OKLAHOMA CITY - After Oklahoma voters flocked to the polls in November, the Sooner State now has a new leader.
With 54 percent of the vote, Kevin Stitt won Oklahoma's gubernatorial race to become the state's 28th governor.
Stitt, a business owner from Tulsa, said he wanted to run the state government like a business, give first-time teachers a $5,000 bonus and reduce and streamline several state agencies in an effort to save money.
During Monday's inauguration, Stitt said he began thinking about running for governor nearly two years ago.
"Two years ago, the idea of running for governor was still just a small mustard seed. I traveled the country visiting my offices in other states, seeing their economies take off and thrive. They were recovering from our nation’s historic recession. I would then come home to the state that I love to find us struggling, stuck at the bottom in every category that matters," he said.
Stitt said he was frustrated to see the state struggle every time the price of oil would drop.
Despite Oklahoma being at the bottom of several categories, Stitt said he feels like Oklahoma could easily rise in the rankings because of the natural resources, a booming aerospace industry, five military bases and local businesses.
"My dad raised me and my two brothers to believe we could do anything we put our minds to. He would tell us 'Don’t ever give up… don’t ever quit… the future doesn’t just happen – you make it happen - so dream big.' These words echoed in my mind and through many sleepless nights over the last 20 years while building an Oklahoma company with my wife, Sarah, and raising a family that we love dearly. It wasn’t easy. We took great risks as a family, made hard decisions, sacrificed, weathered difficult times and learned from each other, from our employees and from our community," he said.
Stitt said Oklahomans will have to work together to get the process started.
"We must get involved in our schools, in our churches, in our neighborhoods, in our local non-profits to diagnose and solve the unique challenges county-by-county, that no person falls through the cracks because every life in Oklahoma is worthy of our respect and help," he said.
Stitt said there also needs to be more accountability in our state government, and become more efficient to maximize services.
"We can only guarantee such accountability when state agencies understand that they exist to serve - and to answer to the people of Oklahoma. We need to change how Oklahoma’s 400 agencies and commissions are comprised. Our current system gives agencies too much independence from the voter. They have the ability to ignore executive orders, skirt around laws passed by the legislature, hide pockets of money and protect their own interests by hiring lobbyists," he said.
Stitt said he hopes lawmakers can come together to set meaningful priorities and goals, and work together to change the way Oklahoma functions.
Stitt said he is encouraged by the progress made last year with education funding but more needs to be done.
"It will require us to recognize that reforming and improving education should not be a partisan issue. Getting our children ready to thrive and face the challenges of the future should be our shared priority. We will break down silos between common education, career tech and higher education. But, more government money is not the answer alone. We need families working together with the school to help children unlock their full potential and overcome all odds. Every child in Oklahoma deserves to be inspired by the very power of education itself and the potential of a bright future. This is why we will value teachers and seek to recruit the very best teachers in the profession," he said.
Stitt said he also wants to focus on the state's ranking when it come to incarceration rates, especially when it comes to long sentences for non-violent offenses.
"These sentences make reintegration into society much more challenging. They often destroy families and fall short in respecting the dignity, worth and potential of people who have made mistakes and need help," he said.
In the end, Stitt said he wants to make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to moving Oklahoma into the future.
"Friends, we are either moving forward, or we are falling behind. And, I believe we have more opportunity today than any day in our history to start a business, to expand an existing one… to move our state forward. This may seem too bold for some. Big goals can often feel unattainable, but don’t say that to a guy who was told it was impossible to build a nationwide mortgage company with just $1,000 and a computer, and who was told a political outsider couldn’t become governor," he said. "As we close our time together, here is my commitment to you: you, the people, come first. I commit to you to be a good listener, a continuous learner, a committed communicator and a bold leader for the decisions that make a difference for today’s children and the next generation. I’m humbled by the trust you placed in me to serve as your governor, and I thank you for your prayers, for your support and encouragement. Thank you for your commitment to making Oklahoma a great place to live, to work and to raise a family. Let’s get this done together, because Oklahoma’s turnaround starts right here, right now."