Republican gubernatorial candidate Kevin Stitt visited with a handful of Osage County residents Jan. 10 during a town hall event at Pawhuska Community Center to explain the reason he is running for Oklahoma’s highest office.
“As a man of faith, I just feel as though this is something I’m supposed to do,” Stitt said. “It was a difficult decision to make. I’m more of a guy who is usually behind the scenes. I like to just do my job and execute and do what I’m supposed to do. I just got this feeling that I am supposed to run, so I made the decision to do it.”
Stitt was raised in Norman, where he attended Norman High School. He received an accounting degree from Oklahoma State University in 1996 and then became a mortgage lender. In 2000, Stitt started Gateway Mortgage Group — a company that employs more than 1,110 people in 145 offices nationwide.
Stitt said as he traveled across the country he noticed that other states were gaining jobs and growing the economy, where Oklahoma has had negative job growth and stagnant economic opportunity.
“I come back to Oklahoma, the state that I love where I’m growing my business and raise my family, and it just feels like we’re down in the dumps a little bit,” Stitt said. “Last year, we had a 3 percent negative growth, where all the states around us are growing tremendously. We are going to four-day school weeks to save money. We have a budget deficit that they can’t seem to fix.”
As a conservative political outsider, Stitt said he is the person to lead Oklahoma to prosperity, instead of having career politicians keeping the state in the same direction.
“I look at who is going to lead us, who is going to run for governor, and to me it looks like more of the same — the career politicians that are running for the next step in the ladder,” Stitt said. “I truly believe we are going to be in the exact same situation eight years from now if we keep electing the same folks. I want to take off from my company, go serve my state and get us growing again.”
Oklahoma can be in the top 10 of states for job growth again, Stitt said, by taking advantage of the new corporate income tax cuts from the U.S. Congress and the Trump administration. But to be successful in that, improvements to public education and efficiency in state government must be found, he said.
“I look at everything in what I call ‘market.’ So, to me the market is a six state footprint around Oklahoma. I believe we have to pay our teachers what the six state footprint around Oklahoma — what Kansas pays, what Arkansas pays, what Texas pays — and right now we’re not paying market rate,” Still said. “In my business, if I paid $10,000 less that the market, I’m not going to get not the highest quality underwriters, and eventually we would go out of business. We have to promote education, make sure we are sending money in the classroom and not at the administration level, and that we are promoting that profession. The teachers have really been taking it hard recently with the rhetoric around their profession.”
Stitt also recognizes there needs to be more efficiency in state government and legislators need more control over the budgeting process.
“As a conservative Republican, we know we have to provide services to our citizens, we just want to do it as effectively and efficiently as possible,” Stitt said. “No one is aligning how we working through all these different agencies.”
Stitt lives in Tulsa with his wife and six children.