Every move the governor makes during the next 30 days must be monitored more carefully than ever before.
Oklahoma lawmakers bestowed upon Gov. Kevin Stitt unprecedented powers to help him deal with the fallout from a global pandemic that is stress-testing an over-burdened health care system and a fragile state economy.
During a special session on Monday, they granted the first-term governor the authority to suspend any rules and laws deemed necessary during the next 30 days to deal with the state's COVID-19 outbreak. They also freed up nearly $416 million from the state's savings funds to address a revenue failure in this year's budget, protect Oklahoma's agencies and education system from deep cuts.
These were necessary steps that needed to be taken at a time when states have been left to fend for themselves due to the lack of a coordinated response from the federal government. Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols, an Oklahoma City Republican, equated the grant of powers to the state's equivalent of a wartime powers act.
Echols said lawmakers were willing to give Stitt these enormous powers "because we have faith in him to do what's best for the citizens of Oklahoma." We would hope that would be the case during a health crisis like the one presented by rapid spread of the novel coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 disease, but that cannot be taken for granted.
Stitt has demonstrated a propensity to act in ways that seem motivated by interests other than the public good: trying to rewrite tribal gaming compacts and ignoring the will of nearly 314,000 Oklahomans who are demanding to vote on expanding the state's Medicaid program are but two examples.
It will be the job of lawmakers who granted the governor this authority to ensure the governor acts in good faith and in accordance with legislative intent. Journalists and citizen activists must be the watchdogs who keep in check the legislative and executive branches of state government and ensure the members of each act within constitutional and ethical constraints set for them.
It will be the duty of all to stay informed, ensure the system of checks and balances remains vibrant and strong. And most importantly, if anything starts to go awry, anybody who breaches their duties or oaths of office can be replaced if we collectively engage and vote this year in the upcoming elections.