Stitt’s hiring priorities are in order

March 26, 2019

Jonathan Small

Oklahoma’s governor should ignore complaints from diversity bean-counters and continue to bring in the best-qualified people he can find.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wisely and famously said: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Throughout Oklahoma history, state government has been plagued by the good ol’ boy system. Too many people in positions of power were career politicians, incompetent, corrupt, or all three. The state Health Department scandal is a recent example.

Gov. Kevin Stitt, to his great credit, has focused on bringing in the best-qualified people he can find, including those from outside government. That’s something most Oklahomans welcome, but it’s drawing criticism from some liberals who spurn Dr. King’s wisdom. Instead of judging people by their character and competence, they prefer checking off racial-and-gender boxes.

Thus, a recent front-page, above-the-fold article in The Oklahoman (“Stitt’s cabinet lacks diversity”) complained that Stitt’s cabinet “is nearly all male and white” and none are “Hispanic or black.” The article also ran in the Tulsa World (under the headline “Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt's Cabinet predominately male and white”) and the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise (“Governor’s cabinet mostly male”).

Notably, the white male reporter’s article did not find any of Stitt’s cabinet members are unqualified, or that less-qualified men were selected over more qualified nominees from different backgrounds. But even by the standards touted in the article, the report was wildly misleading.

Although Lisa Billy was noted as one of three female cabinet members, the fact Billy is among the state’s most prominent members of the Chickasaw Nation went unmentioned. Having ancestors who walked the Trail of Tears is not the background of the average white male of European descent, yet this was ignored. Are American Indians no longer a minority group?

Buried in the article was an admission that the majority of Stitt’s staff are women, including leadership positions. But this was downplayed to portray the governor’s hires as part of a “good ol’ boys club” (according to one person quoted). Having worked in three different departments of state government, I can assure you that staff members regularly have more influence on the day-to-day operations of a governor’s office than cabinet positions.

In short, the new governor’s administration lacks “diversity” only if you exclude Americans Indians and women.

It’s also worth mentioning that Gov. Stitt recently appointed Eric Stevenson, an African-American, to one of the most influential positions in state government, the University of Oklahoma board of regents. Stevenson will be the first African-American to serve on that powerful board in two decades.

Interestingly, media outlets touting the need for “diversity” don’t always practice what they preach. How many people of color are in The Oklahoman’s newsroom? I’m not sure; for some reason, The Oklahoman didn’t respond to the latest “newsroom employment diversity survey” from the American Society of News Editors (neither did the Tulsa World nor the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise). But this group shot might lead one to conclude that The Oklahoman shouldn’t throw stones.

If we truly want to help the most vulnerable, effective government is what matters.

As someone who served on the Oklahoma Affirmative Action Review Council, I would suggest that history and reality compel the governor to ignore complaints from some white liberals who insist that others practice a form of diversity from which they exempt themselves. He’s doing just fine—with a favorable/unfavorable rating of 53 percent to 16 percent. (The liberal media? Not so much.)

Gov. Stitt should continue putting competent people in power and righting our troubled ship of state. By that measure, he is succeeding.