National Governors Association
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt listens to a panel discussion at the National Governors Association winter meeting in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 24. (Victor Pozadas/Gaylord News)

(Editor’s note: The following story appears courtesy of Gaylord News, a reporting project of the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.)

WASHINGTON — Oklahoma’s new governor sat in the ballroom of a Washington hotel Saturday morning listening to experts explain the bipartisan importance of criminal justice reform.

It was one of many panels and meetings that Gov. Kevin Stitt attended over the weekend — covering topics including infrastructure, trade and the economy — as part of his first National Governors Association winter meeting.

Stitt was one of nine Republican and 13 new Democrat governors in attendance getting a chance to learn from the nation’s incumbent governors as well as Cabinet secretaries, CEO’s and policy experts.

“I’ve loved it. It’s been fantastic just getting to know the other governors,” Stitt said in between meetings Sunday. “And we also just met with the different secretaries, EPA and labor, and just making sure we understand some of the issues.”

Stitt said he learned from the Cabinet secretaries about waiver programs and opportunities to get federal money for infrastructure that he and his team plan to follow up on. He said he also discussed regulation issues Oklahoma faces with the U.S. Department of Labor.

The National Governors Association winter meeting agenda focused largely on bipartisan issues, with many panels including both a Democrat and a Republican governor to talk about the different ways they’ve solved problems in their states.

In the panel on criminal justice, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf joined Koch Industries general counsel and Senior Vice President Mark Holden and CNN’s Van Jones. Bryant and Wolf talked about the different strategies and policies they have used in their states to reduce crime rates and recidivism rates.

“One thing is we just realize that those are some issues that really, they don’t divide us, they actually bring us together,” Stitt said. “We’re all focused on as governors, whether it’s red states or blue states, on criminal justice.”

In his State of the State address at the beginning of the month, Stitt highlighted criminal justice reform as an area he wanted to work on. Oklahoma is currently No. 1 in incarceration, something he said he wants to change.

“I got some other ideas and from talking to other governors, we got some policy ideas that have been passed in other states that have been moving the needle,” Stitt said.

Education funding, specifically teacher pay, was also a major part of Stitt’s State of the State that saw a panel discussion at the winter meeting. Another panel discussed Medicaid expansion, a topic gaining traction in Oklahoma.

The National Governors Association winter meeting wraps up Monday with a briefing at the White House and several panels at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on the agenda.

Based in Washington D.C., Abby Bitterman covers Oklahoma's congressional delegation for Gaylord News. Having previously worked for the OU Daily, she has covered hate crimes for New21 and business for The Oklahoman. Originally from Chicago, she is a journalism and political science senior at the University of Oklahoma.