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OKC teacher won't carry Stitt's nominations

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Sen. Carri Hicks, D-Oklahoma City
Sen. Carri Hicks, D-Oklahoma City

A Democratic state senator and former teacher has refused to carry two of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s appointments to the state Board of Education through the Senate confirmation process.

Sen. Carri Hicks, D-Oklahoma City, declined to carry the nominations of Estela Hernandez and Jennifer Monies because of philosophical differences on the best direction for public education in Oklahoma.

Hicks said her vision for the state’s public education system does not include the Board of Education stepping on school districts’ toes.

“Both pretty well indicated that they would use the power the state Legislature has entrusted into them to override those local school board decisions,” said Hicks, without offering specific details. “That’s just a disagreement that I can’t support.”

Hicks also said their support of expanding school voucher programs runs counter to her vision of investing in the state’s public schools. The nominees indicated they would be favorable to expanding vouchers, she said.

Both Monies and Hernandez declined to comment on Hicks' decision.

The governor's office accused Hicks and her caucus of basing decisions on partisan politics, including a vote against another nominee, Carlisha Williams Bradley.

In a statement issued Thursday afternoon, Donelle Harder, a spokeswoman for Stitt, said Democrats were also standing in the way of bringing diversity to a board that has traditionally been made up of white men.

“The Senate Democrats, in lockstep, voted against Governor Stitt’s appointment of Carlisha, a brilliant Oklahoma education leader and founder of Women Empowering Nations to boost self-esteem for women of color. Now Democrats are refusing to carry the nomination of two other extremely qualified women, Estela Hernandez and Jennifer Monies, who both have children in Oklahoma’s public education system," Harder said. "Stitt’s appointments were not about politics, but about people — the people who this board represents such as parents, children, and educators with diverse backgrounds and experiences in our state. It’s disappointing that instead of focusing on the people, Democrats are solely focusing on politics and refuse to give a clear and articulate reason for their obstruction.”

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.

Hicks’ refusal to carry the nominations means another senator will have to shepherd the appointments through the Senate.

Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat, who could carry the nominations himself, said he plans to talk to Hicks before reassessing and moving forward on the nominations. As of Thursday afternoon, he said he had heard rumors that Hicks would not carry the nominations, but had not heard that from her directly.

“There’s a number of ways forward,” Treat, R-Oklahoma City, said. “I want to have a conversation, out of respect to Sen. Hicks, with her before I make a decision on that.”

Hicks is a former teacher at Deer Creek’s Grove Valley Elementary School and said she was aided in her decision by a set of criteria put together by Democratic lawmakers focused on education. Hicks declined to share the criteria with The Oklahoman, but she said it will guide her vetting of the governor’s education appointments.

Hicks said the governor’s office asked her on Wednesday to carry the two appointments, the same day she spoke with Monies and Hernandez.

Calling herself one of the least partisan lawmakers in the state Capitol, Hicks said her actions should not be viewed through a partisan lens, especially considering she has carried 13 of Stitt’s other nominations this year.

“I think we were kind of somewhat in alignment as far as serving our most needy, our most vulnerable students, but I think the ways in which we address and tackle those issues vastly differ," she said.

Stitt gets six appointments to the Board of Education. State schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister occupies the other seat on the board.

Hofmeister stood by the two nominees Thursday and said both appointees deserve the courtesy of a Senate vote.

"It's not reasonable to seek or expect board members with whom we are always in full lockstep agreement,” she said in a statement. “What we do want are fair-minded board members. I believe both Jennifer and Estela would bring energy, diversity and important perspectives to the board.”

Hernandez, who is a small business owner and licensed real estate agent, declined to comment Thursday, saying things are “still very fluid.” Hernandez also previously served as vice president of engagement for the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, vice chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party and commissioner on the Oklahoma Commission on the Status of Women.

Monies serves as senior director of public affairs for Oklahoma City-based Saxum. She previously worked as a political reporter for The Oklahoman and served in an advisory role for former House Speaker Chris Benge and former Senate Pro Tem Brian Bingman.

Monies also worked as director of Oklahoma Achieves, an education initiative by the State Chamber.

Hicks this week was one of three Democrats on the Senate Education Committee to vote down another one of Stitt’s appointments to the Board of Education. Hicks voted against confirming Carlisha Williams Bradley, the executive director of Impact Tulsa, to the board, but the predominantly Republican committee still advanced her nomination.

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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