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Top Lawmakers Defend Legislature's Authority, Dismiss Concept of Stitt as 'State CEO'

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The top state lawmakers from both parties sat down for a public affairs panel with the Oklahoma State Chamber this week, and all of them pushed back on President and CEO Chad Warmington’s opening to a question about the legislature’s working relationship with Gov. Kevin Stitt.

"Some have analogized that the governor is CEO and the legislature is his board of directors. Kind of curious if you all see the relationship that way," Warmington said.

Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City) said lawmakers and the governor had a good first session together and a bit rockier second one, but he was quick to point out the executive, legislative and judicial branches are co-equal, meaning Stitt is not the state CEO.

"I’ve been guilty of using that term in the past, and I will never say those words again because I think it gives the wrong projection that everyone works under that person, including the legislature and the judiciary. And that’s simply not the case," Treat said.

Senate Minority Leader Kay Floyd (D-Oklahoma City) agreed and referenced two lawsuits Treat and House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) filed against the governor, saying he overstepped his authority offering new gaming compacts to four tribes.

"We all bring our skill sets to the table as a coequal branch. Our caucus was supportive of the legal action that was taken by — necessary by Pro Tem Treat and Speaker McCall in order to defend our constitutional authority as the legislature and also our responsibilities," Floyd said.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled for Treat and McCall in one of those lawsuits and denied a request by Stitt to have it reheard. The other lawsuit is pending before the court.

McCall kept the theme of co-equal government going as he described legislators’ working relationship with the governor’s office.

"When we experience a high level of communication between the three coequal branches of government, things operate at a much higher, more efficient level than when we have diminished communication, and last year was — because of the pandemic, there was a lot of diminished communication," McCall said.

House Minority Leader Emily Virgin (D-Norman) agreed with McCall’s assessment, noting Stitt’s proposal to move the state public health lab from Oklahoma City to Stillwater was made without consulting lawmakers or public employees.

"When you make a decision like that and don’t involve those key stakeholders, I think people in business understand that there’s going to be pushback. And so, I think that the governor has made it unnecessarily difficult for himself in implementing some of his priorities by not communicating effectively with the legislature," Virgin said.

In addition to Treat and McCall's lawsuits, lawmakers butted heads with Stitt over budget negotiations last session and were critical of his management of federal coronavirus relief funds.

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