AP

Feud with tribes threatens Oklahoma governor’s reelection

Oct 20, 2022, 8:54 AM | Updated: Oct 21, 2022, 4:10 am

ADA, Okla. (AP) — Many of the 39 Native American tribes based in Oklahoma have played roles in state politics for decades, often behind the scenes. They became bigger, more outspoken players when voters approved Las Vegas-style gambling in 2004. The budgets of several major tribes ballooned with casino revenue.

This year, in their most forceful political move yet, they are wielding their considerable influence to oppose a second term for Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, himself a Cherokee citizen, who is facing a tough reelection challenge after feuding with the tribes for nearly his entire first term.

With the election just weeks away, five of the state’s most powerful tribes jointly endorsed Stitt’s Democratic opponent, Joy Hofmeister, the state’s public schools superintendent who has promised a more cooperative relationship with the tribal nations. It’s the first time in modern history that the tribes, which often have unique or competing interests, have weighed in on a governor’s race in such a public way.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever seen (the tribes) more active than they are today,” said Pat McFerron, a longtime Oklahoma GOP political consultant and pollster. “I think they might have flown under the radar a little bit more before.”

The effect is an unexpectedly tight race in a deep-red state that is typically an afterthought in national politics. Reflecting concerns about Stitt’s vulnerability, the super PAC for the Republican Governors Association released an ad late in the campaign tying Hofmeister — who switched from the GOP to challenge Stitt as a Democrat — to President Joe Biden and rising gas prices.

Stitt’s feud with the tribes began during his first year in office when he unsuccessfully attempted to renegotiate the state’s gambling compact with the tribes. His administration then sought to overturn a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision on tribal sovereignty in 2020 and drew the ire of the tribes again last year when he terminated hunting and fishing compacts between the state and tribes.

“He seems to have enjoyed this fight, relishes it and points to it as a badge of honor,” McFerron said. “It’s almost like he’s taunting them.”

The animosity between Stitt and the tribes has spilled into public view as the midterm elections draw closer. Tribal leaders have publicly assailed the governor, public meetings about law enforcement in Indian Country have turned ugly, and Stitt has faced an onslaught of dark-money attack ads.

“Any governor that postures and attempts dominion of tribes is detrimental to the tribes and the state,” said Muscogee Nation Principal Chief David Hill.

Stitt, a multimillionaire mortgage company owner and political newcomer when he ran four years ago, has been dogged by scandals in his administration, including a sweetheart deal given to a barbecue restaurant owner that resulted in a criminal probe, improper spending of coronavirus relief funds intended for education and $2 million spent on malaria drugs during the COVID-19 pandemic that doctors had warned shouldn’t be used to treat the virus without more testing.

Stitt also has touted new laws outlawing abortion, even in cases of rape or incest, and targeting medical treatment for transgender children, both of which have turned away some moderate Republicans and independents.

For his part, Stitt says he hopes that if he’s elected to a second term, he will have improved relations with Native American tribes. Yet he insists that the Supreme Court ruling expanding tribal sovereignty has been detrimental to the state.

“I’ve told people I will not go down in history as the governor that gives my state away,” Stitt said. “A lot of people want to paint this as an anti-Indian thing. This is not. This is a pro-Oklahoma thing.”

In the leadup to the election, several nonprofit groups that focus on registering and engaging Native American voters say they’ve never seen this level of enthusiasm among Indian voters in statewide politics.

At a recent voter registration event at East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma, home of the Chickasaw Nation, a steady stream of students, many of them Native American, signed up to register to vote at an event hosted in part by Rock the Native Vote. That’s a nonprofit sponsored by the Indian Methodist Church of Oklahoma that was formed in 2002. In the parking lot were cars with tribal license plates from Cherokee, Chickasaw, Comanche, Kiowa and Otoe-Missouria tribes.

“Our goal is to get people registered, and more importantly, the Native voters within our state,” said 19-year-old Devon Rain Potter, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation who was helping run a registration booth. “Once we get Native voters to show up to the polls, we can get a lot of things done.”

According to the most recent U.S. Census data, Oklahoma has one of the highest percentages of Native American citizens at nearly 10% of the state’s population. An additional 6.6% identify as being two or more races. That’s easily enough to tip the scales in a closely contested statewide race.

And it’s not just Oklahoma where Native voters are being courted and urged to turn out. The Native Organizers Alliance is targeting Indigenous voters in states across the country, including swing states with large Native American populations like Arizona, said Judith LeBlanc, the group’s executive director.

Even in deep-red Texas, which has seen an increase in the American Indian population over the past 10 years, the group Democracy is Indigenous DFW drew dozens to a meet-and-greet with candidates, including Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke, who is challenging incumbent Republican Gov. Greg Abbott. The goal of the nonpartisan group is to increase voter engagement in the American Indian and Indigenous population in Texas.

“We are doing a wholehearted voter registration campaign,” LeBlanc said. “I believe in Oklahoma we can make a difference.”

___

Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy

___

Follow AP for full coverage of the midterms at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections and on Twitter https://twitter.com/ap_politics

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Several hundred students and pro-Palestinian supporters rally at the intersection of Grove and Coll...

Associated Press

Pro-Palestinian protests sweep US college campuses following mass arrests at Columbia

Columbia canceled in-person classes, dozens of protesters were arrested at New York University and Yale, and the gates to Harvard Yard were closed to the public Monday.

15 hours ago

Ban on sleeping outdoors under consideration in Supreme Court...

Associated Press

With homelessness on the rise, the Supreme Court weighs bans on sleeping outdoors

The Supreme Court is wrestling with major questions about the growing issue of homelessness as it considers a ban on sleeping outdoors.

16 hours ago

Arizona judge declares mistrial in case of rancher who shot migrant...

Associated Press

Arizona judge declares mistrial in the case of a rancher accused of fatally shooting a migrant

An Arizona judge declared a mistrial in the case of rancher accused of killing a Mexican man on his property near the U.S.-Mexico border.

17 hours ago

Donald Trump appears in court for opening statements in his criminal trial for allegedly covering u...

Associated Press

Trump tried to ‘corrupt’ the 2016 election, prosecutor alleges as hush money trial gets underway

Donald Trump's criminal trial in New York over alleged hush money payments started with opening statements on Monday.

1 day ago

This satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows Iran's nuclear site in Isfahan, Iran, April 4, 2024...

Associated Press

Israel, Iran play down apparent Israeli strike. The muted responses could calm tensions — for now

Israel and Iran are both playing down an apparent Israeli airstrike near a major air base and nuclear site in central Iran.

4 days ago

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., talks to reporters just after lawmakers pushed a $95 bill...

Associated Press

Ukraine, Israel aid advances in rare House vote as Democrats help Republicans push it forward

The House pushed ahead Friday on a foreign aid package of $95 billion for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and other sources of humanitarian support.

4 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Day & Night is looking for the oldest AC in the Valley

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.

...

Fiesta Bowl Foundation

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade is excitingly upon us

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe is upon us! The attraction honors Arizona and the history of the game.

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Avoid a potential emergency and get your home’s heating and furnace safety checked

With the weather getting colder throughout the Valley, the best time to make sure your heating is all up to date is now. 

Feud with tribes threatens Oklahoma governor’s reelection