OKLAHOMA CITY — Four years ago, Kevin Stitt walked into the Oklahoma Capitol and filed for governor as a relative unknown.
On Wednesday, the Republican governor’s arrival to file for a second and final gubernatorial term was accompanied by much handshaking and media attention.
He was among the first in the state to file his candidacy paperwork, sealing his intention to run for public office. More than 350 other Oklahomans filed for an assortment of state and federal offices on the first day of Oklahoma’s three-day filing period, which wraps Friday.
After filing, Stitt said he was off to Mar-a-Lago to spend time with former President Donald Trump, who is hosting a fundraiser for Stitt and has already endorsed Stitt.
Stitt will have at least two Republican gubernatorial primary challengers before battling Democratic and independent challengers in a November’s general election. Two Democrats, Joy Hofmeister and Connie Johnson had filed by Wednesday afternoon.
With his wife and two children by his side, Stitt said he’s proven that he’s not afraid to fight bureaucracy or special interest groups. He said special interest groups have already started running political attack ads against him months ahead of June’s Republican primary.
“What’s disappointing about politics is you’re almost rewarded to do nothing,” Stitt said. “And if you do nothing, and if you’re milquetoast and lukewarm on every single thing and you don’t make any decisions, then re-election is pretty easy. But when you’re out there poking the bear, and you’re making change for the betterment of all four million Oklahomans, some of the special interests in the establishment get frustrated.”
Last week, Joel Kintsel, the former director of the Oklahoma Department of Veterans affairs, announced that he, a self-described "Ronald Reagan conservative,” planned to challenge Stitt for the Republican nomination. Kintsel requested and was granted a leave of absence from his state post Monday.
“Oklahoma is in desperate need of a governor who will obey the law, set high ethical standards and do things by the book,” Kintsel said in a statement announcing his candidacy. “The Stitt administration is rife with corruption, self-dealing and cronyism, and Oklahomans deserve another choice.”
Kintsel had not filed for office as of Wednesday afternoon, and his campaign did not return messages seeking comment as of deadline.
Stitt rebuffed Kintsel’s allegations of cronyism and corruption Wednesday, saying it’s “just really, really funny that a career bureaucrat that works in the administration is talking about the state.”
Republican Mark Sherwood has also announced plans to run for governor, writing on his campaign website that it is no longer enough to be “a moderate conservative” who focuses on business and economics.
“Our state is under attack from the rogue Biden communist regime,” he wrote on his campaign website. “Even worse, we are left undefended by our current governor, Kevin Stitt, who is unwilling or incapable of leading. To share in this complacency, we have an apathetic legislature, unmotivated in protecting our natural, inalienable rights granted to us by God.”
Sherwood filed Wednesday afternoon.
Stitt said he welcomes any and all challengers because competition is what democracy is all about. Four years ago, there were 10 vying for the Republican primary nomination, he said.
“The more the merrier,” Stitt said. “And let’s have honest conversations about our past experience and how we want to lead the state.”
Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at email@example.com.