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I join many citizens of our state who are understandably proud that a fellow Oklahoman, Attorney General Scott Pruitt, has been selected by President-elect Donald Trump to serve as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Based upon my personal and professional relationship with Attorney General Pruitt since 1999, I wholeheartedly endorse his selection for this position in the Trump administration.
I first became acquainted with Scott Pruitt in 1999 during his first term in the Oklahoma State Senate. I served in the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1982 to 1996, serving the last six of those years as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. At the time I met Senator Pruitt in 1999, I was in my second year as President of Southeastern Oklahoma State University located in Durant, Oklahoma.
During our meeting, I found Senator Pruitt to be appropriately inquisitive, displaying insight and depth on the public policy issues we discussed. Most importantly, he conveyed sincerity, personal respect, and genuine warmth during our discussion. My impression that evening was that Scott Pruitt would make a significant impact in Oklahoma government if he chose to remain in elective office in our state.
I have served as Chancellor and system-head for the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education since 2007. Although I have interacted with Scott Pruitt on a variety of matters in his role as Attorney General, I want to describe briefly the role he played in June 2014 in navigating a pathway to preserve the timely payment of student scholarships in our signature college access program, Oklahoma’s Promise, which allows students whose families earn $50,000 or less annually and who meet academic and conduct requirements to earn a college tuition scholarship.
The Oklahoma’s Promise program provides an incentive for more students to aspire for college, prepare themselves academically while in high school, and ultimately earn a college degree. Since the program’s creation by the Oklahoma Legislature in 1992, over 76,000 students have received the scholarship.
Recognizing the importance of this scholarship program to Oklahoma’s students and families, in 2007 the Oklahoma Legislature passed legislation providing for a dedicated funding source to ensure full and stable financial support for the Oklahoma’s Promise program.
Action taken at the end of the 2014 legislative session raised constitutional questions concerning whether or not the Oklahoma’s Promise Trust Fund could be accessed for general appropriation in the legislative budgeting process. Attorney General Pruitt issued an Attorney General’s Opinion which provided clarity to the issues and a clear roadmap to ensure compliance with the Oklahoma Constitution.
The Attorney General’s Opinion ensured that all Oklahoma’s Promise students who had met the eligibility criteria to qualify for the scholarship would receive the full scholarship on time. This provided those students with the opportunity to attend college, earn their degree, and achieve their dreams.
In addition to his support of the Oklahoma’s Promise program, I invited Attorney General Pruitt to provide the luncheon keynote address at the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education’s 2012 Fall Legislative Forum, which is an annual meeting of college and university Regents, Presidents, senior higher education administrators, and legislative leaders. The goal of the Legislative Forum is to frame higher education’s priority issues with these key stakeholders for the upcoming legislative session.
During his keynote address, Attorney General Pruitt spoke on the importance of civility in public discourse and among policy leaders. His remarks were direct, thought-provoking, and inspirational as he challenged the forum attendees to strive for and demand civility from our public officials as they conduct the public’s business.
Attorney General Pruitt also stressed that each of us, as citizens, have a responsibility to set the right tone and engage with public officials in an appropriate and professional manner. His comments that day proved to be the highlight of the conference and provided significant insight into the way he believes the public’s business should be conducted.
Finally, I leave with you my observation that Scott Pruitt is grounded, comfortable in his own skin, and has his personal priorities in the right order. He has a strong personal faith that guides all aspects of his personal and professional life. He values his family, and, even with the very hectic schedule that he maintains, he devotes a significant amount of time to and is heavily involved in the lives and interests of his wife and children.
Scott treasures his friends, who believe that he stands for the proposition that public service is a noble calling and that he is both a true servant-leader and a friend that you can “ride the river with,” as we say in Oklahoma.
Scott is indeed a gifted public servant who would serve the Trump administration and this position at the EPA with principled, effective, and inspired leadership. He has the respect of his fellow Oklahoma citizens, as shown in 2014 with his re-election to the statewide office of Attorney General without opposition. On a more personal level, I am very proud to call Scott Pruitt my friend.