On Wednesday, Oct. 19, two Oklahoma Governor candidates took to the stage, giving voters a final chance to view many of their top concerns being addressed between the two parties. Gov. Kevin Stitt, the incumbent Republican, and State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, the Democratic candidate, dealt with topics ranging from personal interest questions, tribal relations, the Oklahoma school system, and capital punishment among several others.
One of the most impactful moments of the debate was Gov. Stitt’s answer in response to his current relations with tribal leaders in Oklahoma.
When asked about the McGirt v. Oklahoma ruling, Gov. Stitt claims it is the “federalization of all of Eastern Oklahoma” and states that the Biden administration now controls the eastern area of the state. Stitt has vehemently opposed the ruling and alienated the Indigenous people of this state, a people he highlights that he and his family are a part of. Additionally, he emphasized fairness for all and that “we should all be Oklahomans”. Hofmeister strategically avoided whether the ruling should include civil cases or not but highlighted the question of sovereignty for the 39 nations present in the state and that they do not all speak with one voice and are not a homogenous group.
In July 2020, the Supreme Court concluded that Jimcy McGirt could not be tried by Oklahoma courts as his charges were committed on Muscogee (Creek) nation territory. While there had been discrepancy that the Muscogee (Creek) nation had been disestablished, the ruling found that it remains intact, and affirmed the Cherokee and Chickasaw nations as well. Due to this, the state of Oklahoma lacks the jurisdiction to prosecute criminal cases involving Native Americans on lands of the Five Tribes (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee [Creek], and Seminole).
Another divisive topic between the candidates was the question of the future of Oklahoma’s schooling system. Under Stitt’s leadership, a proposed school voucher system has created a distinct line between many candidates. It would send taxpayer money to families who wanted to send their children to private schools. For an education system that is already struggling, many see this as further crippling public schools, especially in rural areas. Hofmeister, the current State Superintendent of Public Education, focused on the teacher shortage, lack of further educational staffing in the state, and the brain drain of employees moving to other states.
When it came to the question of capital punishment, the two candidates found common ground and said they would continue the use of the death penalty in Oklahoma. Later, with further commentary about crimes, Hofmeister noted that Oklahoma had a higher crime rate than New York and California, a comment that received some scorn from the incumbent. After fact-checking, it turned out (in context) that Oklahoma does maintain a higher violent crime rate per 100,000 people than the larger coastal states mentioned.
Gov. Stitt, who has made a name for Oklahoma by signing some of the strictest abortion laws in the nation, was pressed on his stance regarding cases of rape, incest or addiction. He said if “the legislature put that on his desk” he would sign it. It is currently unclear what happens to mothers who fall under the few exceptions with the current law. Hofmeister claims to be “personally pro-life” and labels it as a healthcare decision for a woman, her doctor, and her faith.
Oklahoma is a hard-working state, with diverse people and sovereign nations. For voters who do not see news sources or media as reliable, debates offer the opportunity to see first-hand what candidates promise and know about our state. However, we need to see these words in action, and the upcoming election on November 8th is our time to hold officials accountable and demand the changes we deserve.
About the Author: Nicole Baumann received her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Oklahoma City University. During her undergraduate studies, she focused on International Politics and Middle Eastern studies. In 2016, she interned with CAIR Oklahoma and went on to intern with the United Nations Department of Safety and Security in Jerusalem, Palestine. During her studies, she took several classes focused on politics in Islam and religion and spent a semester in Rabat, Morocco.
After graduating, Nicole moved to Belgium where she studied toward a Master of Science in International Politics. Here she concentrated on politics in the Middle East and Europe and completed a thesis on social movements in northern Morocco. Following this program, she interned with the European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights where she advocated for human rights issues in the Gulf countries at the European Parliament. Having spent time in many different environments, she is excited to bring all this back to her home state. Nicole is honored to serve the Muslim community in Oklahoma, and help build bridges of respect, acceptance, and dignity for all.