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Oklahoma governor hires $120K-per-year Washington staffer

March 30, 2021 GMT
RETRANSMITTING TO RENAME SLUG TO OKLAHOMA GOVERNOR STAFFER NOT OKLAHOMA GOVERNOR LOBBYIST FILE - In this Feb. 11, 2021 file photo, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt speaks during a news conference in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma’s Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Tuesday, March 30, 2021 that he's hiring a $120,000-per-year staffer in Washington, D.C., to advocate on the state's behalf and help protect federal funding. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki File)
RETRANSMITTING TO RENAME SLUG TO OKLAHOMA GOVERNOR STAFFER NOT OKLAHOMA GOVERNOR LOBBYIST FILE - In this Feb. 11, 2021 file photo, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt speaks during a news conference in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma’s Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Tuesday, March 30, 2021 that he's hiring a $120,000-per-year staffer in Washington, D.C., to advocate on the state's behalf and help protect federal funding. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki File)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma’s Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Tuesday that he’s hiring a $120,000-per-year staffer in Washington, D.C., to advocate on the state’s behalf and help protect federal funding.

The governor’s office said Christina Gungoll Lepore will help identify federal grant opportunities, communicate the state needs in real time, collaborate with the offices of other governors and “push back on burdensome federal regulations and initiatives which could negatively impact the State.”

Stitt said in a news release that he was also opening an office in Washington, making him the the first Oklahoma governor to have an office in the capital since Democrat David Walters left office in 1995.

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Stitt spokesman Charlie Hannema said Lepore’s position will be paid out of the governor’s annual budget, which the GOP-controlled Legislature more than doubled after Stitt took office. Hannema defended the state’s employment of a staffer in Washington even though Stitt ended the practice of state agencies hiring contract lobbyists in 2019, noting that order applied only to outside lobbyists.

“As you likely know, many state agencies still employ legislative liaisons on their staffs, which are important to both the agencies and the legislators,” Hannema said.

Hannema said Lepore is not considered a lobbyist since she is employed by the state and acting on the state’s behalf. He added that the governor’s office plans to rent an office in Washington but hasn’t finalized a location.

House Democratic Leader Rep. Emily Virgin questioned why Stitt needs a presence there.

“Oklahomans elect two senators and five representatives to lobby for them in our nation’s capital,” said Virgin, a Democrat from Norman. “Our citizens desperately need a governor focused on the problems Oklahomans are facing, not what is happening in D.C.”

Originally from Enid, Lepore worked in Washington for longtime U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas and several other Republican members of Congress.

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This story has been corrected to show Lepore is a staffer, not a lobbyist.