‘The more the merrier’: Who looks to unseat Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt in 2022 election? – Oklahoman.com

Posted: April 17, 2022 at 11:54 pm

Candidates file to run for governor of Oklahoma

Some of the candidates hoping to win the 2022 governor's race spoke after filing at the Oklahoma state Capitol.

Addison Kliewer, Oklahoman

Four years ago, a relatively unknown Tulsa businessman with no political experience jumped into the governor's race with little fanfare and an unlikelypathto victory.

Now, Gov. Kevin Stitt, 49,must fend off sevenchallengers to win a second term in office.

With the political playing field set after last week's candidate filing period, threeRepublicans,twoDemocrats, one Libertarian and one independentare vying to unseat the first-term Republican governor.

Most of Stitt'schallengers have come out swinging with criticism of the incumbent.

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But in an interview Wednesday, Stitt seemedunperturbed by his field of challengers.

Four years ago, there were 10 Republicans in the gubernatorial primary, he said.

"The more the merrier," Stitt said. "Let's have honest conversations about our past experience and how we want to lead the state."

In the June 28 Republican primary, Stitt will face Joel Kintsel, 46, Mark Sherwood, 57, and Moira McCabe, 40.

The winner of the primary will face either Democratic state schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, 57, or former Democratic Sen. Connie Johnson, 69, in the November general election. Former state Sen. Ervin Yen, 67, an independent,and Libertarian Natalie Bruno, 37, also will be on the general election ballot.

The director of the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs, Kintsel recently took a leave of absence to launch his first bid for public office. He also is a a lieutenant colonel in the Oklahoma Air National Guard.

Kintsel said he first started contemplating running for governor after seeing Stitt's "abuse" toward Oklahoma's Native American tribes.

"We're all Oklahomans, we're all part of the same family," Kintsel said."I'm not from a tribal background, but I will treat all Oklahomans with civility, and respect."

Kintsel has alleged the Stitt administration is rife with corruption and cronyism. In a recent interview, he alleged the Office of Management and Enterprise Services is steering state contracts to specific contractors.

He also saidthe Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department's contracts with Swadley'sBar-B-Q to operate restaurants at some state parks are suspect. The contracts have come under scrutiny from state lawmakers and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.

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In response, Stitt, who referred to Kintsel as a career bureaucrat, said he's not a fan ofname calling.

Stitt said he's not afraid to fight bureaucracy and special interest groups. He also touted his calls for audits of various state agencies, including the State Department of Education.

"A good CEO welcomes transparency," Stitt said. "That's why I've been asking for audits all over state government. We're trying to expose anything that's going on that'snot right forall fourmillion Oklahomans."

If elected, Kintsel said he would focus on public safety and improving the state's roads and bridges, although he expressed opposition toa controversial turnpike expansion in Norman that's part of the $5 billion ACCESS Oklahoma plan backed by Stitt.

Kintsel also said he plans to focus on courting support from veterans and their families.

"I have a different vision for Oklahoma," he said."It's one that's based on values, integrityfirst, service before self, excellence inall we do. Those are the values that I've lived under in the military."

Sherwood, a minister, retired police officer and naturopathic doctorwho owns a Tulsa wellness-based medical practice, is challenging Stitt from the far right.

He has criticized the governor for closing"nonessential" businesses at the start of the pandemic and said Stitt, who just signed a near-total abortion ban into law, hasn't gone far enough to abolish abortion.

McCabe is a stay-at-home mom who supports the Second Amendment, opposes abortion and has vowed to stand against federal overreach.

Although Hofmeister was a registeredRepublican up until early October, she's already the likely frontrunner in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. She's been highly critical of Stitt since launching her campaign.

Like millions of our neighbors, I am guided by faith, family, and the commonsense Oklahoma values Ive taught my four kids," she said in a statement. "But there doesnt seem to be much common sense guiding our state right now.

"Instead of working together, our governor stirs up division, pitting neighbor against neighbor. He prizes politics over people and his own self-interest over the public good."

The first Democrat to jump into the governor's race, Johnson has touted her progressive bona fides on the campaign trail. She is a longtime proponent of legalizing cannabis and has pushed for Oklahoma to abolish the death penalty.

Johnsonran unsuccessfully for governor in 2018 and for U.S. Senate in 2014.

My policy positions are clear, and I've been transparent about them my entire career," Johnson said."My entire life basically is built on Democratic values that that I hold dear."

Former state Sen. Ervin Yen, who is challenging Stitt as an independent, continued lastweek his criticism of the governor's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.An anesthesiologist and former Republican, Yen used to represent Oklahoma Cityin the state Senate.

He said Oklahoma is a top 10 state for COVID-19 cases because "our terrible vaccination rate and our state governments lack of proclaiming a statewide maskmandate ever."

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While most governors imposed temporary mask mandates when COVID-19 cases spiked, Stitt never imposed a statewide mask requirement.

Bruno said it's important for Oklahomans to have a third-party option this election cycle.

She also criticized the governor's rocky relationship with the tribes, and said she would have vetoed legislation to make it a felony to perform most abortions.

"I really feel like the current establishment, the current parties aren't putting forth good quality candidates that we can vote for," said the Edmond Libertarian. "We need more options."

Staff writers Ben Felder and Chris Casteel contributed to this report.

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'The more the merrier': Who looks to unseat Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt in 2022 election? - Oklahoman.com

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