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Chief Batton: Stitt makes Oklahoma roads more dangerous

Published May 16, 2022

By Chief Gary Batton

This month, the Oklahoma Legislature overwhelmingly passed a measure to help keep dangerous drivers off Oklahoma roads.

Despite more than 90 percent of Senators and Representatives approving House Bill 3501, Gov. Kevin Stitt vetoed the measure. Why? Because he refuses to acknowledge what everyone else in the state knows: Native American Tribes are valuable partners dedicated to making this the best state possible. And he is unwilling to accept a valid, binding decision from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Apparently, Gov. Stitt’s knowledge of history dates back only to 1907. We urge him to look back to 1830, when the federal government recognized the sovereignty of the Choctaw Nation and signed treaties with us. Those agreements formed the basis of the Supreme Court’s McGirt decision.

HB 3501 would simply require the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety to recognize convictions from qualified Tribal courts. This would mean, for instance, people who drive recklessly on Indian land could lose their Oklahoma drivers’ licenses. Why does Gov. Stitt want to allow dangerous drivers on the road?

He could easily sign this hugely popular bipartisan law and protect Tribal members and the 4 million Oklahomans he claims to represent.

But Gov. Stitt doesn’t see that. He only sees another opportunity to demonize the Tribes that bring so much opportunity and economic development to our state. He, once again, prefers to create an “us versus them” mentality that most Oklahomans know is false. He even suggested Tribal governments are illegitimate.

The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and the other federally recognized Tribes that make our state so special supported HB 3501, because we believe cooperation with other governments is the key to safety and prosperity.

This is nothing new; the Choctaw Nation alone has 75 cross-deputization agreements with state and local agencies. Our courts are as transparent and reliable as any other state or municipal court, and they function in much the same way. Despite the governor’s lies, we operate with accountability and transparency. If there’s a lack of reciprocity, it’s because his office refuses to cooperate.

Fortunately, the state Constitution has a remedy for a governor who does not want to work with the tribes and betterment of the people, and that is to override the veto.

Our goal is for the Legislature to reject Gov. Stitt’s petty gambit, do what’s right for our state and confirm its decision to support this common-sense measure to protect all Oklahomans.

Gary Batton is the chief of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

This opinion article originally ran in The Oklahoman on May 15, 2022.