OKLAHOMA CITY — For the first time, Jacob Rosecrants found himself invited to the Governor’s mansion to meet with the state’s top executive.
The Democratic state representative, who was first elected in 2017, said as a member of the minority party, he’d never been invited before.
“There’s a big difference between what we had and what we have now, and that’s accessibility,” said Rosecrants, D-Norman. “He’s disarming. He’s just a regular dude and that’s what I really like about him the most.”
He’s the type of guy Rosecrants would like to sit down with and have a beer.
Stitt’s down-to-earth leadership style coupled with his charisma and business acumen is changing the way the state’s top executive office operates and is perceived, observers say.
Supporters and critics alike say they’re impressed that Oklahoma’s newest governor managed to get his entire first-year agenda passed by the sometimes-fractious Legislature. They’re pleased by how accessible he’s been. And they say his “political outsider” persona has seemingly come at the perfect time.
“I think what he was able to accomplish was just tremendous,” said State Rep. Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher.
Sanders said people were initially unsure about Stitt, a CEO with no state governing experience. But Stitt quickly surrounded himself with good staff and worked to bring the House and Senate leadership together, Sanders said.
He’d give Stitt’s performance so far a “solid A.”
“I absolutely liked his leadership style,” Sanders said. “Very engaging. Unlike other leaders that I’ve worked with (who) have kind of let their staff control the narrative, he was right in the middle of everything.”
Still some say it’s too soon to grade Stitt’s performance. Because he took office during a good economy and budget year, they’re still unsure how effective and liked he’ll be the first time he faces adversity. And, they say it remains to be seen how much influence interest groups and lobbyists ultimately will have over his policy decisions.
Rosecrants said he’s not sure how long the “Honeymoon period” will last.
“The backslapping, good times was a little bit much sometimes,” he said.
He said he’d give Stitt’s performance the first five months a “C” or C-plus.
Rosecrants said he’s seen indications that some of Stitt’s veto decisions were influenced by special interests.
“It looked like they had his ear on many things,” he said.
Also, a lot of laws got passed during Stitt’s first session that didn’t do a whole lot, and Stitt has flip-flopped on whether the state should expand Medicaid access, Rosecrants said.
Still, Rosecrants said Stitt didn’t do too badly “for a guy who’s never been in politics before.”
Educators really liked Stitt’s accessibility, and how he listened to them, said Katherine Bishop, vice president of the Oklahoma Education Association.
“Gov. Stitt’s first session was really a mixed bag. There were some wins and there were some losses,” she said.
Stitt helped teachers obtain an average $1,220 raise and increased classroom funding by another $75 million. But he failed to increase pay for school support professionals, made some disappointing education appointments and decided to save $200 million that could have instead gone to shore up other needs, she said.
Bishop said it’s too soon to grade his performance.
Chad Warmington, president of the Petroleum Alliance of Oklahoma, said he’s impressed Stitt was able to convince the Legislature to save the extra $200 million to help weather the next economic downturn.
“He does not think like a career bureaucrat or public official,” Warmington said. “He’s the ultimate insider in that he’s governor of the state, but he’s got the ultimate outsider viewpoint, meaning that his frame of reference is from a business perspective. He’s bringing a really solid understanding of how our businesses operate, and he’s bringing a really strong sense of fiscal discipline to state government.”
He said he’d give Stitt’s overall performance an “A-plus.”
Stitt said he worked across party lines to change the vision and culture of the state. He said he’s crafted a more collegial, coworker relationship and enjoys rolling up his sleeves and working to get things done.
Still, he said he struggled his first session to get people to trust him and believe that he had no alternative agenda. He said he stayed laser-focused on his agenda and didn’t play the “normal political stuff.”
“Another big advantage I had is not being in this building for 20 years,” he said. “I hadn’t made a lot of relationships good or bad and did not have a lot of people to repay and didn’t have a lot of favors to return.”
Stitt said he’d give his first session performance an “A” because there’s always room for improvement.
“I don’t want to get overconfident, but we feel like we had a really successful freshman season, and now we’re getting prepared for next session, and we expect to have as much success next year,” he said.