In The Know: AG blames Stitt, Walters for misspent COVID funds | Swadley’s claims to be political scapegoat | State has most natural disasters in nation

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Some stories included here are behind paywall or require subscription. OK Policy encourages the support of Oklahoma’s state and local media, which are vital to an informed citizenry. Subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Oklahoma News

Swadley’s claims to be state’s ‘political scapegoat’ in Facebook post: Swadley’s Bar-B-Q has come out swinging on Facebook, posting a list of questions for state officials who are suing the company for breach of contract after the state hired the restaurateur to renovate and operate six dining areas at state parks. [The Oklahoman]

State Government News

Attorney general faults Stitt, Walters for misspent COVID-19 education funds: In a sharply worded letter to Gov. Kevin Stitt, Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond last month refused to refile a dismissed lawsuit against ClassWallet, citing now-State Superintendent Ryan Walters’ “faulty judgment” and the Stitt administration’s “litany of errors” and “mishandling” of millions of federal COVID-19 relief dollars. Stitt wound up getting a private attorney to refile the suit. [Tulsa World]

Pitching tax-cut priorities, McCall, Treat remain apart: As legislators wound up the first week of this year’s regular four-month session, the leaders of both chambers pitched their ideas Thursday to cut state taxes, disagreeing over which would be most beneficial to Oklahomans. [NonDoc]

Lawmaker zeroes in on rising property insurance premiums: Oklahoma has had 52 natural disasters since 2000, far and away the most in the U.S., according to insurer Recoop. And that doesn’t count any of the manmade earthquakes that have been rattling the state since 2009. And that’s why Oklahoma’s property insurance premiums are among the highest — some say the highest — in the country. [Tulsa World]

What would business court look like in Oklahoma?: Gov. Kevin Stitt has called on the legislature to create a business court, but majority leaders aren’t quite sure what that would look like. In his State of the State address, which kicked off the 2024 Legislative Session on Feb. 5, the governor suggested that lawmakers “take a page out of Delaware’s and Texas’ playbook” and establish a system of courts designed to address business-related disputes [Journal Record]

Gov. Stitt quoted Scripture in a recent speech, but religious leaders are taking issue: Gov. Kevin Stitt’s religious rhetoric has drawn criticism once again, this time from a group of mostly Christian ministers. In an op-ed/open letter, the group of religious leaders said they take issue with the governor’s recent State of the State address, which was heavily laden with Christian Scripture and commentary. The clergy said among other things, they think Stitt quoted Scripture out of context when he delivered his address on Monday at the Oklahoma Capitol. [The Oklahoman]

As Oklahoma’s GOP chooses their Senate leader, firearm industry is front and center: Sometime Monday morning, the 40-member Republican caucus of the Oklahoma Senate will pick a new president pro tempore. The odds-on favorite is Ada Republican Greg McCortney. But the 2024 election for pro tempore is much less about state politics and much more about guns. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma lawmakers consider water metering requirements for irrigators, cannabis growers: The Oklahoma legislature is considering closer monitoring of water use. The Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee advanced two bills that would add metering requirements for cannabis growers and some other irrigators Thursday. [KOSU]

Political notebook: Eastern Oklahoma State College rebuffs merger proposal: The Eastern Oklahoma State College Board of Regents rejected Gov. Kevin Stitt’s proposal that the Wilburton school effectively merge with Carl Albert State College in Poteau, the McAlester News-Capital reported. The two schools will continue to cooperate on curriculum and faculty, the newspaper said. [Tulsa World]

Capitol Insider: Lawmakers begin considering bills as new legislative session begins: After Governor Kevin Stitt’s State of the State Address, legislators began reviewing bills and joint resolutions in the Second Regular Session of the 59th Legislature. [KGOU]

Federal Government News

Editorial, Tulsa World: Lankford shows statesmanship as fellow Republicans show border not in ‘crisis’: By their inaction, Republican lawmakers demonstrated that they do not believe their own rhetoric. For three years, they’ve hammered at the Biden administration for worsening conditions at the U.S. border, calling it a crisis. This past week, they had a chance to act and didn’t. In doing so, they’ve shown that they don’t really believe the border is all that bad in crisis. Concerning perhaps, and certainly political, but not an emergency. [Editorial / Tulsa World]

