OK Gov. Kevin Stitt begins second term

OKLAHOMA CITY — Governor Kevin Stitt delivered his second Inaugural Address on Monday.

Stitt said one of his goals is to bring professional educators to the top in the region in pay and benefits.

Stitt is just one of five governors in Oklahoma to be reelected to a second term. The others are George Nigh, Frank Keating, Brad Henry, and Mary Fallin. 

Since statehood, Oklahoma has had 28 governors. Six governors were Republican and 22 governors were Democrat.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters was also sworn in at the State Capitol on Monday beginning his four-year term.

“It is an honor to be elected and serve as the next State Superintendent,” Walters said in a prepared statement. “I look forward to giving Oklahoma students the best opportunity to learn from the great teachers here in Oklahoma.”

Ryan Walters

Walters said his plans are to audit every educational dollar, fight to increase teacher pay, and evaluate best practices.

“I look forward to working with Governor Stitt, the Legislature, and the State Board of Education to empower parents, increase teacher pay, protect girls’ sports and keep the fundamentals of Oklahoma’s educational system at the forefront during my tenure,” Walters said.

Eric Schmitt sworn in as Missouri's next US Senator

WASHINGTON, DC — Former Missouri General, Eric Schmitt, 47, was sworn in as the state’s next US Senator today. He is taking over Roy Blunt’s seat after winning the election against Trudy Busch Valentine this last November. He will be the 2,000th Senator in United States History.

“I’m truly humbled and honored by the opportunity to continue to serve the people of the great state of Missouri as a United States Senator,” states Senator Eric Schmitt. “I will continue to serve as a champion for all Missourians, to fight for the farmers, the small business owners, and Missouri parents and families, and will continue to push back on government intrusion and overreach at every step. This is a new day, and I’m excited for what comes next.”

Schmitt was born and raised in St. Louis County. He began his political career in 2005 as an alderman in Glendale, Missouri. From there, he was elected as a state senator and then went on to serve as state treasurer and eventually as Missouri’s attorney general.

Blunt announced that he was retiring in May 2021. The Republican primary to replace the senator turned into one of the most watched races in the nation. Former Governor Eric Greitens entered the fray along with, Congressman Billy Long, Mark McCloskey, and several others.

Former President Donald Trump weighed in on the contest, endorsing “Eric.” It was unclear who he was referring to, with Eric Greitens and Eric Schmitt leading the pack.

Northeast Oklahoma a new district attorney

OTTAWA COUNTY, Okla. — A new top prosecutor is officially in charge in Northeast Oklahoma.

Douglas Pewitt was sworn in as the new district attorney for Ottawa and Delaware counties this afternoon.

He said it’s important to include as much of the community as possible in the ceremony because he believes the point of prosecution is to make the community a better place for everybody.

“Probably the biggest change we’re going to do is working cooperatively with the tribal entities that are local to our district to make part of the community, a lot of our law enforcement resources come from the nations and the tribes. And we just want to make sure that that is a tight relationship,” said Douglas Pewitt, Ottawa/Delaware Co. DA.

Pewitt was elected to the position in November, beating incumbent D.A. Kenny Wright.

Congress will start new session with long to-do lists

WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — A new session of Congress will start in the new year, with a whole different power dynamic. Lawmakers already have big plans for the next two years.

On Tuesday, the new session will begin and Republicans will take over the majority in the House.

Congressman Greg Steube said a major priority will be the southern border.

“I believe the American people put us in the majority on the House to deal with the immigration crises,” Steube said.

But the first task for the House will be choosing a Speaker. Congressman McCarthy is fighting for the spot, but doesn’t have enough votes yet.

“The conference is going to have to figure that out before we start business,” McCarthy said.

The Republican majority will also control House committees and their investigations. They’ve said they plan to use them to crack down on the Biden Administration.

Even in the minority, Congressman Don Beyer said Democrats still have important responsibilities in the House.

“To try to be that alternative voice, always looking for win-win situations to help the American people,” Beyer said.

Democrats will still control the White House and the Senate. So Republicans will have to work across party lines to get legislation passed and signed into law.

“You have to be realistic, but it would be foolish to give up on finding a path for some bipartisan pieces of legislation,” Senator Tim Kaine said.

