All three branches of the Oklahoma state government came together Wednesday to settle an argument between the Republican leaders of the state House and Senate and Governor Kevin Stitt.
After failing to reach an agreement with tribal nations that say a 15-year-old gaming compact automatically renews, Stitt announced he had reached separate agreements with the Otoe-Missouria Tribe and Comanche Nation, a move not approved by the legislature.
“This case is fundamentally about the separation of powers,” Cara Rodriguez said, an attorney for House Speaker Charles McCall and Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat.
Lawmakers argue while the governor can negotiate with tribes, he cannot enter into formal agreements.
“The legislature never would have the governor carte blanche authority to bind the state to gaming compacts, especially as here when that has led to entirely new state law,” Rodriguez said.
The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office agreed.
“The governor has the authority to negotiate compacts,” Mithun Mansinghani with AG’s office said. “Nothing prohibits the governor from going to a tribe and talking and reaching even maybe a tentative agreement, but he cannot bind the state to compacts contrary to the enacted public policy of the state.”
Phillip Whaley representing the governor said Stitt has already entered into dozens of other compacts outside of gaming without the legislature.
“Every compact will be brought before this court and the court will be asked to call a ball or a strike maybe provision by provision,” Whaley warned.
He said the Otoe-Missouria Tribe and Comanche Nation should have been included in Wednesday’s argument but said ultimately the challenge doesn’t matter because the compacts have already been approved by the Department of The Interior.
“None of that would affect the fact that the Comanche tribe in the Otoe-Missouria tribe now have in their pockets federally approved compacts,” Whaley said.
Another legal battle between the governor and tribes that argue their compacts automatically renew is still awaiting a decision from a federal judge.