Oklahoma’s new Republican attorney general is stepping in to represent the state’s interests in a costly, three-year legal battle over tribal gambling after accusing Gov. Kevin Stitt of failing to follow state law.
Attorney General Gentner Drummond delivered the news during a personal call with the Republican governor on Tuesday.
An official letter to Stitt followed, detailing the AG’s plans to represent the state’s interest at the request of House Speaker Charles McCall and Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat.
In a statement announcing the action, Drummond criticized Stitt’s handling of tribal relationships.
While Governor Stitt and I are both elected Republican leaders who agree on many issues, I have been highly critical of his dealings with our Native American Tribes.
The Governor is free to make his own decisions regarding how he wants to interact with the tribes, but he is not free to violate Oklahoma law. I am taking this action in order to uphold the law and defend our constitution.
Neither Gov. Stitt’s office nor the AG immediately responded to Bonus’ requests for comment.
Conflict Stems from Contested Tribal Gambling Agreements
Problems between Stitt, the state, and tribal interests started in 2019 when the governor tried to renegotiate Oklahoma’s gambling compacts.
Stitt was seeking ways to create more revenue for the state. To that end, he argued that compacts signed in 2004 between the state government and the tribes had expired and needed to be renegotiated. Ultimately, a federal judge sided with the tribes, ruling that the compacts had renewed automatically.
Despite that defeat, Stitt convinced four of the smaller tribes in the state to sign new compacts by offering them better deals:
- The Comanche Nation
- The Otoe-Missouria
- The Kialegee Tribal Town
- The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians.
As a result, the larger Cherokee, Chickasaw, Citizen Potawatomi, and Choctaw nations filed a federal lawsuit in Washington district court over the agreements.
According to Drummond, private law firms retained by Stitt to defend the agreements have charged almost $600,000 in legal fees to date.
Since signing the contested compacts, Stitt’s relationship with tribal leaders has deteriorated. Stitt’s hostile approach to negotiation and the resultant erosion of the state-tribal relationship has provoked sharp criticism from fellow Republicans.
Drummond pulled few punches with his words:
As you should fully understand, this long-running and costly litigation is a direct result of your refusal to follow Oklahoma law.
The four tribal gaming compacts you signed were invalid from the start because you did not have the approval or authorization from the Oklahoma Legislature to enter the gaming compacts.
Governor’s Control Over Tribal Negotiations in Question
Treat, according to the Associated Press, said lawmakers might consider removing the governor’s control over tribal compact negotiation.
Once again, he said, in a letter of support to the AG, the legislative branch must intervene due to the governor’s rogue behavior.
As a conservative, I believe that rights not specifically delegated to the federal government belong to the states. But it has become clear, once again, that the Governor disagrees with this bedrock principle as has spent thousands (if not millions) of Oklahoma taxpayer dollars to argue for the supremacy of a federal statute in direct opposition to Oklahoma law and two decisions of our Supreme Court.
Nobody says Treat, not even the Governor, is above the law.
During three years of prolonged litigation, wrote Treeat, Governor Stitt has claimed to represent Oklahoma’s interests while actively undermining state law.
It has thus become clear that the Governor has a conflict: he can either choose to represent the interests of the state or his own personal interests, and I believe he has made his decision clearOklahoma’s relationship with tribal partners has “suffered greatly,” as a result of Stitt’s divisive rhetoric and abandonment of law, wrote Drummond.
The citizens you were elected to serve are the ones who suffer from this irresponsible approach. Instead of working in partnership with tribal leaders to enact compacts that benefit all four million Oklahomans, you insist on costly legal battles that only benefit the elite law firms you hire. Millions of dollars of state resources have been squandered on these futile efforts.
Fortunately, added Drummond, a broad coalition of state leaders are determined to repair that damage.
The first and most critical step in that process is simple: we must follow the law. As Oklahoma’s duly elected Attorney General, that is exactly what I intend to do.