Senator Tim Kaine points out the last Congress passed bipartisan legislation on infrastructure, gun control, and computer chips. He thinks there are more areas where both parties can come together.

“What about mental health? What about substance use disorders and opioid addiction? What about long COVID?” Kaine said.

Though some priorities will be left behind in the name of compromise.

“I don’t think either party is going to be able to get anything that are out on the edges,” Beyer said. “But there will be many many things in the middle that we do together.

The work to find that middle ground starts next week.

Top 10 political moments in Kansas in 2022

TOPEKA, (KSNT) — 2022 was a year packed with historic political moments in Kansas. That includes a Primary vote on abortion rights that garnered national attention and a Midterm Election that put Democrats and Republicans to the test.

Here are 10 of the top political moments in the state in 2022.

Kansans uphold abortion rights

Abortion took center stage this year, after the fall of Roe v. Wade. Kansas was the first state to hold a critical vote, deciding the future of abortion rights.

Nearly 60% of Kansas voters voted to reject a constitutional amendment on the Primary ballot, which would have given lawmakers the power to potentially pass more restrictions or limits on the procedure.

After backlash from supporters of the amendment and a last-minute recount, the Primary vote count was confirmed, upholding the constitutional right to abortion in the state.

Another amendment: Sheriffs fight back

Long-winded and sometimes confusing ballot questions didn’t end in the Primary. Amendments appearing on the November ballot also had some voters wondering what their vote actually meant.

One of the amendments, which passed this year, was HCR 5022. It came down to who has the power to push an elected sheriff out of office, and, if local counties can choose to have a sheriff at all.

Riley County is the only county in the state without a sheriff, after consolidating with the city of Manhattan to have one law enforcement agency – Riley County Police. In the state’s other 104 counties – sheriff’s are elected by the people.

The amendment prevents counties from completely eliminating or merging their sheriff’s office with another law enforcement agency, like a local police department. It also prevents local prosecutors from ousting a sheriff, leaving the process to the Attorney General’s Office or a public vote. A majority of Kansas voters approved the amendment in November.

Kelly-Schmidt State Fair Debate

The battle for the next Kansas Governor came to a head at the first debate of the election season.

Democratic incumbent Laura Kelly faced off with Republican nominee Derek Schmidt at the Kansas State Fair, proving to be one of the most heated exchanges between the two candidates.

Schmidt slammed Kelly over her handling of the pandemic, and the status of the state’s economy. However, Kelly fired back, touting a list of accomplishments, which included receiving “trophy after trophy” for economic development.

Kelly’s rebuttal ended in applause, after she asked Schmidt about his opinion on Sam Brownback’s leadership, hinting at a failed tax experiment. She delivered, what later became, a notorious tagline.

Political mud-slinging, drag shows, trans athletes and more

Political mud-slinging is sometimes thrown in the mix, during an election year, and the 2022 Midterm was not an exception.

Campaigns and political parties found new ways to take jabs at the opposing side, using creative political ads.

Democrats took aim at Republican gubernatorial nominee Derek Schmidt, launching an interactive website ahead of the Primary. The party doubled down on their push to tie both figures to the shortfalls of former Governor Sam Brownback’s administration, citing his failed tax experiment.

National and state GOP groups also attacked democratic Governor Laura Kelly for refusing to pass a bill banning transgender athletes from women sports. The Governor later released an ad, saying that “men should not play girls sports,” which some Republicans pointed to as a sign that the governor was backtracking her prior stance and lying about her record.

Toward the end of the campaign season, Schmidt held a press conference accusing the Governor’s administration of sponsoring drag shows with taxpayer dollars. The Governor, her administration and her campaign said the claims were “not true.”

Kelly wins Re-election, Kobach makes comeback

After a whirlwind election season, there were some surprise wins from some highly contentious races in the state. Republican Kris Kobach made a political comeback, securing a seat as the next Attorney General.

Democratic incumbent Laura Kelly also won a second term, defeating Republican Derek Schmidt in a tight race.

Both Kobach and Kelly narrowly defeated their opponents. However, the margin was even larger for one of the most watched Congressional races in the state.

