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Oklahoma Governor’s Feud with Tribes Escalates, Threatening Tribal Negotiations

The ongoing feud between Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt and several tribes in the state has reached a new level of contention, prompting fellow Republicans in the Legislature and the state’s attorney general to consider removing Stitt from tribal negotiations.

The agreements, known as compacts, have been established over the past few decades to allocate revenue from gambling, vehicle tags, and the sale of tobacco and motor fuel on tribal land. These revenue streams play a significant role in both state and tribal finances.

Last year alone, tribal casinos contributed nearly $200 million to the state under exclusive casino gambling rights granted to tribes.

Republican leaders in the state are publicly expressing their dissatisfaction with Stitt’s hostile stance towards the tribes. They argue that his actions not only impact revenue but also strain the relationship with tribal leaders, which has been developed over decades, spanning Republican and Democratic administrations.

Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, a Republican from Oklahoma City, highlighted the confusion surrounding Stitt’s animosity towards the tribes, noting that even former President Trump had questioned the governor’s stance, deeming it “nonsensical.”

Stitt’s relationship with tribal leaders has deteriorated since his failed attempt to renegotiate gambling contracts during his first term, aiming to secure a larger share of casino revenue for the state. In response, powerful tribes mobilized their political influence to prevent Stitt from winning a second term last year.

This year, Stitt, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation himself, further strained relations by vetoing numerous legislative measures endorsed by the tribes. One such measure sought to allow Native American students to wear tribal regalia at graduation ceremonies.

Stitt argues that his actions are driven by his goal to negotiate the best possible deal for all of Oklahoma’s residents, especially regarding the tobacco compacts. He is concerned that the U.S. Supreme Court’s McGirt decision on tribal sovereignty could enable tribes to undercut non-tribal retailers throughout eastern Oklahoma.

Currently, tribal tobacco sales are limited to retail locations on tribal trust land. However, following the McGirt decision, courts have determined that over 40 percent of the state falls within the boundaries of historical reservations.

The feud between Stitt and the tribes has now spilled into the Republican-controlled Legislature. A special session is scheduled for Monday, during which lawmakers aim to override Stitt’s vetoes of bills extending tribal compacts on tobacco and motor vehicles for another year.

Treat expressed willingness to grant the governor another year to negotiate with the tribes in good faith. However, if no progress materializes, the Legislature may assume the right to negotiate the compacts. Despite the governor’s office traditionally handling these negotiations, state law permits the Legislature to take charge.

Republican Attorney General Gentner Drummond has also criticized Stitt’s approach towards the tribes. He urged the Legislature to allow him to defend Oklahoma’s interests in an ongoing legal battle over gambling compacts involving the governor’s office and the Cherokee Nation.

Drummond emphasized that the governor’s divisive rhetoric and incessant legal attacks have significantly strained Oklahoma’s relationship with tribal nations.

The escalating rift between Governor Stitt and the tribes poses challenges to tribal negotiations and threatens the stability of revenue streams vital to both the state and tribal communities.