House speaker and governor at odds over communication with Legislature

Donate
Gov. Kevin Stitt speaks to the media on April 17, 2020 in Oklahoma City. BEN FELDER/The Frontier

Gov. Kevin Stitt believes the Speaker of the state House of Representatives is attempting to “censor” his communication with members of the Legislature a week after the two sides battled over a budget that was passed with a veto override. 

“It has come to my attention that you are communicating to the House through many avenues,” House Speaker Charles McCall wrote to Stitt in a May 13 email, which was obtained by The Frontier through an open records request. “During this unprecedented time that would not be good for us or the people of Oklahoma. To ensure this does not happen again, I am asking that for any Republican caucus business you and your team communicate only with my office …”

In the same email McCall, R-Atoka, told Stitt to communicate with the House only through his office. 

Later that day Stitt vetoed a budget he said was crafted without his input. The House and Senate overrode his veto hours later. 

On Monday, Stitt said his approach to working with the Legislature had not changed. 

“It is unclear to me why Speaker McCall would try to censor my communication with my friends and colleagues in the House,” Stitt said in a statement to The Frontier. “It’s been my goal since taking office to build personal relationships with all members of the House and Senate and I have always had an open-door policy with the entire Legislature.

 “As I said earlier this week, Oklahoma is better when we work together. As the governor for all 4 million Oklahomans, I value being able to communicate with the legislators who directly represent each of those 4 million Oklahomans.” 

Get emails from The Frontier

McCall said he did not tell Stitt to stop contacting individual members but to go through his office when negotiating with the Republican caucus. 

McCall sent the following statement to The Frontier:

House Speaker Charles McCall

“The email addressed the need for communications from the executive to the majority Caucus or full House to go through the speaker’s office, as has been the custom between the branches for decades. The email did not address one-on-one communications because I have encouraged the governor to have those very type of conversations with House members ever since he took office, and he does it regularly, as he should. The stated goal of the email was to ensure good communication between the House and executive branch during the busiest week of the legislative session so that nothing would get missed.

“One reason House members have had frustrations with the governor is his recent tendency to mischaracterize issues in the press rather than have direct dialogue, as he is doing again in this case. I anticipate having a productive conversation with the governor on matters like these soon because, as I have said, many House members agree with the governor nine times out of ten and want him to succeed.” 

Last year, during Stitt’s first year in office, the governor and the Republican-controlled Legislature largely worked in sync on the budget and policy issues. Lawmakers granted Stitt expanded power over agency directors and honored his request to boost the state’s savings account. 

This year, a global pandemic and drop in oil prices put more pressure on state leaders faced with nearly $1.7 billion in reduced revenue this fiscal year and next. 

Stitt has described his relationship with legislative leaders as “rocky,” according to NonDoc, which also reported Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat had been frustrated with the governor’s approach. 

I have not appreciated some of the veto messages and some of the language about the Legislature. I wish we could have worked more closely this year, but we didn’t,” said Treat, R-Oklahoma City.

Your financial support for our investigative journalism is now tax deductible. Click here to become a Friend of The Frontier.

Ben Felder

Based in Oklahoma City, Ben Felder joined The Frontier in 2019 and covers education and politics. He previously covered education and government as an investigative reporter at The Oklahoman before becoming the newspaper’s news director. Felder can be reached at ben@readfrontier.com. Follow him on Twitter @benfelder_okc
Donate