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Oklahoma Senate panel advances OU regent nominee

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Pierson
Pierson

A Senate panel on Tuesday unanimously approved confirmation of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s latest appointment to the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents despite some senators’ early skepticism about the appointee.

The Senate Education Committee supported the governor’s appointment of Oklahoma businessman Gary Pierson to fill a vacancy on the board.

The approval comes after some senators quietly questioned the governor’s pick and hinted that Pierson may not make it through the Senate confirmation process.

At the time, Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat said he told the governor’s office the confirmation process wouldn’t be “a cakewalk” because of some of Pierson’s previous interactions with state lawmakers.

In the hearing, Pierson touted his business background as an asset especially while OU President James Gallogly makes reining in university spending a top priority.

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 regents need to be asking tough questions about where money is being spent and why it’s being spent the way it is, Pierson said.

“I’m ready to dig in. I’m ready to give it my best efforts,” he said.

Pierson was not asked about recent incidents of racial unrest on OU’s campus, which played a role in why Stitt tapped Eric Stevenson — OU’s first black regent in 20 years — to serve on the board.

But Pierson said he understands the difficulties that lay before the board, including overseeing university finances and an ongoing investigation into the conduct of former OU President David Boren.

“I’ve always believed that being a regent is a ceremonial position, traditionally,” he said. “There’s no longer time or need for that. It needs serious people because there are serious issues.”

In the meeting, Gallogly praised Pierson and insisted he’s qualified to tackle the challenges facing the board.

“Gary is uniquely suited to do this job," he said. "As you know, he’s both a businessman and a lawyer and we have plenty of issues in both areas."

Some senators expressed initial concerns about Pierson because of his involvement with Step Up Oklahoma, a coalition of local business leaders that supported budget reform and a tax increase. But the unanimous vote of support from the Senate Education Committee indicates Pierson is likely to be confirmed by the full Senate.

Stitt appointed Pierson to fill the remainder of Bill Burgess' term for the regents. Burgess died in February with less than two years left in his seven-year term.

Pierson is Stitt’s second appointment to the OU regents.

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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