Tribal Nations News

Rolling Hope: Cherokee Nation’s Mobile Clinic Pioneers Indigenized Harm-Reduction and Addiction Care: The Cherokee Nation Harm Reduction Program is an evidence-based public health strategy designed to mitigate the adverse effects of drug use, such as infectious diseases, overdose, and death. The mobile unit was launched in September 2023 to bring harm-reduction supplies to remote areas of the reservation. Vinita is its first distribution site. [Native News Online]

‘A complicated relationship’: Erwin Chemerinsky talks McGirt, Castro-Huerta, Brackeen: Renowned constitutional scholar Erwin Chemerinsky recently visited the University of Tulsa College of Law to participate in a lecture about free speech and academic freedoms on college campuses. Prior to his lecture, Chemerinsky spoke with NonDoc about his thoughts on federal Indian law issues that have become prominent in Oklahoma since the U.S. Supreme Court’s McGirt v. Oklahoma decision. [NonDoc]

Voting and Election News

Tuesday, Feb. 13, is an election day: For a list of elections, visit the Oklahoma Election Board website. Polls will be open from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. To find your polling place and view a sample ballot for your precinct, use the OK Voter Portal.

  • What to know about candidates for Oklahoma House District 39 in Edmond [The Oklahoman]

Democratic House PACs fined $11,800, set to dissolve: As part of a settlement that includes $11,800 in fines, a political action committee formed to help elect Democrats to the Oklahoma House of Representatives and three affiliated committees will dissolve. [NonDoc]

New Oklahoma County election officials appointed following predecessors’ rare removal: Two Republicans were appointed Friday to a county election board after their predecessors were removed last month. The State Election Board unanimously agreed to appoint former state lawmaker Wayne Pettigrew to serve on the Oklahoma County Election Board and Ernie Wiggins to serve as the GOP alternate. [Oklahoma Voice]

  • State Election Board Approves New GOP Members For Oklahoma County [Oklahoma Watch]

Health News

Stitt names family physician to be new Cabinet secretary for health and mental health: Gov. Kevin Stitt named a new Cabinet secretary this week. On Thursday, Stitt tapped Dr. Corey Finch as secretary of health and mental health. Finch succeeds Kevin Corbett, who was named to the post in 2020 but saw his confirmation stalled in the Senate. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma State Department of Health launches loan repayment program to combat clinician shortages: The Oklahoma State Department of Health and its Office of Primary Care launched a loan repayment program for health professionals working in shortage areas, thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. [KGOU]

Criminal Justice News

Private prison staff terminated following inmate’s death: A prison advocate said a routine overnight cell check would have revealed that an incarcerated man was missing from his cell and prompted an investigation. Improved oversight and surveillance could have prompted officials to respond and intervene in the assault, she said. [Oklahoma Watch]

Stitt endorses court fines and fees reform: Legislative efforts to reduce financial burdens on criminal defendants seem to have momentum at the State Capitol. In his State of State Address, Gov. Stitt urged lawmakers to limit court fines, fees and court costs to “only what is needed for restitution.” The plea came as the governor lauded Oklahoma’s success in reducing its prison population and improving its recidivism rate since he took office. [Oklahoma Watch]

Opinion: More time is being spent in Oklahoma jails. What did a task force discover?: The jail population in Oklahoma has not kept pace with decreasing crime and arrest rates in recent years, leaving the state with one of the highest incarceration rates in the United States. How can this be? The answer lies in the pretrial system, according to a new report from the MODERN Justice Task Force, commissioned by Gov. Kevin Stitt in July 2023. [Avery Bizzell / The Oklahoman]

Housing & Economic Opportunity

Norman eyes job program for homeless community: While most community efforts to address homelessness involve shelters, food kitchens or some other type of assistance, the City of Norman is considering a plan to offer something far more important: the opportunity to earn a paycheck. [Journal Record]

Oklahoma City initiative gaining ground as dozens of homeless housed, camps cleared: Community organizers have a big goal — reduce chronically unsheltered homelessness in Oklahoma City by 75% by 2025 — and after several months of a new program, they’re making steady progress. [The Oklahoman]