Democratic U.S. Representative Sharice Davids defeated Republican Amanda Adkins by nearly 12 percentage points, despite having to campaign in a new congressional district.

Based on the 2022 Midterm results, some political experts argue that the state may be leaning more “purple” than “red.”

Sports betting legalized, wrapped in controversy

Kansas took a monumental step to legalize sports betting, and rushed to get the system up and running within just a few months.

However, a New York Times Investigation released in November shined a light on how sports betting legislation in the state was passed. The investigation indicated that lawmakers may have been influenced by sports gambling lobbyists to pass a plan that may not be in the best interest of the state.

The state cut from sports betting is set at 10% under the current plan, generating far less revenue than states like New York, which have set their tax cut at 51%.

There have been discussions from some state leaders to revisit the plan, and determine whether the state got a good deal.

Medical marijuana comeback

Kansas lawmakers could take a major step toward marijuana reform in 2023.

Democrats and Republicans formed a special committee to work on a medical marijuana bill ahead of the 2023 legislative session.

While the bill has passed the House chamber in the past, Republican Senate President Ty Masterson has said that medical marijuana is not a legislative priority.

Senator Rob Olson, who is spearheading efforts to draft the bill, said he [doesn’t know] where the bill will end up, but he does intend to introduce a plan.

DCF backlash grows

The Kansas Department of Children and Families has been in the spotlight after several complaints from foster care families.

One of the incidents involving a foster family in Gardner, prompted lawmakers in the state’s Child Welfare committee to hold a press conference, decrying “lies” and “inconsistencies” with the state’s foster care system.

The controversy surrounded the Gardner family’s ongoing battle with Cornerstones of Care, a non-profit organization in the Kansas City area.

Nicole and John Dehaven, who are contracted as foster parents through Cornerstones of Care, recounted the roadblocks they’ve encountered in trying to adopt their three-year-old foster daughter, who has been with them since within days of her birth.

The DeHaven’s daughter is part of a sibling set of eight.

In an interview with Kansas Capitol Bureau, another foster parent, Jackie Schooler from Tonganoxie, came forward with similar complaints. Schooler detailed her struggles with advocating for her foster children, who are also part of the sibling set.

Suellentrop steps down 

Kansas Senator Gene Suellentrop, who made headlines, after being caught speeding down the wrong side of the highway in 2021, will not be returning to the Legislature in 2023.

The Republican from Wichita was sentenced to serve 2 days in jail and 12 months of probation for a DUI and reckless driving, but was released early, according to records obtained by Kansas Capitol Bureau.

In November, Suellentrop, who has served in the Senate since 2017, notified Senate Leadership in an email about his plans to leave office on January 2, 2023, a spokesman for Leadership confirmed.

KHP lawsuits, Gov. stands by Leader 

Multiple lawsuits against the Kansas Highway Patrol moved forward earlier this year. Former troopers broke their silence, after claiming that they were wrongfully fired from the agency.

Sean McCauley, an attorney who represented a couple of troopers, who filed lawsuits claiming retaliation from the department, said it’s been a “common theme” in prior cases, where troopers “speak out” against Superintendent Colonel Herman Jones.

The Kansas State Troopers Association has called for Governor Laura Kelly to remove Colonel Herman Jones from his leadership position.

However, in an exclusive television interview with Kansas Capitol Bureau, Kelly defended Jones’ position as Superintendent.

Trump's digital cards sell out within a day

Former President Trump’s digital trading cards have sold out less than 24 hours after he first announced they were available.

As of Friday morning, the site selling the non-fungible tokens (NFTs) says they are sold out, and links to purchase the digital cards are no longer available. 

OpenSea Data, which tracks the sales and markets for NFTs, indicated there were 45,000 of the Trump cards initially made available for purchase for $99 each. The Trump digital cards were the top trending item on the site as of Friday morning.

Trump posted on Truth Social on Wednesday that he would be making a “major announcement” without providing any details. Some had speculated the announcement would be related to the Speaker race playing out among House Republicans or Trump’s largely inactive 2024 presidential campaign.

