Kevin Stitt needs to stop right now.
When he won in November, I was entirely convinced that he was going to be the next elected official to make me ashamed of being a registered Republican.
If he keeps saying all of these things that make sense and making plans to execute bi-partisan legislation that benefits everyone, it will really make me question my ability to judge candidates.
I bought into the "big money executive who never even participated in politics and pledged to continue the work of America's least popular governor" narrative. It seemed obvious that if you were disappointed with the last eight years of Oklahoma government, the next few years won't help.
But since his inauguration, Gov. Stitt has been impressing me. Time will tell if he can actually get the measures through the legislature intact, but his proposals and goals are on target.
Gov. Stitt has announced that he is open to Medicaid expansion in the state if it is done the right way. That could be an important step in securing federal funding for many healthcare programs.
He also has championed true efficiency and transparency measures. All of these would be welcome improvements if he can carry them from idea to law,
But perhaps the most inspiring issue he is addressing is reforming the state's criminal justice system.
Since about half of the budget for district attorneys' offices comes from fees and fines, local prosecutors have a financial incentive to punish offenders in the most financially beneficial manner rather than actually seeking justice.
“To me, we can’t have an incentive to have heavy fines, fees and court costs that then contribute to our incarceration problem,” Stitt said at a recent AP legislative forum. “I am looking at all those folks currently incarcerated and getting them into other programs, get them back into the workforce. It is something we need to do.”
If you have never seen this in a real-world setting, I have known people who got in trouble with the law. They made bad decisions or did some bad things.
But punishment and rehabilitation weren't at the heart of their sentences. They are forced to pay probation fees, pay for classes, pay court costs or other fees and fines related to their crime.
Now consider the kinds of jobs a person can land for themselves after a recent run-in with the law. Minimum wage is likely. Usually, that means working two jobs or more just to put food on a table or trying to afford a place to live with a table in it.
When the person can't afford to pay the bills that come due, they are thrown in jail for failure to appear or pay. They are also charged for that stay in jail. The bills just get bigger.
Many have failed to make it on probation and were forced to serve out a sentence in jail to get the incident behind them. We end up paying for food and housing for men and women who would otherwise be contributing to their families, an employer and society - not to mention paying taxes instead of being supported by the state while under constant supervision.
It is a ridiculous system and a horrible way to fund a prosecutor's office.
If Gov. Stitt can accomplish anything this term, I hope it is criminal justice reform with appropriate levels of funding from the appropriate sources for our prosecutors.
Let them focus on justice and not fundraising on the backs of offenders. Maybe then, Oklahoma won't be No. 1 incarceration in the world.
The economic and societal value of making this change is hard to overstate. Contact your legislators and encourage them to support the governor in this goal.