG’s office after he issued an opinion that Stitt saw as an attack on his ability to choose who he wants to serve on his Cabinet. Drummond countered the governor doesn’t understand the issue and that he is only enforcing existing law.

While the debate has continued, Stitt lost two Cabinet secretaries, vetoed a bill that would have protected two more and filed a lawsuit in Oklahoma County District Court for “clarification.”

So what, exactly, going on?

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From the 30,000-foot level, the answer is simple: The governor is pushing back against limits on his power while the AG looks to his political future and Cleveland County residents and their state senator were unhappy with a turnpike plan.

What’s behind the debate between the governor and the attorney general?

A few years back, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, state lawmakers granted the governor extraordinary authority that previous Oklahoma governors didn’t have. Keep in mind the Oklahoma Constitution is, at its heart, a populist document that makes the 149-member Legislature the most powerful branch of state government.

During the pandemic, some of that power was shifted to Stitt. However, as concern over the pandemic faded, lawmakers took some of that power back.

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At the same time, a controversy involving a turnpike expansion plan exploded. With Drummond watching from the sidelines — and planning his political future — Sen. Mary Boren, a Democrat from Norman, raised questions about the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority’s ACCESS plan on behalf of her constituents.

More: War of words: Stitt and Drummond at odds over state officials holding dual positions

The turnpike authority played political hardball so Boren availed herself to a rule that allows lawmakers to request opinions from the attorney general. Boren requested an opinion from Drummond about Tim Gatz’s role as the head of the turnpike authority, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and a member of the governor’s Cabinet.

Remember: In Oklahoma, the law states that public officials are required to act in accordance with an attorney general’s opinion unless or until the opinion is set aside by a court. In addition, AG opinions that address the constitutionality of a statute are considered advisory. So Drummond’s official opinion could have punch.

It did.

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During a news conference, Stitt attempted to question Boren’s reasoning for seeking an attorney general’s opinion, implying that Boren was attacking Gatz, now at ground zero of the controversy. The governor’s question also criticized Boren’s vote against confirming Gatz: “The only person that voted against him was a lady named Mary Boren and apparently, she supposedly requested this opinion, so maybe she has an ax to grind, I don’t know,” the governor said.

What the governor didn’t say, though, was Boren was well within her rights as a state lawmaker to request an AG’s opinion. Members of the Legislature regularly request opinions from the AG’s office. In addition, Boren has, for more than a year, raised questions about the ACCESS Oklahoma turnpike expansion plan and its effect on residents in her district. The issue wasn’t necessarily an ax to grind, it was a lawmaker responding to her constituents.

Still, if the objective was to remove Gatz as head of the turnpike authority, that goal was successful. Gatz stepped down from that post but remains as the head of the Transportation Department and as an adviser to the governor.

Opinions, rhetoric and ‘unnecessary’ legislation

With the attorney general and the governor now deep in a war of words, state lawmakers attempted to solve the problem by passing Senate Bill 1196, which would have carved out two more exemptions for members of the governor’s Cabinet. That measure, which carried House Majority Leader Jon Echols’ name, passed both the House and Senate by large margins this week.

But the governor vetoed the bill late Tuesday, issuing a media statement that called the measure “unnecessary.”

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And, to be fair, the governor may have a point. All governors seek advice. And each governor should have wide latitude in who he or she can get that advice from. Since Oklahoma law allows the governor to name Cabinet secretaries — which can be paid or unpaid advisers — Stitt has the authority to name who he wants to his Cabinet, with the “advice and consent” of the state Senate. The salaries for those advisers are part of the governor’s budget.

Stitt is also correct in pointing out that other Oklahoma governors have had Cabinet secretaries who also headed state agencies. During the term of then-Gov. Henry Bellmon, Sandy Garrett, who also held the elected post of state schools superintendent, was Bellmon’s Cabinet secretary for education. Garrett was a Democrat; Bellmon was a Republican.

Still, while Stitt has some valid arguments, so does Drummond. The attorney general focused on the statute that limits dual service, particularly with Gatz, who served not only in the governor’s Cabinet but also as head of both the Transportation Department and the turnpike authority. Since there wasn’t a specific exemption for Gatz, Drummond’s opinion stood and Gatz was forced to resign.

So what happens next?

For his part, the governor has turned to Oklahoma County District Court, asking the court to “clarify” his appointment authority. Drummond, a skilled attorney, replied that he looks forward to making his case in court.

