In The Know: Gov.’s honeymoon appears over; frustration growing with state unemployment system; and more

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. Subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Note: During the pandemic, OK Policy will be publishing In The Know on Saturdays and Sundays in order to keep our subscribers up to date on the latest information going on in the state and the nation.  

Oklahoma News

Gov. Kevin Stitt’s political honeymoon appears over: Gov. Kevin Stitt’s political honeymoon has come to an abrupt end. It’s unclear specifically when the honeymoon ended, but tension between Stitt and Oklahoma’s Legislature has grown thick in recent months as the state’s financial outlook took a turn for the worse. Legislative leaders, who once were relieved a new governor was in town, now seem more willing to publicly challenge Stitt. Meanwhile, Stitt’s aggressive push to renew the state’s tribal gaming compacts seems to have strained his relationship with Attorney General Mike Hunter. [The Oklahoman]

As unemployment climbs to record highs, many who have been waiting weeks for assistance grow frustrated with system: As new unemployment figures show new claims in Oklahoma climbed to their highest level yet last week, close to half of Oklahoma workers who have filed for unemployment have yet to receive assistance, according to state officials. And while state officials say getting the promised unemployment funds to workers is a top priority, many of those who have yet to be helped have become skeptical of official explanations for the delays in the nearly two months since businesses in the state began to close because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. [The Frontier] The surge in workers out of a job due to the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed outdated unemployment systems across the U.S. But has it also revealed a system designed to discourage collecting unemployment? While OESC denies such allegations, that seems to be the takeaway from some. [Tulsa World]

Coronavirus in Oklahoma: Oklahoma’s number of positive COVID-19 cases now stands at 4,490, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health. The Health Department reported four additional deaths on Saturday — two of them occurring in the past 24 hours and two from May 6 – May 7. [The Oklahoman] Visit for the latest COVID-19 numbers in Oklahoma.

Health News

Under a bigger threat from COVID-19, Tulsa nursing homes and retirement centers remain under tight restrictions: While the rest of the state has emerged from shelter-at-home orders, Oklahoma nursing homes and many retirement communities remain under tight lockdowns, with strict limits on who can come and go. [Tulsa World]

Tulsa County could see surge: The four- and seven-day rolling averages of new positive cases here have trended upward for the past month, as well as the simple daily numbers, despite the city’s shelter-in-place order not expiring until nine days ago. [Tulsa World]

At health chief’s last job, auditors found problems: The last time state auditors looked at an agency run by Gary Cox, now Oklahoma’s health commissioner, they found “blatant favoritism,” nepotism, violations of the whistleblower act, poor morale, questionable spending and 196 instances of embezzlement due to a lack of effective controls. [The Oklahoman]

Alternative to the dreaded nasal swab? OSU lab ready for COVID tests using simpler, safer saliva samples: A diagnostics lab at Oklahoma State University is poised to begin the first in-state processing of COVID-19 saliva tests. This new alternative is far less invasive for patients than the deep nasal swab test currently in wide use for detecting the novel coronavirus. [Tulsa World]

State Government News

Absentee voting fight likely not over: Absentee voting in Oklahoma, generally an afterthought during elections, has become a front-burner issue during the COVID-19 pandemic. [The Oklahoman] The new measure has received significant criticism from Democrats, while Republicans have praised the quick turnaround of the new bill. [Tahlequah Daily Press] OK Policy: Lawmakers had the opportunity this week to take a stand for election integrity — they chose not to.

Political notebook: Democrats say hiring of ex-GOP legislator fulfills their prophecy: Democrats said Friday’s hiring of former Republican lawmaker Mike Jackson to run a new government oversight agency seemed to confirm their worst suspicions about the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency. LOFT, as it’s known, has been a pet project of Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Edmond, with the support of House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka. Its purpose is to create state fiscal data independent of individual agencies. [Tulsa World]

Editorial: Oklahoma gaming divide not narrowing: On the topic of gaming, the chasm between the governor’s office and many of Oklahoma’s Indian tribes could not be wider. It appears only the courts will be able to narrow it. [The Oklahoman]

Opinion: Kevin Stitt learns the limits of being the most powerful governor in Oklahoma history: Gov. Stitt is becoming increasingly isolated in his long struggle with the state’s resident Indian nations over the future of gambling at tribal casinos and the state’s share of the winnings. [Opinion / Tulsa World]

