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Oklahoma Watch

Oklahoma Watch is a non-profit organization that produces in-depth and investigative journalism on important public-policy issues facing the state. Oklahoma Watch is non-partisan and strives to be balanced, fair, accurate and comprehensive. The reporting project collaborates on occasion with other news outlets. Topics of particular interest include poverty, education, health care, the young and the old, and the disadvantaged.

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Crescent Public Schools Superintendent Bart Watkins said while his district spend a relatively high percentage of its funding on instruction, it has been forced to make cuts, including in number of positions.
Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

Amid an intensifying drumbeat of political promises to propel schools to spend more of their dollars in the classroom, Crescent Public Schools stands out.

Candidates lined up at the State Capitol on April 11 to file to run for office.
Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

When Oklahomans return to the polls to select the state’s next governor and a host of statewide and legislative officers, they will be making their choices without potentially decisive information.

Oklahoma gubernatorial candidates, 2018
Oklahoma Watch

All of a sudden last week, 15 candidates in the Oklahoma governor’s race were pared to five: one Democrat, two Libertarians, two Republicans.

Voters wait in line at a polling station in Oklahoma City on Tuesday.
Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

Tuesday’s primary elections settled some lingering questions but raised a host of others.

In a historic vote, voters in one of the nation’s most conservative states indicated a readiness to legalize medical marijuana. And Oklahoma’s Republican voters decided that their choice for the next leader of the state will come down to former Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett and Tulsa businessman Kevin Stitt.

Voters cast ballots at the Oklahoma County Election Board Thursday, the first day of voting for the June 26 elections. The slate includes primary races for statewide offices and legislative seats, as well as State Question 788 on medical marijuana.
Jeff Raymond / Oklahoma Watch

Voters began casting early ballots Thursday, beginning the process to select a new governor, fill most statewide offices and legislative seats, and decide the controversial ballot question on medical marijuana.

Robin Wertz, of Exodus House in Oklahoma City, which helps people released from prison gain a footing as they re-enter society, has been out of prison for 11 years. But she still in prohibited from voting, and won't be able to cast a ballot until 2024.
Ilea Shutler / Oklahoma Watch

For Robin Wertz, the wait will be long before she can cast a ballot at an Oklahoma polling place.

Kevin Stitt, candidate for the Republican nomination for Oklahoma Governor, speaks in Guthrie, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018.
Sue Ogrocki / AP

Republican businessman Kevin Stitt, who has pitched his gubernatorial campaign on his outsider status, has voted in just eight elections since 2000, according to Oklahoma voter history records.

None of those elections included the race for governor.

Stitt, who founded a Tulsa-based mortgage company, is among the frontrunners in the GOP primary, along with Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb and Mick Cornett, a former Oklahoma City mayor. The crowded Republican field attracted 10 candidates, including Tulsa attorney Gary Richardson and State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones.

John Minchillo / AP Images

Out-of-state interests are increasingly spending money and spending it earlier in attempt to influence Oklahoma’s congressional races.

Recently released campaign finance records show nearly half of all money raised so far among the 39 candidates running for one of the state’s five U.S. House seats has come from out of state.

The Oklahoma Judicial Center houses the state Supreme Court, the Court of Criminal Appeals and the Administrative Office of the Courts.
Trevor Brown / Oklahoma Watch

The Oklahoma Supreme Court heard arguments Monday on a pair of lawsuits to stop an effort to repeal tax increases that helped pay for the historic teacher pay package.

At stake is whether Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite!, a group led by former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, can continue collecting signatures to ask voters to nullify the nearly $450 million revenue-raising bill passed by the Legislature earlier this year.

Josh Edelson / AP Images

Patients in Oklahoma will pay one of the highest tax rates for medical marijuana among the 30 states that currently offer it if State Question 788 is approved by voters this month, according to an Oklahoma Watch analysis.

File Photo / AP Images

The oil and gas industry is playing an early major role in deploying financial resources to try to influence the outcome of the Oklahoma governor’s race.

As the debate persists over how much the state should tax oil and gas production, an Oklahoma Watch review of campaign finance reports found oil and gas interest groups and executives have spent heavily in the early months of this year’s gubernatorial campaign. Fifteen candidates are running for the office.

Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

It was 6 a.m. Las Vegas time when Keli Tointigh awoke to her cell phone ringing.

The Chickasha resident was on vacation with her husband, John Tointigh, when an Oklahoma Department of Human Services employee asked if the couple would be willing to take in the children of one of Keli Tointigh’s cousins. The Tointighs had never applied to be foster parents.

“She said, ‘Can you call me back today and let me know?’” Keli recalls. “I was like, ‘Today?’”

Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

For Oklahomans accused of low-level crimes like possessing small amounts of drugs or public intoxication, getting out of jail free while the case is pending often depends less on the nature of the charge than on what county they are arrested in.

Court data shows that counties have widely varying rates of pretrial release of misdemeanor defendants without requiring cash bail.

Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

Just 35 women filed for one of the 125 Oklahoma legislative seats that were up for election in 2012.

This year, there will be nearly four times as many women running for the same number of seats. And following a trend across the nation, women will be better represented on the ballot than in at least a decade – and likely ever.

Paul Monies / Oklahoma Watch

A reported cash crisis at the Oklahoma State Department of Health that led to job cuts and an emergency injection of $30 million was more of a mirage than the real thing, a months-long grand jury investigation and audit found in separate reports released Thursday.

The state’s multicounty grand jury didn’t hand up any criminal indictments, but it did fault former top officials at the health department for creating a “slush fund” to pay for pet projects and years of financial mismanagement.

With Health Department News, Waves Of Disbelief Roll Across State

May 18, 2018
Oklahoma Watch

Justin Forney worked for the state Department of Health for 12 years as a public information officer, stationed in several county health departments, including Logan County.

Then, in the wake of a financial crisis that shook the department, Forney lost his job in March – the result of cuts of nearly 200 health department positions.

Forney is still unemployed. And on Thursday, as the news rolled out statewide that a grand jury had found the agency’s reported cash shortfall never happened, he felt a sense of shock.

Oklahoma State Senate

As a convicted felon on a suspended sentence, former state Rep. Gus Blackwell can’t vote. But he can still lobby his former colleagues in the Legislature.

Blackwell, who left office in 2014 and became a registered lobbyist, was convicted in 2017 of “double-dipping” on his per diem and travel claims when he was a legislator. He remained a lobbyist and still can be seen in the Capitol corridors pressing the interests of his client.

Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

For the first time ever, students can attend an Oklahoma private school part-time yet have most or all of the tuition paid by scholarships funded through a state tax-credit program.

The scholarship program, promoted by school-choice advocates, is typically used to subsidize tuition costs for full-time students at private schools.

Oklahoma House of Representatives

The daughter of a state House leader who pushed a bill to protect the right to sentence juveniles to life without parole is a district attorney who seeks such a sentence in a Custer County case.

But District Attorney Angela Marsee, daughter of House Speaker Pro Tempore Harold Wright, R-Weatherford, said she sees no conflict of interest in her working with her father to help draft the amended bill, which passed the Legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Mary Fallin Friday.

Oklahoma State Capitol Building
Claire Donnelly / KGOU

A small group of unelected citizens, all appointed by Republican state leaders, will soon be exercising significant powers to decide how the state’s top agencies spend their funding and which services they should provide.

Legislators and Gov. Mary Fallin added $2 million to the state budget this year to pay for state agency audits to be conducted by a private firm and overseen by a commission of Oklahoma business leaders.

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