Oklahoma’s first secretary of Native American Affairs abruptly resigned Monday, saying that she can no longer serve a governor who is “committed to an unnecessary conflict that poses a real risk of lasting damage.”
In her resignation letter, Lisa J. Billy said she had hoped serving on Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt’s cabinet would allow her to be part of an effort to deepen and strengthen Oklahoma’s relationships with sovereign tribal nations.
But, she said it’s become increasingly clear that Stitt is committed to “an unnecessary conflict” that poses the possibility of long-term damage to the state-tribal relationship and the economy.
“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,” she said.
“Your actions have shown that my continuing in service on your cabinet is unnecessary to you and impossible for me,” said Billy, who also serves as a Chickasaw Nation lawmaker.
Stitt remains at an impasse with 35 of the state’s tribes over whether the compacts automatically renew Jan. 1. The Republican governor contends they expire.
The compacts allow tribes to offer gaming in exchange for paying the state exclusivity fees ranging from 4 to 10%. Those fees have generated more than $1.5 billion over the last 15 years, gaming officials report.
Stitt has said he’s willing to renew for 15 more years, but he wants tribes to pay more for exclusivity rights. He also wants resolution language added to compacts to clearly specify what will happen the next time the compacts are up for renewal. Tribal leaders have said they’re open to re-negotiating, but not until Stitt acknowledges that the compacts automatically renew.
“The state has been and remains committed to working collaboratively with the tribes,” Stitt said in a statement following the resignation. “We regret that we won’t have the wisdom of Lisa Billy’s counsel in that endeavor.”
Stitt said he was immensely grateful for Billy’s service and her collaboration with his team.
Billy’s departure marks the second high-profile shakeup in a week amid heighten tensions over the future of gaming compacts.
Last week, Attorney General Mike Hunter, who had served as the lead negotiator, abruptly stepped down as well.
Hunter declined to comment Friday on why he withdrew as lead negotiator, but his office had previously said it would allow Stitt and his legal counsel to negotiate directly with the tribes.
The governor has said he’s in the process of contracting with an out-of-state law firm to represent Oklahoma following Hunter’s withdrawal.
Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at email@example.com.