In The Know: Grand jury indicts three in Swadley’s scandal | Reparations study released on Tulsa Race Massacre | 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. 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

Three indicted on conspiracy charges in Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen scheme: A multicounty grand jury has indicted three current and former Swadley’s restaurant group executives on felony charges of conspiracy to defraud the state in connection with Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen’s failed multi-million dollar overhaul of restaurants at Oklahoma state parks. [The Frontier]

  • ‘Serious charges’: Grand jury indicts Tim Hooper, Brent Swadley, Curt Breuklander [NonDoc]
  • Three indicted on Oklahoma fraud charges in Swadley’s probe [Oklahoma Voice]
  • Swadley’s Bar-B-Q owner, two others indicted on criminal fraud, conspiracy charges [KOSU]
  • Swadley’s Bar-B-Q owner Brent Swadley, two others indicted, charged with conspiracy, fraud [The Oklahoman]

State Government News

Oklahoma lawmakers talk tax policy ahead of Board of Equalization meeting: Oklahoma legislators on Thursday reaffirmed their priorities for this legislative session, including tax policy, and education. The feasibility of a tax cut and a possible elimination of the state’s portion of the grocery tax largely dominated the discussion between lawmakers and attendees of the Oklahoma Press Association’s 2024 Legislative Summit at the Capitol Thursday afternoon. [Journal Record]

It’s been nearly 10 years since lawmakers last addressed civil asset forfeiture. Gov. Stitt has asked for change: Reforming the civil asset forfeiture system is back on the table after Gov. Kevin Stitt challenged state lawmakers to make changes during his State of the State speech. [The Oklahoman]

Legislation would strictly limit number of virtual school days in Oklahoma: A bill that advanced to the Senate floor this week would prohibit traditional public schools from using virtual instruction days except in cases of inclement weather, building maintenance issues or lack of staff due to illnesses. [Oklahoma Voice]

GOP political fight brewing over who will be the next Oklahoma Senate leader: Although closed-door legislative caucus elections are typically a quiet affair, the election for a new Senate leader has drawn scrutiny from some Republicans outside the Capitol who have criticized the chamber’s current leadership amid disputes over high-profile legislation. [Oklahoma Voice]

Bill named for missing Welch girls advances in Oklahoma House: House Bill 2946, by Rep. Steve Bashore, R-Miami, would add accessory to first- or second-degree murder to the list of charges for which conviction requires that at least 85% of the original sentence be served. [Tulsa World]

Moore physician Corey Finch named state secretary of health: Moore physician Corey Finch was named state secretary of health and mental health on Thursday by Gov. Kevin Stitt. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Agriculture Department dishes out farm to table grants to dozens of school lunchrooms: The Local Food for Schools Program began in 2023 and as of January, almost 250 Oklahoma school districts have received grants through the project. Officials say because of its success, there is no more available funding. In the program, school districts work with local producers to bring food — everything from watermelons to hamburger patties — to students during breakfast and lunch. [KOSU]

Public funds pay private education expenses: The State of Oklahoma is doling out public funds to pay for private school tuition and other fees for school kids across the state including those from very affluent families. A $150 million special fund for parents whose children attend private schools has drawn over 30,000 applicants. There is no income limit for families who apply so the funds could potentially go to those with hundreds of thousands of dollars – or more – in annual income. [Oklahoma Eagle]

The Frontier fact-checked Gov. Stitt’s 2024 State of the State address: During his sixth State of the State address this week, Gov. Kevin Stitt called for tax cuts, asserted the state’s authority in ongoing disputes with tribal nations and said he wanted to promote marriage as a way to lift families out of poverty. The Frontier used government statistics and other public records and sources to fact-check select portions of Stitt’s speech. [The Frontier]

  • Long Story Short: Analyzing the State of the State Speech (audio) [Oklahoma Watch]

This Week in Oklahoma Politics: State of the State, bills at the Capitol, Senator James Lankford and more (audio): The panel discuss the governor’s wish list to lawmakers during the State of the State Address to kick off the 2024 legislative session, his call for a flat budget at state agencies while pushing for a cut to income taxes and a look at some of the bills already making their way through the legislature. [KOSU]

Federal Government News

Oklahoma attorney general asks Congress for more assistance for crime victims: Victim services agencies in Oklahoma and on tribal land could receive less financial support in 2024, but Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond is asking Congress to make sure funding is maintained.  [The Oklahoman]

Abandoned by his colleagues after negotiating a border compromise, James Lankford faces backlash alone: A former youth minister in the Baptist church, Lankford, 55, is known as one of the most sincere and well-liked members of the Senate. He’s a conservative who rarely votes against his party, has long championed stricter measures at the border and has been supportive of former President Donald Trump. So his colleagues’ swift and outright rejection of the deal he has spent weeks and months negotiating — and their willingness to completely abandon Lankford in the process, after many of them indicated they were supportive of the direction of the talks — is all the more remarkable. [AP via Tulsa World]

Opinion: Republicans can’t take ‘yes’ for an answer when Trump says ‘no’: If you want to see what happens when a dog catches a car, look at Republicans in Congress. For decades, the GOP has increasingly been focused on immigration, spurred by a xenophobia intent on stemming the flow of immigrants from Latin America that was, 20 or so years ago, confined to a small but vocal wing of the party but now makes up the bulk of Republicans. [Jim Small / Oklahoma Voice]

Voting and Election News

Norman City Council Election: 

  • Norman Ward 4: Helen Grant challenged by Judy Moss [NonDoc]
  • Norman Ward 6: Jerry Drewery, Joshua Hinkle disagree on homelessness, entertainment district [NonDoc]
  • Norman Ward 8: Hurley, Dixon seek seat opened by redistricting [NonDoc]