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In the meantime, lawmakers could attempt to override the governor’s veto of SB 1196 (remember it passed by large margins in both houses), but it’s also March, and the Legislature’s priority isn’t a fight between the governor and the attorney general. The Legislature’s priority is to craft a budget and get it done before the May 31 deadline.

As for Stitt and Drummond, it looks like their fight won’t be decided by media statements but could, instead, be decided by District Court Judge Richard Ogden — at least for now.



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Oklahoma

D1Baseball Top 25: A&M remains No. 1, Oklahoma headlines three new entrants • D1Baseball

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D1Baseball Top 25: A&M remains No. 1, Oklahoma headlines three new entrants • D1Baseball


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• COLLEGE TOP 100 DRAFT PROSPECTS
• Check out D1Baseball’s PreD1ctive Picks
• Last week’s D1Baseball Top 25 Results
• National Statistical Leaderboards
• Discuss the latest rankings on our Forums
• Week 10 Scores: Friday | Saturday | Sunday


Texas A&M remains No. 1 in the D1Baseball Top 25 for the second straight week after winning a road series at Alabama. The SEC occupies the top four spots in the rankings, as Arkansas holds steady at No. 2 after a road series win at South Carolina, and Tennessee moves up a spot to No. 3 after taking two of three at Kentucky, which falls one place to No. 4.

ACC teams occupy four of the next six spots: No. 5 Clemson, No. 6 Duke, No. 8 Wake Forest and No. 10 Florida State. The Demon Deacons made the biggest move of that group, moving up four spots to No. 8 after winning a hard-fought series against the Seminoles. East Carolina moves up two spots to No. 7, and Oregon State falls four spots to No. 9 after a 1-4 week.

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Big climbers this week include UC Irvine (up five spots to No. 12), Coastal Carolina (up six spots to No. 13), Arizona (up five spots to No. 16) and Georgia (up four spots to No. 20).

Three teams enter the rankings this week: Oklahoma leaps back into the Top 25 at No. 18 after sweeping BYU to open up a three-game lead atop the Big 12 standings. NC State returns to the rankings at No. 21 after taking a series from rival North Carolina, on week after the Wolfpack won a series at Clemson. And Indiana State makes its season debut in the Top 25 after winning a series against Illinois State, the 15th straight conference series win for the Sycamores (dating back to the end of the 2022 season).

West Virginia, Virginia Tech and Dallas Baptist fall out of the rankings after losing their weekends.

D1Baseball editors and national writers determine the Top 25 rankings. Records are through games of April 21.




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Oklahoma politics launched with constitutional chaos

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Oklahoma politics launched with constitutional chaos


Oklahoma Constitutional chaos
William H. “Alfalfa Bill” Murray, left, served as speaker of the Oklahoma Constitutional Convention in November 1906 in Guthrie. (Oklahoma Historical Society)

If you haven’t been paying attention, the Oklahoma Legislature is back in session and headed for its homestretch. Look at all the cowboy hats.

The governor, the attorney general and the “education” guy are in place and doing their respective things. Here, one may say, we are going again.

Throw in negotiations with sovereign tribal nations, and we’re guaranteed snits, spats and to-dos aplenty. Sometimes I feel sorry for my son, who covers the Capitol every week and writes some sort of newsletter, among other things.

Of course, if the Oklahoma Legislature looks like chaos — well, that’s how our state got started at the turn of the last century.

A microcosm of our initial population?

First, when America furthered its frontier West into more and more Indigenous territory, the area had land runs. Chaos on the hoof. Then, the white folks started calling for statehood. Eleven years passed before there were enough people living here for the place to qualify.

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Republicans were in control in Washington, and their feet dragged on the question of statehood because they feared Oklahoma would be a Democratic stronghold, and they wanted time to build Republican power here, via political appointments and whatnot.

So, we were tools before we were tools.

Anyhow, along came the Oklahoma Enabling Act of June 16, 1906, which wrote the recipe to be followed in the creation of a new state.

The so-called Twin Territories — Oklahoma and Indian — were to be joined, and each would send 55 delegates (plus two from the Osage Nation) to a constitutional convention in Guthrie, a Republican outpost that was, according to the Enabling Act, to be the state’s capital until at least 1913.

The convention first met on Nov. 20, 1906. Of the 112 delegates, 100 were Democrats, and that was it for Republicans until the first coming of Henry Bellmon.

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About the delegates, we know this: Their average age was 43. Among them stood 47 farmers, 27 lawyers, 12 businessmen, six preachers, three teachers, two physicians and one student. Besides them, the wag would say, 14 other people with no visible means of support also attended.

Was that a microcosm of our initial population? Hard to say. I am told even fewer lawyers and physicians serve in the Legislature now, but the teacher and preacher numbers have climbed.

