NewsOK: Oklahoma City News, Sports, Weather & Entertainment

Oklahoma Secretary of Native American Affairs resigns from governor's cabinet, citing disagreement over gaming compacts

Related coverage

Letter: Chickasaw revenue investigation sent to Commissioner Scott Colbert Letter: Correspondence sent from Tribal Leaders to Gov. Kevin Stitt State mails out audit letters to Oklahoma gaming tribes as dispute escalates Tribes say 'no' to governor's proposal for a gaming compact extension Stitt calls for renegotiating Oklahoma tribal gaming compacts Governor seeks 8-month extension to tribal gaming compacts Attorney General steps aside from Indian gaming negotiations Governor voices frustration, suggests tribal gaming fees as high as 25% Oklahoma legislative leaders offer differing opinions on gaming compacts dispute

Gov. Kevin Stitt's cabinet Secretary of Native American Affairs abruptly resigned Monday, citing irreconcilable differences with the governor over his handling of tribal gaming compacts.

"It has become increasingly clear you are committed to an unnecessary conflict that poses a real risk of lasting damage to the State-Tribal relationship and to our economy," Lisa Billy, a member of the Chickasaw Nation, said in her resignation letter.

"You have dismissed advice and facts that show the peril of your chosen approach and have remained intent on breaking faith with the Tribes, both by refusing to engage with the compact's language and, more recently, by suggesting you would displace our Tribal partners with private, out-of-state commercial gaming operators."

Billy's resignation comes as Stitt and Oklahoma's gaming tribes remain locked in a dispute over gaming compacts that may or may not expire on Jan. 1.

The tribes contend the 15-year compacts will automatically renew on that date and say they plan to continue casino operations without interruption. Stitt claims the compacts expire on that date and tribes will be acting illegally if they continue operating after Jan. 1 without an extension or new agreement.

Stitt wants to negotiate a new compact that would require tribes to pay higher fees on Las Vegas-style Class III slot machines than the 4% to 6% graduated rates they have been paying. The state has received about $1.5 billion in exclusivity fees from tribal gaming operations since 2006, including more than $148 million last fiscal year.

Billy's resignation comes just one week after Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter announced he was stepping aside as the state's top negotiator on the tribal gaming compacts to allow Stitt to negotiate directly with the tribes.

Hunter's letter removing himself from negotiations was brief and did not discuss any policy differences he and the governor might have regarding the compacts.

Alex Gerszewski, spokesman for the attorney general, said Hunter's discussions with Stitt were "privileged."

Billy, however, was blunt in her criticism.

"Your actions have shown that my continuing service on your cabinet is unnecessary to you and impossible for me," said Billy, a former Republican state representative from Lindsay. "I must accordingly resign, effective immediately."

Stitt issued a statement Monday thanking Billy for her service and promising to continue working with the tribes.

“The State has been and remains committed to working collaboratively with the Tribes," Stitt said. "We regret that we won’t have the wisdom of Lisa Billy’s counsel in that endeavor. Lisa was the first person to serve on an Oklahoma Governor’s cabinet in the position of Secretary of Native American Affairs. I am immensely grateful for her service to our great state and her collaboration with our team.”

Stitt has said he must represent all Oklahomans and doesn't believe tribes are paying fair market value for the right to offer Las Vegas-style gaming at casinos in the state with very limited competition.

Stitt is a member of the Cherokee Nation. His election brought hope to many Native Americans that tribal-state relations would improve. Instead, they have become strained as the dispute over gaming compacts continues.

Billy discussed her initial optimism and growing frustration in her resignation letter.

"I had hoped service on your cabinet would allow me to be part of a new Administration's efforts to deepen and strengthen State relations with Sovereign Tribal Nations," she wrote. "I have, at my own expense, visited elected tribal leaders across the State, hosted a tribal youth summit, created opportunities for our cabinet to tour Tribal industry, communicated your message to various Inter-Tribal councils, and shared cultural protocol appropriate to supporting effective intergovernmental collaboration."

Billy said that while she was proud of her service, she could not longer continue because of Stitt's approach to compact negotiations.

Related Photos
<strong>Billy</strong>

Billy

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-a137c3358d570cab8295af91be842b3d.jpg" alt="Photo - Billy " title=" Billy "><figcaption> Billy </figcaption></figure>
Randy Ellis

For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two... Read more ›

Comments