Candidate Profile: Kevin Stitt, Republican for Governor

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Oklahoma Watch will update this profile throughout the campaign.
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Why he’s running
Stitt says he wants to “end politics as usual at the State Capitol” and lead Oklahoma to be among the best in economic growth, education, infrastructure, health care and government efficiency. Stitt touts his success as a business owner – he founded Gateway Mortgage Group and grew it into a national company – and says he will use his private-sector experience to make state government more efficient, effective and transparent. He promises to use performance metrics and audit every state agency. Stitt portrays himself as an outsider, often saying he is not a career politician.

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Strategy
A political unknown when he announced for the race last year, Stitt is using his personal wealth and a simple, clear messaging about the need for an Oklahoma turnaround to connect with voters. He describes himself as a “family and faith” candidate who is pro-life, but emphasizes more his success at growing his company using “unique ideas” that he says could apply to state government. In the Aug. 28 runoff campaign, Stitt tried to woo the types of voters who went for Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb and Yukon pastor Dan Fisher, not to mention fellow Tulsan Gary Richardson. Stitt has no political record to attack, although Stitt’s Democratic opponent, Drew Edmondson, has aggressively attacked his business record; Stitt decries the criticism as false. A poll of 500 likely voters conducted Oct. 22-23 by Magellan Strategies put Stitt up with 51 percent vs. Edmondson’s 44 percent. A key question is whether Stitt’s opposition to the the tax-increase package that boosted teacher pay will hurt him on Election Day. Another is whether Stitt’s inexperience in government is an asset or liability to voters.

The basics
Age: 45
Race: White
Where he lives: Tulsa
Family status: Married for 19 years to Sarah; they have six children.

Kevin and Sarah Stitt

Email:  kevin@stittforgovernor.com
Education: Accounting degree, Oklahoma State University.
Occupation: Founded Gateway Mortgage in 2000. The company has 164 field offices in 41 states and a loan services portfolio of more than $16 billion.
Family history: Fourth-generation Oklahoman, raised in Norman. His father was a minister.

Where to learn more
Campaign website
Facebook campaign page
Twitter
YouTube

Stances on issues
Taxes
Stitt opposes tax increases and said he wouldn’t have signed House Bill 1010xx, which funded teacher pay raises. However, he said he didn’t support the recall petition to rescind the taxes. Stitt has signed a pledge from Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite! that, among other things, proposes shifting taxes away from sales, income, corporate and gross production taxes toward consumption taxes. He has said rising revenues and greater efficiency in government, rather than tax increases, would be sufficient to meet the state’s budgetary needs.
Education
Stitt wants to make teacher pay (but not necessarily per-pupil funding) comparable to that of surrounding states, put line-item budgeting in place for the state Education Department, and expand use of video technology for advanced-placement courses, particularly in rural areas. He also wants a temporary bonus program to recruit new teachers to stay in the state. He supports allowing school districts to spend property tax revenue, currently limited to infrastructure needs, on teacher pay. He supports charter schools but doesn’t support expanding vouchers beyond those already in place. He has said school consolidation should be left up to local school boards.
Criminal justice
Stitt told The Oklahoman that the state was “sticking out like a sore thumb” because it has the nation’s highest incarceration rate. Although prosecutors must have the tools to put violent offenders behind bars, Stitt said, Oklahoma should look to  surrounding states for ideas on reducing the prison population, including and letting more offenders out early.
Economy
Stitt says President Donald Trump’s tax cuts are a key to growing and diversifying the Oklahoma’s economy. He says his business background would enable him to recruit new companies to the state. He also wants to eliminate “wasteful” licensing fees for companies that bring new jobs to Oklahoma.
Health and social welfare
Stitt says he’s concerned about the state’s growth in Medicaid spending. He wants to audit the Medicaid system and eliminate any waste, fraud and abuse. He also wants to work toward selling insurance across state lines to increase competition and reduce premiums. Stitt expressed doubts about the medical marijuana state question, but supports doctors prescribing it for valid reasons. He would not mandate vaccinations. He has promised to appoint justices to the Oklahoma Supreme Court who are anti-abortion. He has said he would hire a chief operating officer to keep state agencies in check and would like greater authority to hire and fire agency heads. He supports medical — but not recreational — marijuana.

