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Stitt's OU regents nomination faces opposition

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Gov. Kevin Stitt’s latest appointment to the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents may face a tough confirmation process with some lawmakers skeptical there is enough support within the Senate.

Stitt on Tuesday nominated Oklahoma businessman Gary Pierson to fill a vacant seat on the board, which requires Senate approval.

“I did tell the governor’s office that it wouldn’t be a cakewalk, but that’s just a gut reaction,” Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat told The Oklahoman on Wednesday.

Treat said his skepticism stems from Pierson’s involvement with Step Up Oklahoma, a coalition of businesses that attempted last year to push through a series of tax increases and government reform measures.

Pierson is the president and CEO of The Oklahoma Publishing Company, which was over The Oklahoman newspaper until its sale to GateHouse Media in 2018.

The governor’s office said Wednesday Stitt planned to continue forward with Pierson’s nomination.

“The Governor appointed Gary Pierson because he is an accomplished attorney and businessman whose skills and passion for the university will serve the president and board well during this time of change and casting new vision for the school. The governor stands by his decision on this appointment," said Donelle Harder, the governor's spokeswoman.

Stitt’s relationship with the Legislature has been largely cooperative as he has been successful with other nominees and achieved major policy priorities.

Stitt did issue his first veto on Tuesday, dismissing a measure to form a new state task force related to in-home and community-based care services.

Treat said he wants the governor’s nominees to receive more robust vetting and Pierson may be one of the first nominees to move forward after the Senate compiled a new confirmation process.

Treat told The Oklahoman he has already fielded concerns about Pierson from some senators, though he did not specify which of his colleagues approached him about the matter.

“There have been some concerns, but it hasn’t been a flurry, it’s been a trickle and I’m not really sure how to quantify that,” Treat said.

Multiple lawmakers who spoke with The Oklahoman but did not want to speak on the record said there was lingering resentment about the Step Up coalition, with some characterizing the group as trying to strong-arm lawmakers on budget decisions.

The Legislature did not approve the coalition’s proposal.

Pierson said he was not aware of any concerns over his appointment.

When asked if he had already accessed documents from the Board of Regents or spoke with its members, Pierson said, “Any communications I have had are confidential.”

Pierson also said he hoped his confirmation would be “based on merit and not politics.”

Gubernatorial appointments requiring Senate approval are shepherded through the confirmation process by a sponsor. Traditionally, the senator who represents the district where the appointee resides has the first chance to serve as the sponsor.

In this case, that’s Carri Hicks, D-Oklahoma City. Hicks said she will meet with Pierson on Thursday.

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Ben Felder

Ben Felder is an investigative reporter for The Oklahoman. A native of Kansas City, Ben has lived in Oklahoma City since 2010 and covered politics, education and local government for the Oklahoma Gazette before joining The Oklahoman in 2016.... Read more ›

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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