Instead, Trump revealed a line of digital trading cards that could be purchased with cryptocurrency or a credit card. Proceeds from the cards — which, among other looks, depict the former president as an astronaut and a cowboy — will not go to Trump’s campaign but to Trump himself through a licensing deal.

The announcement drew mockery and disbelief from liberals and some conservatives. 

President Biden tweeted that he had some “major announcements” of his own, listing off a series of policy wins in recent weeks. Stephen Bannon, a former Trump White House and campaign official, appeared exasperated by the announcement during his radio show on Thursday and suggested whoever was involved with the effort should be fired.

Kansas reaches $77 million settlement with Walgreens, CVS over opioid epidemic allegations

TOPEKA (KSNT) – More than $70 million has been secured for the state of Kansas through a legal settlement with Walgreens and CVS pharmacies.

The Kansas Attorney General’s Office announced on Monday Walgreens and CVS Pharmacies have agreed to a settlement with Kansas to resolve allegations the companies contributed to the opioid addiction crisis by failing to appropriately oversee the dispensing of opioids at their stores. The AG’s Office anticipates the money secured for Kansas, $77 million, may grow as the details of the settlement are finalized.

The settlements will provide more than $10.7 billion nationally and will require significant improvements in how the pharmacies handle opioids. The proceeds from the settlement must be used to provide treatment and recovery services for people struggling with opioid use disorder. Pharmacies must provide for broad, court-ordered requirements to their pharmacy practices, including robust oversight to prevent fraudulent prescriptions and flag suspicious prescriptions.

The settlements will be reviewed by participating states by the end of the year, allowing for additional parties to join during the first quarter of 2023. More than $278 million has been recovered by the AG’s Office related to unlawful opioid manufacturing, marketing and distribution.

The AG’s Office went on to report Kansas is engaged in other ongoing investigations and negotiations with other companies the state believes played a role in illegally fueling opioid addiction.

Who is Missouri's new attorney general, what are his priorities?

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri’s new attorney general will officially take office in a few weeks, after Eric Schmitt was elected as the state’s newest U.S. Senator in November. 

Gov. Mike Parson didn’t have to go far to find Missouri’s new top prosecutor. Andrew Bailey is currently serving as the governor’s general counsel until he’s sworn in next month as attorney general. Bailey talked about his priorities and his plan to stay in that role for the foreseeable future. 

“I am myopically focused on being the attorney general for the State of Missouri,” he said. “The governor knows I have a passion for public service and where my heart is on that.”

Bailey, 41, is no stranger to the attorney general’s office. After attending the University of Missouri Law School following two tours to Iraq in response to the 9/11 attacks, he was hired at the attorney general’s office working in civil litigation defending the state’s criminal justice system. 

“General Chris Koster was the attorney general when I started there and worked for him for a couple of years before moving to the Warren County Prosecutor’s Office,” Bailey said. “When I was working in Warren County, one of my additional duties was the attorney for the county juvenile office, and it was in that capacity that I developed a really heart of children in need of year, and it broke my heart to see kids that didn’t have a home to go to.”

While being an assistant prosecutor in Warren County, Bailey and his wife became foster parents and ended up adopting three kids out of the system. He then became general counsel at the Missouri Department of Corrections and before moving to the governor’s office.

“My vision is to protect the constitution, enforce the laws as written, defend the state, support the counties and train a new generation of public service-minded attorneys,” Bailey said. 

Last month, the governor appointed Bailey as the new attorney general, the state’s third since 2018. The two previous attorneys general, Schmitt and Josh Hawley, have been elected to serve in Washington D.C. in the U.S. Senate. 

“The previous two attorneys general have done such a fantastic job that the people have rewarded them with higher office,” Bailey said. “The governor wants to see that carried on, but he also wants to see someone that can be there for a while and invest in the organization.”

During his press conference in November, Parson said very few Missouri governors have had the “opportunity and responsibility to appoint an attorney general on behalf of the people of Missouri once, let along twice.”

“One of the other things the governor is interested in is stability in the office,” Bailey said. “Intend to run for office, I will be the incumbent, I will have been there for two years, and the people will be able to look at the work I’ve done on behalf of the state.”

Already planning to be on the ballot in 2024, Bailey agrees with Schmitt’s lawsuit against the Biden administration on college debt forgiveness. 

