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An enormous banner with the words “Free Julius Jones” flew in the wind over the Oklahoma Capitol Monday morning.
The message, coupled with banners that read “Stitt’s Failed State” and “Oklahoma: we deserve clean land, air, water. Build it back fossil free” greeted Governor Stitt as he made his State of the State address.
In his speech today, Governor Stitt is expected to tout accomplishments he says have made Oklahoma a “top ten state”. However, after the last two years of a raging pandemic, far-right agendas and politicizing Julius Jones’ life, some Oklahomans have a different view of Stitt’s record.
According to The Oklahoma Project and other sources, three years after Stitt took office, Oklahoma ranks poorly on most key metrics:
- 42nd for overall worst quality of life
- 49th in education (outcomes and overall funding)
- 48th in healthcare (when accounting for access, overall coverage and overall health)
- 42nd in child wellbeing (the state has the eighth highest rate of child poverty in the nation)
- 2nd in per-capita incarceration
- Top ten in per-capita deaths from COVID-19
Stitt ignores COVID-19 entirely in State of the State address
In his speech Monday, Stitt chose not to address the COVID-19 pandemic at all. Even as deaths in the state near 14,000, the Governor offered not a single word to those lost, those battling the illness or the state’s healthcare heroes.
The decision to ignore the pandemic was not lost on many across the state, including State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, who is challenging Stitt in November’s election.
Shortly after the Governor’s speech, Hofmeister issued a written statement condemning the glaring omission:
“Although the governor failed to mention the global pandemic, Oklahoma has shouldered the highest COVID death rate in the nation. The 13,954 Oklahoma families who are grieving a loved one remain on my heart and in my prayers, and I offer sincere gratitude to the health care workers continuing to serve and sacrifice for our communities.”
The magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic has not left the minds or lives of everyday Oklahomans. While the Governor launches a re-election bid, some are still reeling from the more consequential failures of his leadership.
Many still feel pain of Stitt’s ‘torturous’ handling of Jones’ case
As the November election draw closer, many remember the day Stitt almost allowed Julius Jones’ execution to continue. Governor Stitt, who refused to meet with Julius Jones’ mother after she waiting for hours in his office last November, granted Julius clemency with just hours to spare.
Stitt allowed Julius’s family to endure saying their goodbyes and for Julius to receive his last meal. Despite months of mounting pleas and two recommendations for commutation from the pardon and parole board, the Governor chose to hold his decision until four hours before the execution.
And, while Stitt granted clemency, he went against the Board’s recommendation to offer the possibility of parole.
Rev. Cece Jones-Davis, a friend and advocate for Julius and his family, called the ordeal “torture“.
“We should not have received this news four hours before an execution,” Jones-Davis told The Black Wall Street Times in November. “This was torture for Julius and for his family and for the people who love him.”
In a public statement issued after Stitt’s speech, the Justice for Julius coalition spoke to this pain.
“Kevin Stitt toyed with the citizens of Oklahoma when he dangled Julius Jones’ fate between life and death until just hours before a scheduled execution,” the statement read.
“Oklahoma has a cruel governor. That’s the state of affairs.”
As the Governor took the stage today to cheer his record, the banners flying outside served as a reminder of the toll his actions, or lack thereof, have taken on many Oklahomans.