Education News

Average teacher base pay increases 9.3% after lawmakers approve first raise in four years: Oklahoma public school teachers saw a 9.3% average increase in their base pay this school year compared to the previous year, a Tulsa World analysis of payroll data shows. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma schools, universities incorporate AI as state grapples with emerging technology: As Oklahoma officials urge the state to embrace artificial intelligence, in some schools, these systems have already arrived. The three largest districts in the state say they’ve begun to incorporate AI programs, as both school and state leaders see an impetus to get ahead of the emerging technology. [Oklahoma Voice]

After Bacone vandalized, interim president looks toward campus’s future: The Ataloa museum at Bacone College was burgled, and the campus’s sweat lodge was picked to the bone. Bacone’s campus has seen multiple acts of vandalism and break-ins since the Indigenous-focused college closed before spring semester. [Tulsa World]

After years of turmoil, Western Heights’ new leadership seeks to rebuild trust with voters: With a new superintendent and a new board of education, Western Heights district leaders are now seeking to rebuild trust they fear may have suffered during the extended period of turmoil. How well they’ve done that could well be shown Tuesday, when voters consider a $2.96 million bond proposal, the first put forward by the district since 2017. [The Oklahoman]

General News

How PETA became Ryan Walters’ latest target: The Oklahoma State Superintendent has unexpectedly directed his attention towards the animal rights group, making it the latest and most surprising target. [The Black Wall Street Times]

After husband’s slaying by son, Cathy Costello promotes mental health crisis training: Years after the stabbing death of Oklahoma’s labor commissioner, Mark Costello, his wife Cathy talks about how her volunteer work as a crisis intervention trainer has helped thousands of emergency responders. [Tulsa World]

Tulsa Race Massacre reparations discussion makes its way to City Hall: Last week, the organizers of Beyond Apology, a community-led discussion designed to educate Tulsans about possible reparations and repair for those harmed by the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, presented their final report to city councilors and the mayor. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Cathy Cummings, Vito’s Ristorante owner and former mayor of The Village, dies at 62 [The Oklahoman]
  • Del City authorizes exploring legal action to prevent county from building jail next door [The Oklahoman]
  • Norman Public Schools superintendent receives 2.25% raise, contract extension through 2027 [The Oklahoman]
  • Low morale, leadership concerns cited in surveys of Tulsa Police Department personnel [Tulsa World]
  • Oklahoma Baptists eye moving headquarters to former Sonic HQ in Lower Bricktown [The Oklahoman]
  • Moore mayor esteemed for 30 years of service: ‘An institution in our metro.’ [The Oklahoman]

Quote of the Day

“We believe that that is harmful to the state budget and not helpful to everyday, working Oklahomans. A tax cut at that level will really help the wealthiest Oklahomans, not your average person who’s in that $40,000 to $50,000 range.”

-House Minority Leader Cyndi Munson (D-OKC), speaking against proposals that would cut the state’s personal income tax. [NonDoc]

Number of the Day


The percentage of Oklahoma residents of all ages who have gotten the COVID-19 bivalent booster. Only eight counties — Cleveland, Noble, Oklahoma, Tulsa, Payne, Canadian, Pottawatomie, and McIntosh — have booster vaccination rates at or above the state average. [New York Times

Policy Note

Do We Simply Not Care About Old People?: The COVID-19 pandemic would be a wake-up call for America, advocates for the elderly predicted: incontrovertible proof that the nation wasn’t doing enough to care for vulnerable older adults. The death toll was shocking, as were reports of chaos in nursing homes and seniors suffering from isolation, depression, untreated illness, and neglect. Around 900,000 older adults have died of COVID-19 to date, accounting for 3 of every 4 Americans who have perished in the pandemic. [KFF]

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David Hamby has more than 25 years of experience as an award-winning communicator, including overseeing communication programs for Oklahoma higher education institutions and other organizations. Before joining OK Policy, he was director of public relations for Rogers State University where he managed the school’s external communication programs and served as a member of the president’s leadership team. He served in a similar communications role for five years at the University of Tulsa. He also has worked in communications roles at Oklahoma State University and the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce in Arkansas. He joined OK Policy in October 2019.