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Senate plans more thorough vetting of Stitt's nominees

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Gov. Kevin Stitt, left, and Sen. Greg Treat meet with young people after arriving at the Capitol in farm tractors. Stitt, Treat and House Speaker Charles McCall observed Agriculture Day last week and met with students representing area FFA and 4-H groups. [Jim Beckel/The Oklahoman]
Gov. Kevin Stitt, left, and Sen. Greg Treat meet with young people after arriving at the Capitol in farm tractors. Stitt, Treat and House Speaker Charles McCall observed Agriculture Day last week and met with students representing area FFA and 4-H groups. [Jim Beckel/The Oklahoman]

The Oklahoma Senate has moved at a slow pace in confirming Gov. Kevin Stitt’s appointments to his cabinet, state agencies and various boards and commissions as Senate leadership said it seeks a more thorough approach to vetting gubernatorial appointments.

With a May 31 end-of-session deadline looming, the Senate has confirmed just two of the 66 appointments Stitt has made thus far.

But the pace for confirming gubernatorial appointments is about to pick up, Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat told reporters last week.

Last month, Treat formed a bipartisan working group to brainstorm ways to make the Senate confirmation process more robust, rather than approving appointments with little review, as has been the case in years past. The move came shortly after new laws went into effect that gave the governor the power to hire and fire the heads of five major state agencies.

Treat’s call for a more rigorous vetting process also came after several of Stitt’s nominees faced no scrutiny from lawmakers in recent committee hearings.

The seven-member working group submitted its recommendations to Treat on Thursday.

Treat’s office doesn’t plan to release the detailed recommendations, but aims to release this week new confirmation process standards that detail what is expected of gubernatorial nominees and committee chairs who are integral in the confirmation process, he said.

“You will start to see a lot more confirmations rolling out over the next two weeks,” Treat said.

The Senate tested the new confirmation process last week with Eric Stevenson — Stitt’s pick to fill a vacancy on the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents.

Stevenson received a few questions from lawmakers before receiving unanimous approval from the Senate Education Committee last Tuesday. What the public didn’t see was the additional vetting that happened behind the scenes.

Before the committee hearing, Stevenson was required to meet with every member of the panel, Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate and the legislative Black Caucus, Treat said. Stevenson also had to make himself available to the Senate Republican and Democratic caucuses.

“I hope that that foreshadows how we’re changing the confirmation process — that we’re there watching and listening,” he said.

Treat envisions a priority scale for gubernatorial nominees that correlates to the position they would hold in state government. Nominees for top-tier positions like agency heads, cabinet secretaries and members of the board of regents for OU and Oklahoma State University would undergo the most thorough vetting, he said.

Stitt will make approximately 160 nominations that require Senate confirmation, and the governor’s office intends to put forth all of those nominees before the end of the legislative session, Stitt spokeswoman Donelle Harder said.

Of the nominations Stitt has made so far, the Senate has only confirmed Secretary of Transportation Tim Gatz and Secretary of Agriculture Blayne Arthur.

Harder said she’s “cautiously optimistic” the Senate will act on all of the appointments by the end of session.

“We are very confident in who we’re selecting for these positions, so I’m hopeful that in the window that’s narrowing for these confirmations that we’re not going to have any hiccups,” she said.

But the longer the Senate waits to address the growing list of nominees, the harder it could be to find replacement appointments should the Senate disapprove of any of the candidates, Harder said. The already shrinking window could be an even smaller to recruit someone and get confirmation at a later point, she said.

Gubernatorial appointments requiring Senate confirmation go before a Senate committee and then the full Senate.

Stevenson’s appointment to the board of regents is expected to go before the full chamber Monday.

Carmen Forman

Carmen Forman covers the state Capitol and governor's office for The Oklahoman. A Norman native and graduate of the University of Oklahoma, she previously covered state politics in Virginia and Arizona before returning to Oklahoma. Read more ›

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