Oklahomans are starting a bold new experiment in government. For the first time in 16 years, they held an inauguration ceremony for a governor who isn't from Pottawatomie County.
In 2002, Shawnee's Brad Henry won a close race for governor over Steve Largent and Gary Richardson. Henry had an easier time when he ran for re-election. Henry was pretty popular during his two terms. He even helped push through the lottery and solved all education funding issues forever - well, maybe not forever.
Mary Fallin benefited from Oklahoma's shifting political landscape as conservative Democrats became very conservative Republicans. Fallin won in a landslide in 2010 and won re-election easily in 2014.
By 2018, she was apparently less popular.
After a long teacher walkout for education funding and teacher pay raises, Fallin was labeled as the most unpopular governor in America. She reportedly had the support of only 19 percent of Oklahomans while 74 percent viewed her performance unfavorably.
That seemed to make sense. Revenue failures, budget cuts, agency drama and legislative priorities that made super conservative voters cringe don't inspire confidence.
Something doesn't add up, though. Fallin endorsed Kevin Stitt. For his part, Stitt never asked for the endorsement, but his policies line up pretty well with Fallin and the far right caucus in the Oklahoma legislature.
The most unpopular governor in America is being followed in office by a guy she endorsed and who promised to do more things like she did.
It wasn't even close. Former Attorney General Drew Edmondson didn't even make it a race. Stitt won easily. The Republican supermajority in the legislature grew. One Representative who was elected as a Democrat even switched to the Republican side after the election.
How unpopular could Fallin have been? If 74 percent of voters really disagreed with her policies, they wouldn't have voted to continue them for at least four more years.
This reminds me of Rocky IV. No, not because Kevin Stitt is going to fight a Russian on Christmas Day - although I would love to be the guy hired to promote that event.
Like Apollo Creed's fight against Ivan Drago, people were telling Fallin to throw in the towel but she never pulled back from her policy stances. Creed died in his fight against the big Russian. If Rocky simply lived through his match, it would be an improvement.
Fallin left office as America's least favorite governor. As long as Stitt stays at No. 49 or better, he wins. When you run from a lion, you don't have to be faster than a lion. You just have to be faster than at least one other person the lion is chasing.
Stitt doesn't have to be number one. He just has to surpass one other Governor to improve the state's standing.
As Rocky did, there is always a chance that Stitt could pull this off.
Like Rocky, he is going to have to do a lot of hard work. He is going to have to be strong. And he is going to have to prove he can take a political punch and keep swinging.
Stitt has taken the approach that he wants to run government like a business. That doesn't really work because the entities are very different in how they raise revenue and why they spend money.
However, there are some methods businesses use to remain efficient that would be a benefit to the government. Anyone who ever tried to improve a school funding formula knows that the calculus involved there has few benefits. You have a federal funding budget, a capital budget, an operations budget. The capital money can only be used in certain ways. The operations budget absorbs all the cuts. Even in times of dropping operational budgets, voters will approve capital projects like new buses or buildings with no consideration of how the smaller education budget is already cutting hours for bus drivers and staff to fill the new buildings.
When I was in Kansas, the state was on the hook to match funding for all locally approved capital projects. A progressive school district could vote to do a lot of new construction and everyone in the state had to pay for half of it. Conservative districts cut their own local taxes by voting no on bond issues, but they still paid in for new schools, buses and football stadiums in other districts.
It would be the hardest thing to do, but streamlining the education budget formula into something less disjointed would likely help schools use limited funds more efficiently.
When I was in Chickasha, Okla., we had a school board meeting where several teachers were laid off just before the board heard a report from four teachers who had just returned from a big training session at Disney World in Orlando, Fla. The cost of the training would have saved a teacher's job, but it was paid with federal funds that can't be used on salaries and can only be used for training.
That will never make sense to me.
It is hard to get excited for Stitt. It seems like we should expect more of the same and that isn't a ringing endorsement.
But no one thought Rocky would knock out Drago in the fifteenth round either. If Stitt can find some of those script writers, maybe he has a puncher's chance to pull this off.
For all of our sakes, I hope he does.