On Monday, February 6, Governor Kevin Stitt delivered his State of the State Address, outlining current concerns and his plans for the future of Oklahoma. We published a review of his remarks here.  CAIR Oklahoma is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with a nonpartisan Government Affairs Department. We neither endorse nor support any candidate for any political office.

So, what does the State of the State mean for CAIR Oklahoma?

We’ve outlined the speech itself, touching on a few of the points. But how does this all tie in with our policy platform and advocacy plans?

Gov. Stitt harks back to core principles of faith, family, and freedom.

In Oklahoma, a state that just last year had a bill trying to make the Bible the state book, it is telling that faith and freedom are in different categories. There is no mention of protecting the freedom of or from religion in the State of the State. This session has already seen bills filed with exclusive demands to God and Christian focused discourse; in fact, Gov. Stitt himself drew criticism when he claimed “every square inch” of Oklahoma for Jesus during his inaugural address. For CAIR Oklahoma and our interfaith partners, this is a cause for concern that threatens and intimidates the right to choose and practice one’s own religion.

Another key part of the State of State was education.

Currently Oklahoma ranks in the bottom 10 nationwide for education. A major proposal to rectify this issue from Gov. Stitt is school vouchers. Previously proposed unsuccessfully, these would aim to “fund students” and give parents more choice in their child’s education. However, the reality is that it takes money away from schools (funded by taxpayers) and would force rural schools to close, which would decimate the educational opportunities in smaller communities.

Furthermore, with the teacher shortage as it is, and teachers’ being underpaid, it is hardly a sustainable way to rebuild our school systems. No one thrives when education suffers. The pandemic only exacerbated issues in children’s reading levels, math and other scores. Businesses choose not to move here, and students move away for better opportunities. We remain concerned about efforts to weaken public education, especially with an influx of Afghan children who will be relying on our public school system for their education for years to come.

There were many promising claims about increased job opportunities and the economy in Oklahoma being the third-fastest growing in the U.S.

Gov. Stitt emphasized the point that in Oklahoma, 23,000 new jobs have been created since 2019, and today, Oklahoma now has the third fastest-growing economy in the nation.

Even with the growing job opportunities, Gov. Stitt cites a lack of workforce as a common issue amongst employers. With barriers to employment through mobility and infrastructure (which is lauded in the address) and restrictions on status, this is a problem felt through many communities. He discusses Oklahoma being Top Ten in net domestic migration, a shift that will have profound implications for public policy. However, a notable omission in Gov. Stitt’s speech is any mention of the hundreds of thousands of international immigrants in our state. An estimated 6.1% of Oklahoma’s population are immigrant residents, who contribute millions of dollars in revenue and entrepreneurship – including their valuable contributions to the vibrant and diverse culture in our state. Leaders must truly represent all of the community which they serve, and while Gov. Stitt has made some positive movement in his efforts to support minority-owned businesses through the Minority Business Council, it is always worth calling upon our elected officials to recognize and appreciate the international community they represent.

Besides a line in the beginning welcoming tribal leaders to the address, Gov. Stitt makes no mention of the land we live on, and the 39 tribes represented in Oklahoma. In addition to being the historic first people’s on this land, tribes are collectively the second-largest employer in Oklahoma, and create an estimated $15.6 billion in revenue. We hope to see Gov. Stitt work to improve relationships with our indigenous leadership, which would benefit all Oklahomans collectively.

Another part of our policy platform is criminal justice reform.

While Gov. Stitt highlighted closing prisons, and a reduction of inmates (which stands at 20% over the last three years) Oklahoma is still 3rd in the country in incarceration rates. Furthermore, there is the ongoing planning of the new jail estimated at $290 million dollars, with a majority coming from bonds.In addition, the state has 25 executions scheduled over the next two years. CAIR Oklahoma is a proud member of the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, a longstanding coalition of faith groups, nonprofits, and individuals dedicated to ending capital punishment and supporting persons who are under a sentence of death, as well as their families and friends.We will continue to work with this group and other partners to end the cruel and unjust practice of state-sponsored execution, and we hope to see more advocacy in this area.

“Protecting Oklahomans means engaging in smart and meaningful criminal justice reform. Oklahomans elected me to protect public safety. Over the last four years, we’ve closed four prisons, safely reduced the number of inmates by 5,000,” claimed Gov. Stitt. It is true that several prisons have closed in Oklahoma over the last four years, including a privately run facility in Hinton, OK, which closed in May 2021 due to an executive order by President Biden scaling back the use of for-profit institutions to detain federal prisoners. However, these closures also included the Oklahoma City Community Corrections Center, a community treatment center focused on rehabilitation, which closed in January 2022. Advocates for criminal legal reform remain concerned that conditions inside state-run facilities remain poor, with few opportunities for true rehabilitation that allow incarcerated individuals to rebuild their lives. We hope to see much more positive movement in prison reform from the legislature during this session.

Gov. Stitt declared “democracy is doomed” when special interest groups spread lies and referenced dark money used in campaigns. However, this legislative session has also numerous bills filed targeting democracy. With attacks on state petitions and ballot initiatives, two democratic measures that have been responsible for positive change in recent years, we will continue to advocate for the full participation of the Oklahoma Muslim community at every opportunity. We are also closely watching bills that propose to eliminate straight-party voting, a practice which is only practiced in a small minority of states including Oklahoma, which we believe would increase full participation in down-ballot races (which often have more profound impact on the daily lives of Oklahomans than major races like President or Governor).

Economic issues are still a key concern, but so-called “social issues” also generate contention and dissatisfaction at the Capitol.

Gov. Stitt’s remarks about cutting taxes and business growth predictably generated a lot of noise from his audience. However, fact checks of his remarks regarding our economic growth don’t mention our state’s declining gross domestic product, which places us at 30th in the country between the first and second quarters of 2022. It’s also notable that a proposed elimination of the state tax on groceries would provide only a modest benefit to the majority of Oklahoma families. Despite concerns that weakening the state’s tax base threatens vital social services, an elimination of the grocery tax remains a popular bipartisan idea.

A round of applause was heard after he called for any bills limiting gender affirming care, with dozens of protestors barred from attending outside. A sizeable crowd stood outside the chambers where the Governor made his speech, advocating against measures that many consider to be attacks on the transgender community. While we recognize that issues related to LGBTQ+ identity are complex and sensitive, we remain concerned about measures that threaten the right of medical privacy, and we believe that complex decisions about healthcare should be up to patients, their parents (if they are minors), and their doctors – not the state legislature. Although many consider these issues to be “fringe” concerns, we must also keep in mind that threats to the civil rights of any community are threats to all of us.

Economic growth is laudable, but not enough to bolster Oklahoma’s struggling communities.

While the State of the State received raucous applause, the assembly excluded the people who were not aware of or able to obtain the tickets required for entry – a new measure which will prove challenging in a building that is intended to be the Peoples’ House. And although the State of the State address rarely contains substantive policy suggestions, we hope that Gov. Stitt will make more of an effort to include and support the minority and marginalized populations of Oklahoma. “Faith, family, and freedom” are powerful words, and if they come with good-faith action to bolster our struggling school system, to solve the housing crisis in our communities, and to protect the rights of all Oklahomans, we will gladly accept them from the Governor’s office or any other leader who chooses to engage. But when we neglect our own people and target marginalized communities, spending valuable tax dollars and legislative time on issues that will never truly serve the whole community, our state will never reach Top 10.