Federal Government News

U.S. Supreme Court to hear arguments in case that could redefine eastern Oklahoma: The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear arguments Monday in a case that could determine whether the Five Tribes still have reservations on the eastern Oklahoma land to which they were forcibly relocated in the 19th century. A decision in the case, expected this summer, could have major implications for criminal and civil law and state and local regulations in nearly half of Oklahoma. Should the high court rule that the tribal reservations still exist, Congress may have to sort out the myriad issues certain to emerge. [The Oklahoman]

Criminal Justice News

Editorial: Pardon and Parole Board can be lightning rod: The work of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board has long been a part of corrections-related policy discussions, especially as the state has moved to shake its ranking as the country’s No. 1 incarcerator, per capita. The board remains a hot topic. [The Oklahoman]

‘Let’s Talk’ takes on topic of incarceration during a pandemic: Kris Steele, executive director of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, and Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado will be the guests on the next “Let’s Talk” Tulsa World virtual town hall. The two will discuss the challenges of holding people in prisons and jails during a global pandemic. [Tulsa World]

Op-Ed: Legal aid is a front-line responder: The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted some of the best and worst aspects of our society. Many are meeting the challenge — providing critical services, caring for others and keeping us all safe. Simultaneously, we see tens of thousands of our neighbors suddenly jobless, struggling to keep the lights on and a roof over their heads. Legal aid lawyers are working tirelessly to help our neighbors navigate these new and complicated challenges. [Op-Ed / The Oklahoman]

Economic Opportunity

An opportunity for a better life’: Nonprofit nonprofit focuses on homeless moms, children: Tulsa nonprofit’s Mother’s Day fundraiser focusing on homeless moms, children: Family Promise of Tulsa County works with partner churches to provide shelter, meals and a variety of other services for families, while they complete a program that helps them move toward independence. [Tulsa World]

In rural Oklahoma, a Wi-Fi hot spot brings a dash of hope and excitement: At high schools and libraries, in parking lots and side streets, Americans are tapping public Wi-Fi hot spots that are now serving as lifelines during the coronavirus pandemic. The hot spots had already served as crucial stopgaps for people, particularly students, before the outbreak. But with the pandemic pushing large parts of American life online, including work, school, medical care, religion and socializing, the internet connections are now a crucial part of daily life for the people who depend on them. [NBC News]

Economy & Business News

Governor visits businesses as COVID-19 reopening plan continues apace: Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt paid visits to an Oklahoma City fitness center and a department store, both of which were allowed to open last week under the governor’s reopening plan. If hospital rates remain at a “manageable level” for the next week, Stitt’s plan calls for organized sports activities, funerals and weddings, and children’s nursery operations at houses of worship to resume next Friday. [Public Radio Tulsa]

OKC barber optimistic about future after virus: Business owners are now facing tough decisions on when and how to reopen following the outbreak of one of the deadliest pandemics in decades. [The Oklahoman]

Corporation Commission adopts oil, utility measures to address pandemic concerns: The Oklahoma Corporation Commission has adopted an emergency rule that aims to regulate how and where crude is stored at off-lease locations. The measure provides rules to entrepreneurs and oil and gas operators looking for ways to store low-cost surplus crude at off-lease locations until prices improve. [The Oklahoman]

Air travel to dwindle in the future in Oklahoma?: If one investment expert’s prediction is correct, we won’t see as many jetliners flying in and out of Oklahoma City’s Will Rogers World Airport nor the Tulsa International Airport for sometime to come. If anything, instead of national travel, business leaders will be resorting to the fast-growing Zoom video-conferencing tool. [OK Energy Today]

Gov. Stitt finds himself in a corn fight over biofuels: A bipartisan group of senators called on the president to reject a previous request for Renewable Fuel Standard waivers from five oil-state governors, reported POLITICO. It means Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt finds himself in a political fight with Senators who are from mostly corn-producing states that rely heavily on the production of biofuels. [OK Energy Today]

Harvesters struggle to recruit foreign crews during pandemic: Kansas harvester Mike Keimig is growing increasingly anxious about whether the foreign seasonal workers he needs to run his nine combines and drive his grain trucks will arrive in time for the start of the winter wheat harvest, which is just weeks away. [AP News]