“It is up to our state’s attorney general to stand in the gap against federal overreach, and we see that happening in all sorts of fronts today that were unimaginable previously,” Bailey said. “That is an important suit, and I’m glad to see the United States’ Supreme Court grant cert on that and agree to hear that case.”

Schmitt also filed dozens of lawsuits within the past two years against schools that required students to wear masks. Bailey said it’s the right of the attorney general to get involved. 

“I think COVID was a unique time in our state’s history, in our nation’s history, and a lot of people were trying to do the right thing for the right reasons,” Bailey said. “However, we cannot sacrifice freedom because of a perceived emergency. We have to protect children, but we also have to let children be children and be free.”

The husband and father of four want to make sure parents also have a say in what their child is taught. Leadership in both the House and the Senate plan to discuss critical race theory (CRT) and some say it’s even a priority. 

“It’s important that the attorney general uses the legal apparatus of the state to ensure that the schools are meeting that mission, that parents have a voice in the process and that it’s about education not indoctrination,” Bailey said. “As a parent who has children who attend school, I want to know what they are being taught, how it’s being taught and make sure the schools are about education.”

He said he also plans to focus on protecting people from online scams, data breaches and crime, making sure prosecutors across the state are doing their job. 

“I think that you’ve got to support local control, but I also think that when you’re in an executive function in government, you have to enforce the laws as written, you don’t get to pick and choose,” Bailey said. “We’ve got to look at the data, we’ve got to look at the numbers and where there are shortcomings and failings and the attorney general will be there to assist, but the voters also need to hold people accountable.”

House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said just minutes after Parson’s announcement last month she wants integrity restored in the office and a leader who puts Missourians first. In response to her statement, Bailey said there’s not a deficit of integrity that has to be made up for. 

“There was integrity in the office previously, there’s integrity in the office now, and I will continue to bring integrity into that office,” Bailey said. “I’m excited to stand up and fight for the constitutional rights of the people of Missouri.”

Bailey said he will start to meet with the staff to get updated on ongoing litigation cases in the attorney general’s office. He is set to be sworn in Jan. 3. 

Later this month, the governor will also appoint a new state treasurer after Scott Fitzpatrick was elected state auditor in November. 

Here are the 50 legislatures ranked from most to least conservative

(The Hill) — A new report from the Center for Legislative Accountability (CLA) has ranked all 50 states from most to least conservative, with Alabama leading as the most conservative state in the U.S. and Massachusetts as the least conservative.

The rankings from CLA, a project of the Conservative Political Action Committee and the American Conservative Union, are based on the conservative voting records of lawmakers across 186 policy categories in 2021.

For example, Alabama lawmakers voted last year with a conservative position at the highest rate, or 74 percent of the time. Massachusetts lawmakers voted with the conservative position just 15 percent of the time, the lowest rate.

Overall, the nation has grown more polarized, according to the CLA finding.

The 3,906 Republican state lawmakers in the U.S. voted conservative 80.8 percent of the time in 2021, up from 76.4 percent in 2020. 

The 3,223 Democratic state lawmakers voted conservative 15.9 percent of the time, down from 18.7 percent in 2020.

Here are the states ranked from most to least conservative.

Top 25 most conservative

  1. Alabama
  2. Tennessee
  3. Indiana
  4. South Dakota
  5. Arkansas
  6. Florida
  7. Idaho
  8. Wyoming
  9. Iowa
  10. West Virginia
  11. Oklahoma
  12. Ohio
  13. Mississippi
  14. Kentucky
  15. North Carolina
  16. Georgia
  17. North Dakota
  18. Kansas
  19. Utah
  20. Louisiana
  21. Missouri
  22. Nebraska
  23. Wisconsin
  24. Montana
  25. Michigan

Top 25 least conservative

  1. Massachusetts
  2. Hawaii
  3. Rhode Island
  4. California
  5. Maryland
  6. Vermont
  7. New York
  8. New Jersey
  9. Connecticut
  10. Oregon
  11. Nevada
  12. Colorado
  13. Delaware
  14. New Mexico
  15. Illinois
  16. Washington
  17. Maine
  18. Minnesota
  19. Virginia
  20. Alaska
  21. New Hampshire
  22. Arizona
  23. Pennsylvania
  24. South Carolina
  25. Texas

White House preps for potential post-midterms staff turnover

The White House is bracing for a potential staffing turnover now that the midterm elections are in the rearview mirror, with some aides expected to depart in early 2023. 

