OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – After the House finalized the override on Governor Kevin Stitt’s veto of tribal compact extensions related to tobacco, he filed a lawsuit against the Senate President Pro Tempore and the Speaker of the House.

The Governor first vetoed both compacts in early June citing the two would violate state law.

The House then met on June 12 to overturn HB 1005x. That bill bounced over to the Senate where it was overturned, as well as SB 26x.

The Senate held a special session on July 24 to go over both bills and eventually voted to override the pair.

The last vote needed to complete the override lie with the House.

Representatives met Monday morning to decide, but not without debate.

“We don’t have the statutory authority, nor do we have the constitutional authority to compact with tribes,” stated Representative Tom Gann, R-Inola.

However, Representative Scott Fetgatter, R-Okmulgee, disagreed with Rep. Gann’s statement, saying the Legislature has a job to do which includes overriding the Governor’s vetoes on tribal compacts.

“Why is the Governor not sitting down with our tribal leaders personally in a room to hammer out a deal?” asked Rep. Fetgatter. “The Supreme Court said that we absolutely have the right and the authority as the legislature to do what we’re doing today, which by the way, I heard it said, ‘I think, I think, I think,’ well, when you come and stand on this floor, you probably ought to know.”

With the votes, 72-16, the final override on the tobacco compact was enacted into law.

“We’re extremely relieved, I think is the right phrase. It’s been a long process to get the extension. And we know that it gives us the stability that we think Oklahomans and businesses deserve to continue to do business. It gives us some time to continue productive, hopefully, discussions with Oklahoma and to our way of thinking any time we can find ways to reach agreement with, you know, some of the cooler heads and state and federal government, that’s always a good day for us,” said the Cherokee Nation Attorney General Sara Hill.

“Throughout the regular session and after, Oklahoma’s Legislature has made one thing very clear: They understand the importance of cooperation between the state and sovereign tribal nations, and they acknowledge the benefits working together provide for all Oklahomans. We thank the Senate and the House for their willingness to collaborate, and for their endurance in correcting Gov. Stitt’s errors. We are pleased the one-year extensions of compacts regarding tobacco and motor vehicle tags are now complete, and we look forward to finding long-term, win-win solutions.”

Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma Chief Gary Batton

“Compacts are good and they’re necessary. Otherwise, there’s a lot of uncertainty. So today is behind us,” stated Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka. “The tough work begins in terms of now sitting down and having honest conversations about what has changed since these compacts were initially and originally put in place to now. We’ll have the opportunity to have good faith negotiations and talks and discussion to try to put new agreements together moving forward.”

So far, Speaker McCall said six tobacco compacts have expired this year which costs the state and the tribes millions of dollars.

“We’re still optimistic and hopeful and want the Governor to get an agreement. We’ll stay plugged into that process. But the legislature will ultimately be the fail-safe and the backstop if the Governor cannot or will not. I think the legislature will ultimately engage in that process,” explained Speaker McCall.

Governor Stitt held a press conference Monday afternoon to go over his thoughts on the override of these vetoes and what happens next.

“First off, you know, pretty disappointed in the vote today,” said Gov. Stitt.

There are currently two proposed compacts, one from the Governor and another from the tribes.

“My compact basically clarifies, all it says is the provision of this compact shall establish and govern the right of taxation and payment of taxes to the nation and the state. On the retail sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products on lands owned by the nation and or its members which are held in trust by the United States or which are owned by members of the nation and are subject to restricted title,” the Gov. read from his proposed tribal compact. “That was the change that I made. And I said, this is a two year extension. This is a 50/50 split.”

The difference between his compact and the tribes’ is how ‘Indian Country’ is defined, according to Gov. Stitt.

He claims if the tribes’ version ever came to light, ‘Indian Country’ would take up 42% of Oklahoma.

“I am not going to give the eastern part of my state away. As Governor, I will not give an inch. I’m not going to make Eastern Oklahoma reservation,” explained Gov. Stitt. “7% of our state is already in trust. So when a tribe buys a piece of land, they petition the Department of Interior and they put it in a trust. Then it comes off our tax rolls. We don’t get paid property tax on it, but with this new language, what they’re hoping to do is turn 42% of our state into a reservation.”

General Hill told KFOR the Governor’s statement on ‘Indian Country’ is false.

