OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Republican legislative leaders reached an agreement Tuesday to expand the governor's power over agency directors, handing the state's new CEO-turned-Gov. Kevin Stitt a major policy victory early in the legislative session.
Flanked by House and Senate leaders, Stitt announced a deal that would give him the ability to hire and fire the directors of five of the state's largest agencies: the Department of Transportation, Department of Corrections, Office of Juvenile Affairs, Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the state's Medicaid agency.
"These agencies have kind of run amok a little bit, and they haven't been accountable to the Legislature or the executive branch," Stitt said.
Under the agreement, contained in five separate bills, the governing boards of those agencies that currently hire and fire the agency directors would remain but have less control. Board members would also serve at-will terms, rather than staggered, multi-year terms that allow members to remain on board even after a new governor is elected.
Democrats have criticized the move as a Republican power grab that will lead to political patronage.
"By removing the oversight ability of the boards, we are creating an environment that will not only allow political patronage but will demand it," said House Democratic Leader Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman. "This plan isn't about providing transparency. It is about acquiring power."
Republican supporters say an important legislative check on the governor's power would allow the House and Senate to remove an agency leader with a two-thirds vote in each chamber. The House and Senate also would gain appointment seats on the board, although the governor would still appoint a majority of board members.