The Biden administration so far has been remarkably stable compared to the Trump administration, with very few high-profile departures in its first two years. But that is likely to change as some officials prepare to move on, and others may be asked to transition to a potential 2024 reelection campaign. 

“We have made no secret of actively leading a diverse and wide effort to look for new talent from businesses, academia, labor and other sectors. And that’s just smart, prudent planning for the future,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday when asked if the White House was prepared for possible staff turnover. “But I don’t have any personnel announcements to make at this time.”

Jean-Pierre said Biden is “incredibly confident in his team here and is proud of the historic work that has been done these first two years,” highlighting the passage of an infrastructure law, legislation to fund computer chip manufacturing, a bipartisan gun safety bill and two sweeping Democratic bills passed via reconciliation that included key provisions on health insurance and climate change.

Some Democratic strategists believed there would have been calls for staffing changes at the White House had Democrats been wiped out in the midterms. But that didn’t come to pass, as the party will again hold a narrow Senate majority and a more narrow minority in the House than expected.

Instead, the midterms served as a galvanizing moment for Biden and his team that what they’re doing seems to be working for voters. Any changes to staff are likely to come from those who have been in the White House for two full years on top of any time spent on the 2020 campaign and are ready to move on.

“I just think we’ve reached the two year mark, there’s going to be change,” Jim Kessler, a co-founder of the centrist think tank Third Way, said in a recent interview.

One area where staff turnover is expected is on Biden’s economic team. Brian Deese, the director of the National Economic Council, will reportedly leave his role in the coming months, and Cecilia Rouse is scheduled to return to Princeton University in the spring after taking leave to serve as chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers.

Administration officials are hopeful that Biden’s Cabinet will remain intact to avoid any prolonged confirmation battle in a narrowly divided Senate. And administration allies are similarly optimistic that White House chief of staff Ron Klain will remain in the job for the foreseeable future.

“Ron’s ability to do so many things at the same time is something that I just, you rarely run across this,” Anita Dunn, a senior adviser to the president, said at an Axios event in late October.

“There is no better chief of staff,” she added. “My hope is he stays just as long as President Biden does, which means poor Ron is in for another six years.”

Klain, who has at times drawn the ire of some centrist senators amid legislative talks, has earned the backing of progressive Democrats in particular. And Biden himself has reportedly asked Klain to stay on.

That comes in contrast to the Trump administration, where the former president cycled through four chiefs of staff, four press secretaries and several Cabinet secretaries in one term.

In Trump’s first two years in office, 43 officials in the executive office of the president resigned or were promoted and therefore left their original positions, according to data compiled by Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

By comparison, Biden has seen 24 staffers in the executive office of the president depart or get promoted during his first two years in office, according to Tenpas’s tracker.

Trump also had seven Cabinet-level officials resign or be pushed out during his first two years in office. Meanwhile, Biden has yet to see a single Cabinet-level official step down since he took office.

Biden’s other top advisers — including Steve Ricchetti, Mike Donilon and Jen O’Malley Dillon — have also remained in their jobs for the past two years. Kate Bedingfield, who worked on the 2020 campaign and with Biden as vice president, briefly announced plans to depart from her job as communications director over the summer, only to reverse course and stay put.

The president likes to keep a tight inner circle filled with aides that he has known for years. One Democratic strategist who previously worked with Biden said they expected any major staffing changes would likely be in service of a possible reelection bid.

For example, Cedric Richmond left his job as a senior adviser to the president in May to work with the Democratic National Committee. 

Dunn, who herself left the White House in August 2021 only to return as a senior adviser, has already acknowledged that some planning is underway for staffing and strategizing around a 2024 campaign.

“He has said he intends to run,” Dunn said at the Axios event. “We are engaged in some planning, for the simple reason if we weren’t engaged in planning in November of this year, we should be in the political malpractice hall of fame.”