“The language is the same now as it was prior to McGirt. What’s changed has been our understanding of what Indian Country is. I think the issue is we know that the reservations exist in Oklahoma and that there are large reservations. And so the real question I think he’s asking here is what’s the proper amount of tobacco sales from tribes? What’s the proper role of tobacco sales in Oklahoma for Indian tribes? And I mean, that’s really the question that he wants an answer to. I think from his point of view, he’s determined that we’re just going to sell tobacco everywhere in their jurisdictions because they can. But that’s really not what history has demonstrated over the last three years. None of the tribes have been running out to open up new tobacco locations,” stated General Hill.

Gov. Stitt said negotiations surrounding compacts should be left up to him and not the Legislature.

That’s his reasoning behind now filing a lawsuit against Pro Tem Treat and Speaker McCall.

“Those are the ones that are pushing this this compact. And basically, we need that. We need the Supreme Court to let us know who has the authority. We think that it clearly is with the governor,” said Gov. Stitt.

“First, I applaud our House counterparts for coming in today and delivering on an override of the final veto of the two compact bills that have been the subject of unnecessary ridicule and strong-armed tactics from the executive branch. We couldn’t have done it without the leadership in the House working with the Senate to do what’s in the best interest of our state. 

Plain and simple, the governor’s continued rhetoric and vitriol surrounding not only these compacts, but also our Native American Tribal partners as a whole, seeks to divide the state. It is clear at this point the governor has no end game, goal or aspirations of working with the legislature or tribes. He continues to ignore the courts, legislature and common sense.

I want clarity on issues in the post McGirt world. The governor’s misguided actions have led to chaos and confusion, bringing us further from any kind of meaningful resolution. These compacts in particular weren’t new, they weren’t unique in any way, they simply kept the exact same language as before to give him an opportunity to try and do the right thing by working with the tribes to renegotiate the compacts, while ensuring the state didn’t lose millions in revenue. He has once again failed Oklahoma. Today, history is repeating itself with the announcement of this lawsuit. I’m confident his intentions will meet the same fate as we have unfortunately witnessed, and paid for, in the past. 

By overriding these vetoes, the legislature gave the governor another avenue and opportunity to negotiate in good faith, as we have done repeatedly. He has never accepted or appreciated our efforts and has turned his back all four million Oklahomans, the legislative process and Oklahoma’s tribal partners, costing the state millions in legal fees. This zero-sum game he is playing is a losing strategy and I hope Oklahomans and my fellow lawmakers are paying careful attention.” 

Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat

In the meantime, what is supposed to be negotiating will start. However, News 4 asked the Governor about upcoming negotiations three separate times and he said he has been negotiating since May but that tribes are refusing to accept his compact proposal.

“With the extension, it’s giving you and the tribes an opportunity to negotiate for the next year, at least until December of 2024. Are you actually looking to negotiate or are you trying to sway tribes into entering into your compact agreement?” asked News 4 Capitol Bureau Chief, Kaylee Olivas.

“I have been negotiating and put this in front of them for the last two months at the same financial terms as they had last year. They’ve refused to sign it. So they have gone around the Governor. This all showed up, unbeknownst to me in the last week of session as we were talking with them and so they have the compact that they wanted. Do you really think that now that they have the legislature to do what they wanted and get the compact they wanted, they’re going to come around and come to the Governor’s compact or they’re going to go back to the legislature? What do you think is going to happen in a year?” responded Gov. Stitt.

News 4 asked if the Governor planned to meet the tribes in the middle on the compacts.

“I will not change the language on my compact and that’s why they obviously went to the legislature. They thought they could get their compact approved,” added Gov. Stitt.

He then proceeded to ask which station the questions were coming from.

“Who do you work for?” asked the Governor.

Again, News 4 asked if he plans to stick with his compact rather than negotiating to something in the middle.

“The question that Oklahomans need to ask themselves is, why haven’t they signed this compact? It’s a two year extension instead of pushing a one year extension on the same financial terms and we will continue to offer, but we’ll wait and see what the courts say, because they have got the legislature to give them their compacts, their compact language,” said Gov. Stitt.

Once the press conference was over, the Governor’s Director of Communications, Abegail Cave wanted to clarify what the Governor meant when answering News 4’s questions.

Cave said the Governor’s doors have been open to the tribes throughout this whole process.

She echoed the Governor will not change the language defining ‘Indian Country,’ and that News 4 is only focusing on a minor part of the compact agreements.


Oklahoma Politics

Speaker McCall said if the Governor “can not or will not” reach an agreement with tribes, the Legislature will be on standby to take action.

The Speaker also plans to head an interim study this fall to further look into tribal compacts.

“I filed for the interim study just so we can start getting historical perspective on these compacts. And then from there, start having deliberations and communications, conversation about what the legislature might want to do in the future,” stated Speaker McCall.