As Tulsa mortgage broker Kevin Stitt tells the story, he started his wildly successful career as a mortgage banker with little more than “$1,000 and a computer.”
He has considerably more than that now, but he hopes his work ethic and his political outsider status will help turn him into Oklahoma’s next governor.
“Polling shows that outsiders poll well,” said Stitt, who despite being an unknown politically reported raising more than $800,000 for his governor campaign during the third quarter of 2017. “All I know is hard work … I only know one speed, and that’s just getting it done.”
In October alone, Stitt met with school board officials in Durant, officially launched his campaign in Tulsa, toured the port of Muskogee, spoke to KFAQ’s Pat Campbell on the radio and was interviewed on KOCO television in Oklahoma city, held campaign events in Lawton, visited a McAlester hospital, practiced with Tulsa firefighters in full uniform, attended a cookoff in Duncan and gave a guest lecture at Oklahoma State University.
Stitt said he decided last March to run for governor, and though he has never run for office before, he felt “as a man of faith,” that he was being called to do so.
“I feel like it’s something I’m supposed to do,” he said. “Ten years from now, if I hadn’t done it, I’d regret it. I tell people that I hope this is for me to win, and it’s not just to teach me a lesson.”
Historically in Oklahoma it has been difficult for candidates with little to no political history to rise immediately to the rank of governor. The last example, democrat David Walters, ended poorly. Walters, who was elected in 1990, eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor election violation while in office.
But still, Stitt — who describes himself as the lone non-politician of the group seeking to become governor — is confident his message and his energy level will get him over the hump.
“I don’t think the guys who got us in this mess are going to get us out,” Stitt said, referencing the severe budget issues facing Oklahoma. “If a football team is broken, you don’t hire a replacement internally.”
— Governor Kevin Stitt (@GovStitt) October 30, 2017
That message was perhaps pointed in the direction of fellow candidate Todd Lamb, who has served as Oklahoma’s lieutenant governor under Gov. Mary Fallin since 2011. Like Stitt, Lamb has enjoyed great success fundraising, reporting having raised more than $600,000 during the third quarter.
“I really believe if we keep electing the same guys, people on the career ladder, we’ll continue to be in the same situation,” Stitt said. “We need someone with a fresh outlook … the only way to do that is to elect someone who is not worried about being re-elected, but whose focus is always on what’s best for the 4 million Oklahomans 10 years from now.”
Stitt said he has been meeting with legislators recently, asking them what role a governor can play going forward to solve or prevent future budget crises. Though it’s up to legislators to fund state agencies, Stitt said a governor “can sure promote a vision.”
“We’ve got agencies who are mismanaged, who are losing money. … we have to have a vision for the state that is better than what we have right now,” he said. “I think we can be a top 10 state in education, in infrastructure, in growth. When a governor says that and proclaims it, it gives a vision for everyone to rally behind.”
To that, Stitt says he supports an increase in the gross production tax to help fill the budget hole. Under Oklahoma law, oil wells are taxed at a rate of 7 percent, though “newly spudded” wells are taxed at only 2 percent for their first 36 months.
On Tuesday a bill, House Bill 1054, that included a raise on the GPT on new horizontal wells from 2 to 4 percent passed House and Senate committees, though its future remains murky.
Stitt said he tends to think about issues like the GPT in terms of the surrounding states. In theory, a low GPT would draw oil and gas companies to Oklahoma as opposed to other states with higher taxes. Across the board comparisons are difficult, but critics of Oklahoma’s comparatively low GPT have argued there’s room to increase the tax on new wells while still taxing at a rate lower than nearby states.
“I love the oil and gas industry, but I don’t think you should have a special rate in our state compared to other local states,” Stitt said.
Though a year remains until election day, Stitt said he intends to keep the pressure on other candidates — he said he has told his team he wants to have 15 events scheduled in Oklahoma City by the end of 2017 as he tries to expand his name-recognition out west.
“I’m a different kind of candidate,” Stitt said. His campaign has not delved yet into more hot button political or social issues, and his website only lists things like economic prosperity and education reform under the “issues” tab.
Nevertheless, he describes himself as a conservative family man who hopes his vision inspires Oklahomans to dream big.
“I’m a father. My wife and I have been married 19 years. I have six children,” he said. “I’m a conservative person and a business guy who wants to see our state grow.”