Mansion fundraising controversy, and looking back at how past governors used the facility (Capitol Update)

Something of a controversy has developed over Gov. Kevin Stitt’s plan to raise about $6.5 million in private funding and build a new governor’s mansion. According to reports, “Friends of the Mansion” has been accepting donations of up to $250,000 from foundations and up to $150,000 from individuals. The controversy has arisen partly because the fundraising was happening outside of public view. 

Television station KFOR in Oklahoma City uncovered minutes of the Friends of the Mansion board after the non-profit organization refused to produce them, and the minutes reveal board members were told to keep the project confidential. Both Friends of the Mansion and the governor have declined to identify the donors. Undisclosed fundraising sometimes raises concerns about possible undue influence the gift may have given donors. 

Another side to the controversy is that since Stitt has been governor the state completed a $2.1 million taxpayer funded renovation of the mansion, including a new roof, new windows, new geothermal heating system, new kitchen, and repairs for the electrical, plumbing, and structural issues, but the governor’s family is not living in the mansion.

The mansion was built in 1927 and was first occupied by the governor’s family in 1928. Although I obviously never lived there (although I gave it a try one time), I’ve had the honor to be there many times. It has been improved several times through the years, but it’s basically a very nice home in the size and style of mansions of the 1920s era that are in many cities and towns in the state. 

I was part of the legislative leadership that met with Gov. George Nigh for breakfast every Thursday morning during legislative session for several years. There were usually four or five legislators present from both the House and the Senate. Sometimes we stood and visited in the kitchen for a while, and there was a nice table in the dining room large enough to accommodate the governor and legislators for breakfast. The governor’s staff was sometimes present. The governor also had receptions and meetings regularly around the fireplace in the living area.

When Gov. Henry Bellmon was elected, he began inviting the Republican leadership team, along with us Democrats, and the group was too large to eat in the dining room. Gov. Bellmon moved the group to a large area on the second floor and set up portable tables for the breakfast meeting. Those meetings only lasted a short while, however, not because of their location, but because the legislators didn’t much want to share their thoughts with the governor in the presence of leaders from the other political party. Too bad, but that’s politics. Guilty as charged. I have fond memories of those years when the governor hosted breakfasts in the mansion.     


Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

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