NORMAN — Retired U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn endorsed Tulsa-businessman Kevin Stitt ahead of next week's runoff election in the Republican gubernatorial primary.
The Stitt campaign issued a press release on Tuesday announcing the endorsement. In a statement, Coburn said while he and Stitt "have not always seen eye-to-eye on policy decisions during this election season," he sees him as the best conservative choice for governor.
"Kevin is committed to delivering accountability and transparency to state government, and he is the fresh, new leadership our state Republican party needs," Coburn said. "Kevin Stitt is driven by his faith and I applaud his willingness to leave the private sector for a season to serve our state. I urge Oklahomans to join me in electing the only conservative outsider in this race, Kevin Stitt.”
Coburn also said he has also been put off by the "negative political ads by Mick Cornett" in the build-up to the Aug. 28 runoff. He called them distasteful and a misrepresentation.
In particular, Coburn criticized the advertisements claiming Stitt's business, Gateway Capital, operated in a shady manner and unfairly benefited from the 2007 subprime mortgage crisis and subsequent financial crisis.
"As a U.S. Senator during the subprime mortgage crisis, I can attest first hand that if these fees and fines from many years ago were truly egregious, Kevin Stitt would not be in business today," Coburn said. "Furthermore, the accusations that Kevin Stitt took bailout money is a gross misrepresentation of the TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) program. Kevin’s company is not a financial institution that could have accepted the bailout money meant to support failing banks.
"By law, the federal government required mortgage companies to participate in an underlying program to prevent foreclosures, and Gateway followed the letter of the law.”
TARP was a bailout scheme signed-off by President George W. Bush in October 2008 in which the federal government bought toxic assets from financial institutions in order to keep that sector from stagnating.
Stitt said he is grateful for Coburn's support and that he agrees with the former senator that the best way forward for Oklahoma is through government accountability and transparency.
"Sen. Coburn and I agree that Oklahoma needs to be delivering core public services effectively and efficiently, and this starts by demanding accountability and transparency in state government," Stitt said. "We have a bright future on our horizon with Oklahoma’s economy recovering and growth in state revenue. Now is the time to take the bull by the horns to diversify our job market, root out waste in government, and ensure stability in funding core services for the next generation.”
Cornett recently picked up the endorsement of former Oklahoma Speaker of the House Jeff Hickman earlier this month. Earlier this summer, Oklahomans for Public Education endorsed Cornett, and he has also been backed by mayors from several Oklahoma towns.
After retiring in the middle of his term as senator in 2014, Coburn stepped out of political life until earlier this year. He was the main spokesperson for the anti-tax group Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite, which unsuccessfully tried to eliminate the revenue raising measures of a teacher pay rise bill.
The group abandoned its effort in July. Coburn was critical of the state legislature for approving tax increases for teacher pay raises and the teacher walkout in the spring.