Editorial, Tulsa World: Update Oklahoma election laws to give voters freedom to make more candidate choices: Oklahoma’s bottom ranking in voter turnout is likely the consequence of the state’s woefully outdated and exclusionary election laws. It’s time Oklahoma voters demand a better marketplace for ideas and the freedom to make choices. [Editorial / Tulsa World]

Criminal Justice News

Oklahoma judge who texted hundreds of times during murder trial is quitting: The judge who repeatedly texted and got on Facebook during a murder trial last year is resigning. Lincoln County District Judge Traci Soderstrom agreed Thursday to step down and never seek any judicial position again in Oklahoma. Her resignation will go into effect at 5 p.m. Friday. [The Oklahoman]

A SWAT team callout leads to profane encounter between law enforcement officers: A dispute captured by body camera footage between Lexington police officers and Cleveland County sheriff’s deputies has gone viral amid ongoing strain between the two law enforcement agencies and a renewed investigation into accusations of animal cruelty. [The Oklahoman]

Housing & Economic Opportunity

Judge grants receivership to bank after Tulsa apartment complex water hearing: A judge granted the bank’s request to receive the property near 57th and Lewis, but tenants who testified on Monday say they are still going home to unlivable conditions. Chelsea Flowers shared her concerns about the property with News On 6 last month, and shortly after airing her story, she said the apartment’s management left her an eviction notice on her door. [News on 6]

Oklahoma City receives $7.1 million federal grant for homelessness initiatives: The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced Thursday it has awarded Oklahoma City a $7.1 million grant to aid the city’s homelessness programs. [The Oklahoman]

Tulsa landlord at odds with nonprofit serving Tulsa’s poor given more time to rehab properties: In a case that’s thrown into relief Tulsa’s deeper equality issues, a landlord cited for nuisance properties will get three more months to comply after he appealed the city’s findings. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Education News

Education Watch: State Sues Vendor Over Covid-Era Program (Again): The state recently filed its second lawsuit against a vendor that distributed federal COVID-19 relief funds through two of the governor’s education programs in 2020. [Oklahoma Watch]

Opinion: For Oklahoma schools to get back to basics, teachers need to be trained: Without diversity, equity and inclusion programs, and without proper anti-bias and antiracist training, Oklahoma schools are sure to be anything but “basic” both now and in the future. [Aaron Baker / The Oklahoman]

Opinion: Make no mistake, Superintendent Ryan Walters seeks state takeover of schools: Tulsans appear to believe that the threat of a state takeover of Tulsa Public Schools has passed. It has not, and consequences will be statewide. If anything, State Superintendent Ryan Walters indicates that he plans to carry through with his original plans. Consider the actions and words leading to this current moment. [Ashley Heider Daly / Tulsa World]

Opinion, Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell: Listen to CareerTech students explain how their lives were changed: February is National Career and Technical Education Month, and as Secretary of Workforce and Economic Development, there’s nothing I love to brag on more than Oklahoma CareerTech. [Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell / Tulsa World]

General News

Beyond Apology: A Historic Step Towards Reparations in Tulsa:  The Beyond Apologies report, a culmination of community perspectives, seeks repair and reparation in Tulsa, Oklahoma, particularly addressing the ongoing impact of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. The authors acknowledged the foundations laid by State Representative Don Ross, the late Senator Maxine Horner, the 2001 Race Riot Commission Report, and Eddie Faye Gates. [The Black Wall Street Times]

Opinion: If the Oklahoma way is to look out for one another, why are politicians casting people out?: We are at the start of the legislative year and going into an election year. This is the time of year, as a veteran, I hear, “A vote for me is a vote for the veterans.” As a former law enforcement officer, I hear, “A vote for me is backing the Blue.” As a combat veteran that fought in the War on Terrorism, completing four different combat tours, you would think politicians would want my vote, but I am a transgender person, and this legislative body has already placed multiple bills that would erase transgender people’s civil protections within this state. [Casey Fox / The Oklahoman]

Opinion: Parents’ rights getting in the way of parental responsibility: Increasingly, lawmakers are proposing legislation on the assumption that all families and adults are healthy and clear-minded. The idea that “parents know best” doesn’t work when mom has an opioid addiction or dad occasionally hits the kids. That happens more than we’d like to think. Oklahoma families aren’t healthy right now. [Ginnie Graham / Tulsa World]

Quote of the Day

“Nobody deserves to have to live like this. No matter what your situation is. No matter if you’re on housing. No matter if you were incarcerated. We are all still human, and at the end of the day, everybody deserves a good place to lay their head down.”

-Tulsa resident Chelsea Flowers, who was evicted from her apartment after raising concerns about health and safety issues, including having no hot water. [News on 6]

Number of the Day


Among Arizona private schools that posted tuition rates, nearly half of the schools, tuition increased in at least some grades by 10 percent or more since 2022 when the state implemented universal school choice. Nearly all schools raised tuition, and in five of those cases, schools hiked tuition by more than 20 percent. [Hechinger Report]

Policy Note

Arizona Lawmakers Face Big Deficit Due Mostly to Massive Tax Cut and School Voucher Expansion: Less than six months after they celebrated passing a bipartisan budget, Arizona lawmakers face a steep deficit due mostly to plummeting revenues from a massive tax cut that took full effect last year and skyrocketing costs from a school voucher program expansion. A year ago, the state had a budget surplus of $1.8 billion. Now, it has a shortfall of about $400 million for the current fiscal year and another $450 million shortfall in the following year. [U.S. News & World Report]

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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.