There’s an old joke in political campaigns. A candidate has only two reasons to go negative: when he’s behind and when he’s ahead.
Polling indicates that Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate Gary Richardson is running third for the GOP nomination, and his campaign has started chucking darts at two of his primary challengers. The longtime trial attorney has launched pejorative monikers for Gateway Mortgage Group CEO Kevin Stitt — “Shady Kevin” — and Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb — “Mary’s Little Lamb” — in the style of President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.
“I think it’s a fair statement that The Donald would be proud of those names,” said David Tackett, Richardson’s campaign manager. “You can’t change the system if you don’t expose the problems. They are both part of the problem, but they are different problems.”
Tackett is behind www.ShadyKevin.com, a combination reference to Business Insider’s inclusion of Gateway Mortgage on its “shadiest” lenders list and Eminem’s hit song “The Real Slim Shady,” which includes a verse that illuminates Richardson’s campaign persona:
I’m like a head trip to listen to, ‘cause I’m only givin’ you
Things you joke about with your friends inside your living room
The only difference is I got the balls to say it in front of y’all
And I don’t gotta be false or sugarcoat it at all
I just get on the mic and spit it.
“When we first heard him announce, it was shocking the unsolicited information about Mr. Stitt that our campaign was given,” Tackett said. “We were getting information not just from people in Oklahoma. This was from out of state as well, all pointing to these same issues about Kevin.”
Those “issues” can be found on the Richardson-created website, but pushback against the allegations can also be found on Stitt’s own “fact check” page.
“It’s very disappointing to see someone who is a lawyer take lawsuits and write headlines that don’t match the lawsuits,” said Stitt’s communications director, Donelle Harder. “But that is the tactic he likes to use.”
She said Richardson is attempting to create a false narrative about a successful businessman.
“We’re attempting to explain those situations to people. But at the end of the day, you have to remember that Gateway operates in 40 states, they have 165 offices and they just passed 1,200 employees,” Harder said. “He has zero investors. So when lawsuits take place, they name Kevin Stitt because the mortgage company is 100 percent his.”
Tackett referenced the minutes of a 2013 Tennessee Real Estate Appraiser Commission meeting that lists “character questions” about Stitt and his company Reliable Appraisal Management, LLC. The commission unanimously approved Stitt’s application, but Tackett notes that the eight states listed on the document each took some sort of regulatory action on the gubernatorial candidate’s business operations.
“There’s a reason why he’s only in 40 states,” Tackett said. “In Georgia, you have Kevin Stitt personally being fined and banned.”
But Harder pointed to a Tulsa World article by Randy Krehbiel where Gateway’s general counsel said “there were no findings that involved Kevin” in Georgia.
“The website is full of lies. It is misleading, and it is a shame,” Harder said.
Tackett countered that voters should read Stitt’s “fact check” page carefully.
“Let’s go through their fact check. I can knock out their argument on several of these,” he said. “Their defense is an article that quotes them. That’s not a defense.”
‘Helping a Democrat get elected’
Stitt was not Richardson’s first target of the 2018 election cycle. A former U.S. attorney who ran for governor in 2002 as an independent and turned heads by lambasting Republican nominee Steve Largent, Richardson has also criticized Lamb, specifically for statements about ending sales tax exemptions.
“Todd Lamb went on the record saying, ‘$6.7 billion in sales tax exemptions were handed out, we need to look at these and get them removed,'” Tackett said of Lamb. “And they’re trying to say they are not tax increases.”
Stitt staffer says Lamb manager ‘breached’ call by William W. Savage III
Asked about Richardson’s campaign going negative, Lamb campaign manager Keith Beall declined to comment.
Tackett, however, offered plenty, recalling how Lamb stepped down from Gov. Mary Fallin’s cabinet because she proposed the elimination of sales tax exemptions in 2017.
“We don’t really know what side of his mouth Todd Lamb is talking out of about sales tax exemptions,” Tackett said. “It’s typical Todd Lamb of coming out against a service tax — which would remove sales tax exemptions — last year, and then a year later he talked out of the other side of his mouth and said we need to get rid of sales tax exemptions now.”
Richardson’s mouth, meanwhile, is ready to catch flies. He has kept pressure on Stitt, Lamb and others during “Facebook Friday” videos with Tulsa pastor T. David Willets, whose theatrical bewilderment about the troubling statistics Richardson states is often punctuated with, “Oh, wow.”
Tackett, too, has stern criticism for Stitt, sharing voter data that would indicate Stitt has not voted in Oklahoma’s most recent gubernatorial elections.
“This is beyond a difference in ‘do you want to raise taxes or do you want to lower taxes?'” Tackett said. “This is a person who has a history of unethical behavior, and that is the motivation of why we felt the need to put the website up.”
In response to Tackett’s claim that Stitt has not voted in recent gubernatorial elections, Harder pointed to how Richardson left the Republican Party for his 2002 campaign.
“The Gary Richardson campaign is trying to distract from the fact that they are running a candidate who left the Republican Party and whose only political accomplishment is helping a Democrat get elected to the governor’s office,” Harder said. “Kevin Stitt has been a life-long Republican, but he isn’t a politician who has made a career out of running for office. For the past 20 years, Kevin Stitt has kept his head down and focused on building Gateway Mortgage, starting out with limited resources and building it into a successful nationwide company by the age of 45. He has been very open and straightforward about this.”