Kevin Stitt, the Republican governor of Oklahoma, tap danced around accusations that his administration misappropriated COVID-19 relief funds in an interview with Fox News‘s Shannon Bream on Sunday when the host asked Stitt to answer allegations by his Democratic opponent that Stitt used taxpayer dollars to enrich his businesses.
‘A federal audit that found the state had mishandled $31 million in Covid money, a criminal investigation into millions of state contracts with a BBQ restaurant, and also on her website, your opponent accuses you of funneling taxpayer subsidy benefits to your own businesses. I want to get you to respond to those allegations,” Bream confronted the governor.
The Republican governor’s response? Deflection of course.
“Oklahomans are too smart,” Stitt responded. “This is an election season with $50 million in special interest trying to buy this election for my opponent. Of course they’re gonna be coming out with this stuff.”
Stitt’s opponent, Joy Hofmeister, has been endorsed by former Republican Congressman JC Watts – a well-known and respected Black member of the GOP. Watts filmed an ad in support of Hofmeister.
“I was a Republican then, and I’m a Republican now,” Watss says in the ad. “And friends, I’m voting for Joy Hofmeister. All this scandal and corruption is just too much.”
It’s an endorsement that Stitt says is “disappointing,” but the governor didn’t refute it.
Instead, he deflected to Watt’s position on the board of a private contractor, Paycom, and accused the former U.S. representative of being in the pocket of corporate America, likening the online payroll provider to the right-wing’s boogeyman of choice – George Soros.
“It’s like the George Soros company of Oklahoma right now,” Stitt said derisively.
oof. this is a pretty brutal line of questioning to Kevin Stitt from Shannon Bream on Fox News Sunday. pic.twitter.com/rdKKmaRCAW
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) November 6, 2022
In July, the Department of Education released an audit demanding the return of at least $650,000 in COVID relief funds. The auditors report also found Oklahoma failed to follow federal guidelines for four of Stitt’s five educational relief programs.
“The questioned spending came from Stitt’s Bridge the Gap Digital Wallet program, which gave $1,500 grants to low-income families for educational purchases like computers and school supplies during the pandemic,” Oklahoma Watch reported..
“Auditors pinpointed questionable expenditures like arcade games, Christmas trees, smart watches, sofas, televisions and refrigerators totaling $652,720. The extraneous items made up more than 10% of all purchases. The $5.5 million is the total of purchases the auditors did not analyze and could contain unauthorized items.”
Lack of oversight and proper record-keeping gained the attention of federal and state investigators.
“An investigation by Oklahoma Watch and The Frontier found the Stitt administration’s Bridge the Gap Digital Wallet program lacked adequate oversight, resulting in nearly half a million dollars in questionable purchases including TVs, smartwatches, home appliances, and exercise equipment. The program, funded with $8 million from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief fund, was intended to give low-income families money for educational expenses as many students moved to remote learning during the pandemic.”
But instead of addressing the controversy, Gov. Stitt drifted off topic – causing Bream to pivot back to her initial question.
“I need to interrupt you here. I want to make sure you answer those,” the host interjected. “That was a federal audit, there’s a state investigation, and then the accusations about your business. If you could quickly give us, in specific, responses to those accusations,” Bream insisted.
“Here’s the deal, I’m so proud. I started my company with $1000 dollars and a computer shortly after college,” Stitt answered without addresing Bream’s concerns.
Governor Kevin Stitt has perfected the Republican playbook – ignore, deflect, gaslight and lie. And even the right-wing propaganda network Fox News wasn’t buying it for a change.
Follow Ty Ross on Twitter @cooltxchick