Governor Stitt’s cabinet, composed mostly of corporate figures, will put tension between business and public interests.
This past Thursday, Kevin Stitt met with his cabinet for the first time after being sworn into the governor’s office. Stitt will appoint 15 members of his cabinet and, thus far, he appears to be fulfilling his campaign promise of bringing his business acumen into government.
So far, the governor has 10 appointees, including Lt. Governor Matt Pinnell, who is now in charge of tourism and branding. Sean Kouplen, CEO of Regent Bank in Tulsa, has been nominated Secretary of Commerce and Work Development, reflecting Stitt’s desire to appoint his closest friends onto his cabinet. Per NewsOK, Kouplen has already noted that the environment of the administration functions as a business boardroom with each secretary acting “like CEOs” and “developing very specific metrics” to measure success.
While dismantling a political structure contingent on the idea of democratic governance and replacing it with a corporate hierarchy sounds like an effective strategy, it fundamentally misrepresents how government works. After encountering severe setbacks in the 1970s, corporations abandoned the long-held doctrine of a separation between business and politics. Starting with Ronald Reagan and his sweeping deregulations, the idea of business leaders running for office has gained massive popularity among Republicans.
Selling himself as a leader who will “bring a business mind to government,” Stitt is nothing more than the latest rich white male to head another state’s government. The issue that remains for Stitt, as every business leader has encountered when entering politics, is that a business model does not translate into political power. At the heart of political power is bargaining, not command. President Trump is encountering the same issue transitioning from employees carrying out his directives unquestioningly to struggling with members of co-equal branches both on the same and opposite sides of the political aisle.
Governor Stitt believes he is assembling a group of corporate allies that will find the best ways to profit from his time in office. However, Stitt might find himself also competing against those people as rivals. All will use their various departments to deregulate restrictions on their own industries, lower taxes and stifle enforcement, but this is not unusual for neoliberal governance. However, they will struggle with public concerns as most have little to no political experience and running government agencies.
The key is that Stitt will face public pressure to deal with political issues confronting Oklahoma while his cabinet concentrates on increasing their commercial prospects. When these interests collide, Stitt will have to balance his friends’ bottom line with public concerns.
We could ask how this differentiates Stitt’s dilemma and what Oklahomans faced with Mary Fallin. The primary problem with Fallin was that she was inherently incompetent; unable to control events and her own cabinet members, she found herself stumbling into controversy after controversy. Stitt, on the other hand, will always choose what benefits himself, and this makes him far more dangerous. Regardless, his cabinet should not surprise any of us. These executives-turned-politicians merely reflect the governor’s ultimate end for Oklahoma: turning the state into an exploitable resource for corporations.