Endorsements

>President Donald Trump
>Rick Santorum, former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania and 2012 Republican presidential candidate.U.S. Sen. and 2016 Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, of Texas
>Former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn.
>Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak.
>Republican State Reps. John Cockroft, Wanette; Tim Downing, Purcell; Michael Rogers, Broken Arrow; Ryan Martinez, Edmond; JJ Humphries, Lane, and Terry O’Donnell, Catoosa.
>Republican State Sens. Casey Murdock, Felt; Jason Smalley, Stroud; Lonnie Paxton, Tuttle; Greg McCortney, Ada; Chris Kidd, Waurika, and former State Sen. Mike Mazzei, R-Tulsa.

Quick Q&A
Why are you running for governor?
He told a group in February that in 2017, “ultimately, as a man of faith, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I was supposed to get involved and do something.” Also, in his business travels…

The debate
Supporters say:
Stitt will bring a fresh approach to government and get things done the same way a corporate executive would. State government is controlled by special interests and lawmakers are beholden to their donors. Stitt is beholden to no one and will shake things up, while adhering to core fiscal and social conservative principles. Government could use a business leader who connects with people and who can make tough decisions.
Critics say:
Stitt lacks the background and understanding to be governor. Government isn’t a business, and it shouldn’t be run like one. He offers no concrete plans to accomplish his goals and shows no grasp of the state’s biggest issues, including its need for more revenue. He voted in only eight elections since 2000, and none included the office for which he is running. His hardline stances on taxes and abortion will detract from addressing the state’s greatest needs.

Key political moments
He announced his bid for governor on July 27, 2017. In the June 26, 2018, primary, he was the surprise second-place finisher, edging out and eliminating Todd Lamb. He pulled off a similar feat on Aug. 28, 2018, when he handily beat his runoff challenger, former Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, to clinch the Republican nomination.

Accomplishments
He founded Gateway Mortgage Group in 2000 “with $1,000 and a computer” he says. The company is now in 41 states.

Donors
(Jan. 1, 2017-Oct. 29, 2018)
Top political action committee donors to campaign (donations over $5,000)
American Fidelity Corp. PAC: $10,000.
Unit Corp.: $8,000.
Coalition of Advocates for Responsible Eldercare: $7,500.
AT&T PAC: $7,500.
Farmers Employee and Agent: $7,500.
Affiliated Anesthesiologists PAC: $7,000.
Oklahoma Pork Council Political Action Committee: $5,500.
Great State PAC: $2,700.
Number of individual donors giving maximum $8,100 donation (state individual donor limit is $2,700 per election): 125.
Number of donors giving at least $2,000: 1,133.
Independent expenditure groups supporting candidate or opposing challenger:
NRA Political Victory Fund: $544,000.
Republican Governors Association Oklahoma PAC: $495,800.
Protecting American Now: $403,000.
Consumer Coalition of Oklahoma, Inc.: $241,787.
Catalyst Oklahoma: $120,720.

Religion
Stitt, his wife and six children are members of the non-denominational Woodlake Church in Tulsa. He was raised in a non-denominational Bible church in Norman, where his father was a pastor.
Stitt refers to his faith often on the campaign trail, including about issues such as abortion. If elected governor, Stitt said his faith will be used as a reference in both making policy decisions and interacting with fellow politicians.
“My faith drives me as a husband, father, businessman, and in my decision to run for governor,” he said. “The very best of who we are as Americans and as a society are all ideas rooted in scripture: freedom, humility, service, love for all, equality and respect … I am running for governor because I believe God has put it on my heart to serve Oklahoma.”

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