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Oklahoma AG's opinion creates potential chaos for Stitt's cabinet

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt speaks in support of a grocery tax cut at a bill signing ceremony Feb. 27, 2024, in a ceremonial room inside the Oklahoma State Capitol.
Lionel Ramos
Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt speaks in support of a grocery tax cut at a bill signing ceremony Feb. 27, 2024, in a ceremonial room inside the Oklahoma State Capitol.

This story was updated on Tuesday, March 5 at 3:43 p.m.

Oklahoma lawmakers have a message for Agriculture Secretary Blayne Arthur. Rest easy.

Oklahoma’s House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 1196 Monday morning to specifically allow the person who serves as Commissioner of Agriculture to also serve in the governor’s cabinet as the Secretary of Agriculture.

They did the same for anyone who is a member of a governing board of a college or university and may also hold the Secretary of Education position.

The measure is essentially a document where lawmakers inserted several last-minute proposals for consideration by their entire chamber.

The move on cabinet secretaries is a response to a recent legal opinion by the state’s attorney general that prompted two members of Governor Kevin Stitt’s cabinet to resign from their positions because they also led other government agencies.

The law passed with a 94-1 vote and now can be heard in the Senate.

Gov. Kevin Stitt called a legal opinion by Attorney General Gentner Drummond a “head scratcher.”

The opinion says state officials can only hold one elected or appointed position at a time.

“If a state officer enters upon the duties of a second office in violation of the dual office holding prohibition, it operates as a vacation of the first office,” the opinion reads, referencing state statute.

It has already prompted two members in the governor’s cabinet to resign.

“His opinion is that a secretary can not be a director,” Stitt said during a press conference Friday. “We think that affects every single person in the cabinet that serves in a director role.”

Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell resigned as Secretary of Workforce Development Wednesday morning, hours before Drummond’s press release containing the opinion was published.

Pinnell was followed later that day by Department of Transportation director, Tim Gatz, who gave up his appointments as Secretary of Transportation and Executive Director of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority.

Stitt said he questions Drummond’s motive, calling the opinion a weaponization of the attorney general’s elected office. Stitt also said the timing of the decision is peculiar, as Governor’s going back to Henry Bellmon in the 1960s have all assembled their cabinets the same way, with some appointees leading other government agencies.

The governor said no one else in his cabinet plans to vacate their office until he and his legal team can get some clarification on the opinion.

He says the attorney general’s opinion carries the weight of law behind it, so he has to abide for now. But he plans to argue against it, and those arguments are expected to make it to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Once there, Stitt says he believes precedent and available legal arguments are in his favor.

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Updated: March 5, 2024 at 3:44 PM CST
This story was updated to add information about Oklahoma lawmakers passing a bill to protect at least one of Gov. Kevin Stitt's cabinet members on Monday, March 4.

Lionel Ramos covers state government at KOSU. He joined the station in January 2024.
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