A populist fear of centralized power

The president of the 1906 constitutional convention was none other than that soon-to-be nationally known bigot, crackpot and whatnot named William H. “Alfalfa Bill” Murray.

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Alfalfa Bill MurrayAlfalfa Bill Murray

History is clear: Alfalfa Bill Murray was a terrible bigot by William W. Savage Jr.

He began the proceedings by having the delegates join together in singing Nearer, My God to Thee, the hymn that would be played six years later on the deck of the sinking Titanic.

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Perhaps Murray had a premonition, and not about a big boat.

The convention produced a 45,000-word constitution that President Theodore Roosevelt hated because Democrats had written it, but no legal reason existed for rejecting it because the document followed the stipulations of the Enabling Act to the letter. (I forbear particulars, except to note that in Oklahoma you cannot have more than one spouse at a time. Having them serially is another matter, but the Legislature works on that, from time to time.)

The Oklahoma Constitution was praised for its populist and progressive content, with many provisions limiting centralized control and empowering the Legislature as the institution most responsive to the will of the people.

Scholars wrote about it, but nit-pickers were not silent, complaining that the document was too detailed. Good grief, the thing even specified the flash point of kerosene, a provision designed to prevent corporate greed error that could result in towns burning to the ground if it were cut with cheaper fuels. Such atrocity had happened elsewhere.

A constitutional convention redo? Be careful what you wish for

From time to time, the electorate is invited to help remove outdated parts of the Oklahoma Constitution.

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I recall the election in which the section requiring state payments to widows of Civil War veterans was excised. Someone had noticed that, on account of the passage of time, there were no such widows left.

Over the decades, voters have been asked to decide several questions related to the Oklahoma Constitution, which has been amended more than 200 times. In recent years, we have voted on liquor laws (twice), marijuana laws (twice, to different results), the separation of church and state, expanding Medicaid coverage, modifying school funding options, and whether to elect the governor and lieutenant governor jointly.

The results have hardly painted a straight ideological line.

I learned recently that Cherokee Nation citizens will be asked this June whether to call their own convention for revision of the tribe’s constitution. Various Oklahoma political factions sometimes float the idea of a new state constitutional convention as well.

If the state were to have a new constitutional convention, every moron in America with something to suggest would show up and try to participate, just as Carry Nation lobbied the original convention to prohibit consumption of alcohol. Ultimately, Gov. Charles Haskell successfully pushed the proposal as a separate article to be approved months later, and prohibition continued in Oklahoma for a quarter of a century after the rest of the country had reversed course.

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By that measure, our path to Medicaid expansion felt relatively quick. Nonetheless, calling a new constitutional convention in Oklahoma would revive the recipe for chaos, to be sure. These days, 45,000 words would hardly do it.

In the meantime, perhaps the best we can hope for is legislators whose mothers taught them it’s impolite to wear your cowboy hat in the House — or the Senate.





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Sooners land commitment from SMU transfer center Branson Hickman

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Sooners land commitment from SMU transfer center Branson Hickman


With spring ball wrapping up, Oklahoma enters the break with a clear understanding of what their roster needs are before they return to campus for summer workouts.

One of those needs was filled on Sunday as the Oklahoma Sooners landed a commitment from former SMU center Branson Hickman.

Hickman entered the transfer portal in January and already holds his degree from SMU. Oklahoma reached out to him after Troy Everett’s injury, and he visited for the spring game. The visit went well enough this weekend that he committed. With more than 2,400 snaps to his ledger, he’s all but assured a leg up on starting at center this season.

Depth at the center was a significant issue when Everett went down. Joshua Bates was good in the spring game, but the addition of Hickman allows the Sooners to continue to be patient with Bates as he develops.

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Hickman spent four seasons with the Mustangs. He started the final 33 games, including 12 in 2022 and all 14 this past season. This past season, he was named to the Rimington Trophy Preseason Watch List, which honors the best centers in the NCAA. He was also a Second-Team All-American Athletic Conference selection this year.

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Hickman may be on the smaller side, playing just under 300 pounds this past year. However, his football IQ and technique have been lauded. He should add a lot of stability to the Sooners’ offensive line as they try to stabilize it in front of new starting quarterback Jackson Arnold.

Oklahoma’s commitment to improving their line play before entering the SEC continues with this commitment.

Contact/Follow us @SoonersWire on X, and like our page on Facebook to follow ongoing coverage of Oklahoma news, notes, and opinions. You can also follow Bryant on X @thatmanbryant.





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