Discover more from Oklahoma Columnist, by Clay Horning
In this slow motion scandal, Stitt, Walters on the run from Drummond, Byrd
It would appear to be a moment.
Yet, it’s happening so damn politely, as though nobody realizes a moment’s at hand, who the chips might fall upon or, egads, who might go to jail.
Thursday, one day after state auditor and inspector Cindy Byrd made the media rounds after mic-dropping a 256-page state audit along with a five-page handy-dandy press release, making it clear Governor Kevin Stitt’s executive branch knows slim and none about spending federal money, disastrously putting a bunch of it into then-private citizen Ryan Walters’ hands, it was state attorney general Gentner Drummond’s turn to offer a few words.
The best one he offered?
“Certainly,” he said.
Tuesday morning, he spent a five-minute segment on KWTV (channel 9), Oklahoma City’s CBS affiliate, and near the end of an overly placid exchange, given the subject matter, with anchors Lacie Lowry and Storme Jones, still managed to get his point across with a few choice words.
It was near the end of it, after Drummond explained what’s now needed is a still deeper audit, specifically into the $8 million in federal funds given Oklahoma parents to purchase items via ClassWallet, whether they went toward educational purposes or not, as well as the $10 million “Stay in School” program designed to help low-income families continue paying for private education, so much of which instead went directly to schools or families not financially encumbered by the pandemic.
“We need to go deeper and be able to go outside state agencies, third parties through which the attorney general’s office can then use subpoena power and also search warrants to get the documents [Byrd] needs to complete it so that we can then view from a culpabilities perspective,” Drummond said, “were there criminal acts or just absolute malfeasance?”
Actually, there’s plenty in that statement, too.
But let’s get where we’re already headed.
“Could the result of this audit be criminal charges?” Jones asked.
“Certainly,” said Drummond.
He didn’t say “maybe.”
He didn’t say, “possibly.”
He didn’t say, “you never know.”
He didn’t say, “we’ll see.”
He said “certainly.”
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To be fair, as though in real time realizing the casual seriousness of his word choice, Drummond added “I think it would be too early to judge that, but that’s one of the opportunities that we’ll be looking at.”
Did he say “opportunities.”
Yes, he did.
He said “opportunities.”
Like he’s looking forward to it.
Like it wouldn’t be a “grim duty” or an “unfortunate aspect of the job,” but an … “OPPORTUNITY.”
Also, I’ve got to say, having watched the sit-down, Drummond has an aces tailor, wears a suit exquisitely well and appears entirely relaxed, even on live television, speaking calmly, yet still packing a punch.
Meanwhile, Stitt seems to have no interest in television cameras or live questioning at a time logic dictates he should want to defend himself. While Walters, in every forum, from the text of his tweets, to his self-made videos, to speaking with lawmakers, to the content of his board meetings, appears to be running as fast as he can.
Drummond has it all under control.
Stitt and Walters look and act guilty.
Now, circle back to what Drummond said before he said, “Certainly.”
“Were there criminal acts or just absolute malfeasance?” he said.
Like there’s no Door No. 3.
There are criminal acts.
There is absolute malfeasance.
And, I’m pretty sure, absolute malfeasance is frequently a crime, too.
When we talk about “the state” or “Oklahoma,” we can be talking about different things.
We can be talking about it governmentally, as Byrd did in her audit, pretty much every time singling out Stitt’s executive branch. In another context, it can mean the citizenry, media included, and how it responds to scandal. Momentarily, there’s an amateur aspect to both.
In his KWTV chat, Stitt’s name came up only one, when Lowry said, “Governor Kevin Stitt says his office acted swiftly and that the out-of-state vendor, ClassWallet, that was hired to oversee the disbursement of these funds should be held accountable.”
Drummond, of course, swatted that narrative out of the air as though a fly, saying ClassWallet “with absolute certainty” did nothing wrong, while the suit filed against it last fall by the state was “for political cover.”
Walters’ name did not come up at all.
Though he was executive director of Every Kid Counts Oklahoma, and though the governor’s office outsourced the administration of the $8 million to be spent through ClassWallet to it, nobody mentioned his name.
Kind of incredible.
As though telling the truth wold have been too controversial. As though we’re so not used to being pointed in our news coverage, we run away from it when required.
As it is now.
Rather than have Joy Hofmeister’s education department, which came out smelling like a rose in Byrd’s audit, be responsible for the ClassWallet $8 million and the Stay in School $10 million, Stitt outsourced it to political allies.
One was Walters.
Stitt then made Walters his education secretary. Walters has since been elected Oklahoma’s superintendent of public instruction with Stitt’s backing and still has his political backing even as everything Walters does embarrasses him. It’s like a mutual annihilation pact. Like they have the goods on each other.
But because we’re such a one-party state, the apparent seriousness of the scandal remains so difficultly imagined.
Thankfully, in the real world, there’s a couple Republicans for whom it’s not, who get it, and are coming after those who don’t.
It’s a moment.
The sweating has begun.
Criminal attorneys can’t be far behind.