Stitt’s con­fi­dants are his wife, friends

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - NEWS - BY CHRIS CASTEEL AND BEN FELDER Staff Writ­ers

Sarah Stitt

The most im­por­tant fig­ure in Kevin Stitt’s world is his wife of 20 years, Sarah. The two talk nu­mer­ous times a day, though the near-con­stant pres­ence of other peo­ple around Stitt in the past year has made texts be­tween them more com­mon.

Their best time to talk, she said, is typ­i­cally early in the morn­ing, be­fore the kids are up, when they can “bounce things off each other.”

Kevin, 45, and Sarah, 40, built a com­pany to­gether, Gate­way Mort­gage Group, and they built a fam­ily to­gether. As the fam­ily grew to six chil­dren, Sarah be­came less in­volved in the daily machi­na­tions of the com­pany.

A gifted pub­lic speaker, Sarah was uti­lized by the cam­paign when­ever she was avail­able for groups large and small, and she was fea­tured in sev­eral cam­paign ads.

“We knew we couldn’t tell Kevin’s story with­out her,” said Cam Sav­age, the lead con­sul­tant for the Stitt cam­paign.

Sarah helped Stitt craft speeches dur­ing the cam­paign. As it pro­gressed, they be­gan to dis­cuss the role she would play as first lady.

“We re­ally view this as a team ef­fort,” she said.

In her pub­lic re­marks, she spoke about the dif­fer­ences in their per­son­al­i­ties: hers fo­cused on achiev­ing as many tasks as pos­si­ble dur­ing the day and his on set­ting long-term goals. Sarah said both need to be com­fort­able with the peo­ple in lead­er­ship roles around them.

“I know him bet­ter than any­one,” Sarah said, and that means she can spot po­ten­tial trou­ble spots in re­la­tion­ships.

Sarah is plan­ning to spend the first few months at the fam­ily home in Tulsa so the el­dest child can finish her se­nior year in high school. As first lady, she wants to fo­cus on men­tal health and ad­dic­tion.

Aa­mon Ross

Like Kevin Stitt, Aa­mon Ross had never been in­volved in pol­i­tics. His first ex­po­sure was run­ning a statewide cam­paign for gover­nor.

“June 26th, Au­gust 28th and Novem­ber 6th were my first, sec­ond and third watch par­ties,’’ he said.

Ross and Stitt met through a min­istry in Tulsa to men­tor young pro­fes­sional men that is run by Dave Je­witt

A Colorado na­tive, Ross, 43, moved to Tulsa from Los Angeles to live near sib­lings at­tend­ing Oral Roberts Univer­sity. He met his wife, Kris­ten, a Musko­gee na­tive, on a blind date. She is a re­cip­i­ent of the TCC StartUP Cup, an award given to en­trepreneurs, for her Pre­goFit web­site.

The Rosses have three daugh­ters, some of whom played bas­ket­ball and soc­cer with daugh­ters of the Stitts. Ross and Stitt coached some of their teams.

“We had a blast do­ing that,’’ he said.

Af­ter agree­ing to run the cam­paign, Ross had to hire staff and ven­dors and stay on top of thou­sands of de­tails, in­clud­ing what town was hav­ing a pop­u­lar fes­ti­val that Stitt needed to at­tend. Ross and Stitt also dove into is­sues that were to­tally for­eign to them, vis­it­ing schools and govern­ment in­sti­tu­tions and busi­nesses to fig­ure out how things op­er­ate.

Ross is, like many of those in Stitt’s in­ner cir­cle, a trusted friend first. Stitt asked him to sit in on meet­ings while the cam­paign was be­ing formed — be­fore Ross of­fi­cially joined up — and he has been on the meet­ings about form­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion. He said Stitt “ap­pre­ci­ates and re­spects my opin­ion.”

Corbin McGuire

Stitt and Corbin McGuire bonded one sum­mer dur­ing col­lege sell­ing books door to door for the South­west­ern Com­pany. Stitt heard about McGuire from a friend and re­cruited him at the Univer­sity of Ok­la­homa for a book­selling team. They have been friends for about 25 years.

“Peo­ple can do so many things, but you have to have some­one be­lieve in you,” McGuire said. “That’s the gift he’s al­ready given, the gift of be­lief.”

McGuire, 45, has never worked for Stitt’s mort­gage com­pany, and his title with the cam­paign, chair­man, was an hon­orary one. McGuire op­er­ates a recruiting com­pany in Tulsa.

He was among the close cir­cle that helped launch the gu­ber­na­to­rial cam­paign, and he helped raise money at the be­gin­ning. McGuire fre­quently hit the cam­paign trail with Stitt, and he is part of the tran­si­tion team.

McGuire down­played the value of his own ad­vice in pick­ing an ad­min­is­tra­tion and said there wasn’t a spe­cific type of ad­vice Stitt had ever sought from him.

“He doesn’t need to be hear­ing from friends,” he said. “He needs to be hir­ing a team.”

McGuire said he was not in­ter­ested in work­ing for state govern­ment.

Donelle Harder

Raised in Amar­illo and a grad­u­ate of Bay­lor Univer­sity, Donelle Harder spent the first nine years of her ca­reer in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., which in­cluded work­ing for U.S. Sen. Jim In­hofe, run­ning com­mu­ni­ca­tions for his of­fice and the com­mit­tees he chaired or served as rank­ing mem­ber.

In 2016, Harder moved to Ok­la­homa with her hus­band and two chil­dren to work for the Ok­la­homa Oil and Gas As­so­ci­a­tion, be­fore join­ing Stitt’s cam­paign in 2017.

“I had hoped to get out of pol­i­tics when I came back to Ok­la­homa,” Harder said. “But I was re­ally frus­trated with the state things were at in Ok­la­homa, and I wanted more for my chil­dren and my fam­ily, be­cause this was our for­ever state.”

Harder served as Stitt’s spokes­woman, play­ing a sig­nif­i­cant role in shap­ing the cam­paign’s mes­sage.

Stitt’s cam­paign cen­tered on his out­sider sta­tus at a time when state govern­ment had faced fi­nan­cial chal­lenges in re­cent years.

“While out­sider is the eas­i­est way to brand some­one when you have to de­liver a 15-sec­ond mes­sage, I be­lieve it’s (Stitt’s) gen­uine­ness and authen­tic­ity in how he an­swers things that re­ally gets peo­ple to con­nect with him and trust him,” Harder said.

Harder is a mem­ber of Stitt’s tran­si­tion team and is in­volved in in­ter­views to hire ad­min­is­tra­tion staff.

Keith Stitt

Kevin’s older brother, Keith, is an at­tor­ney in Tulsa. When Kevin be­gan think­ing about run­ning for gover­nor, Keith in­tro­duced him to Marc Nut­tle, a Nor­man at­tor­ney and busi­ness­man with decades of ex­pe­ri­ence in Repub­li­can pol­i­tics.

Nut­tle has been lead­ing the tran­si­tion ef­fort.

Be­fore the Stitt cam­paign launched, Keith, who is 48, also ac­com­pa­nied Kevin to meet with some long­time Repub­li­can ac­tivists who had moved from Nor­man to Florida.

“Kevin’s ques­tion wasn’t whether he could win but whether he could move the nee­dle” as gover­nor, Keith Stitt said in an in­ter­view.

Keith helped raise money for Stitt in the early days of the cam­paign and served as a sound­ing board.

“I’ve never seen him lose,” Keith said. “I’ve never seen him shy away from a chal­lenge. He will forge his way and find a way to make it work.”

Keith is work­ing on de­tails for the in­au­gu­ra­tion cer­e­mony and cel­e­bra­tions.

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