Education News

Status of school reopenings still unclear in Oklahoma: COVID-19 has thrown Oklahoma school districts and state leaders into a whirlpool of contingency plans, as a model of the 2020-21 school year remains in flux. The ever-changing pandemic creates multiple possibilities, influenced by logistical and financial challenges, that could alter the course of the next school year. [The Oklahoman]

  • Editorial: Local boards best for deciding when to start school this fall and how to do it. [Editorial / Tulsa World]

OU President Joe Harroz ‘chosen for a moment’: The University of Oklahoma Board of Regents named Joe Harroz as permanent president Saturday without a new search process for the position, citing the longtime OU leader’s “steady hand” over a 12-month interim period that has featured the COVID-19 pandemic, among other challenges. [NonDoc] Harroz, 53, has filled the interim position for the past year since the abrupt retirement of former President Jim Gallogly in May 2019. He spent eight years as the dean of the OU College of Law before becoming interim president. [The Oklahoman]

Hacker puts racist language over OCU digital graduation: An unknown individual hacked into a Zoom meeting for Oklahoma City University’s spring graduation today and displayed racist images and language. The incident happened near the conclusion of the OCU digital graduation ceremony. [NonDoc] The university was hosting a virtual commencement for all of its graduating seniors in place of an in-person ceremony. Graduates and their families were invited to call in to participate. [The Oklahoman]

General News

2020 Census: An update on rural response rates: The 2020 Census kicked off in mid-March as the U.S. Census Bureau works to count every person living in the United States and its five territories. Census response rates can have a significant impact on rural communities as each person counted in the census brings an estimated $16,750 to their community over the next 10 years. [Oklahoma Farm Bureau]

Why the Census is important for Black Tulsans: During the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Census may not be top of mind for most of us. However, it’s closely tied to all of the things that we are thinking, worrying, and praying about, especially in the Black community. There are three things I refer to often when talking about what the Census supports: schools, roads, and hospitals. They seemed like parts of everyday life just two months ago, but now, at least two of them are a lifeline for our communities around the country. [Commentary / Black Wall St. Times]

Op-Ed: Fight COVID-19 and injustice: If we place the conservative principles alongside the progressive change tenants of liberalism, the differences between the two appear to be small. Seemingly the disparity arises in the interpretation of core principles shared by liberals and conservatives, subsequently leading to disagreement and conflict. Consequently, we end up in a world torn apart by politics, economics, race and religion. [Op-Ed / Tulsa World]

Commentary: Amhaud Arbery’s killing isn’t just sad — it is infuriating: I said I stand with those who face racism. But it wasn’t enough. I have been complicit in not using this space sooner to call out the injustice that was done not only to Ahmaud Arbery but also to so many of my friends. How can I be silent in the face of such hatred and racism? How can I let such evil to go unchecked? My humanity demands it. [Commentary / The Oklahoman

Oklahoma Local News

  • Pandemic not seen as the end of OKC’s aspirations to become a convention destination [The Oklahoman]
  • Norman City Council draws back on business relief package [Norman Transcript]
  • McAlester ICU manager: Nurses concerned about COVID-19 spread [CNHI]

Quote of the Day

“This has me almost wanting to give up on life. Over a month now without any income, my bills are piling up and my mental health is rapidly declining. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to hold on.”

-An out-of-work Oklahoman talking about delays in receiving and processing state unemployment claims [NonDoc]

Number of the Day


Number of new unemployment claims filed in Oklahoma the week ending May 2, a 30 percent increase in new filings from the previous week. Part of the reason for the jump in new claims was the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission opening up its site for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance funds.

[Source: The Frontier]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

How COVID-19 conspiracy theorists are exploiting YouTube culture: When the notorious conspiracy theorist Alex Jones was kicked off YouTube and Facebook in 2018, the lesson was supposed to be that deplatforming works. Without access to his millions of followers on mainstream social media, Jones became an online ghost, diminished and shouting his dangerous unfinished business to a much smaller audience. But some people online took a second lesson from the change: conspiracy theories, and the people who promote them, can get a lot of views—and money. [MIT Technology Review]

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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.

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