Stitt Nominated Unqualified Candidates; Tried to Reduce Qualification Requirements for Agency Leadership

In 2020, Kevin Stitt surprised even lawmakers from his own party when he called on the legislature to reduce the qualifications required to lead the Oklahoma State Department of Health, Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, and the Commissioners Land Office. Legislation to reduce the qualifications for the health care positions was met with bipartisan concern in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

Oklahoma Watch reported Stitt sought to change the requirements because his picks to run the Health Department and Land Office didn’t meet the requirements spelled out in state law. The health commissioner must have one of the following: a doctor-of-medicine degree and license; an osteopathic degree and license; a doctoral degree in public health or public health administration; or a master’s degree in science. Stitt’s nominee, Gary Cox, had a bachelor’s degree in education and history, with a minor in science. He was also a donor to Kevin Stitt’s transition fund.

Another one of Stitt’s nominees, Elliot Chambers, the former CEO of White Star Petroleum Holdings LLC and Stitt donor, allegedly shorted the Oklahoma Commissioners of the Land Office of royalty payments – the same agency Stitt picked him to lead. White Star Petroleum filed for bankruptcy in May 2019, listing the Commissioners of the Land Office among thousands of creditors.

Chambers ultimately became the 51st Secretary of the Commissioners of the Land Office in July, 2020. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee refused to confirm Gary Cox.