Despite committee approval, Senate rejects one of Stitt's nominees for OSU regents' board

The Oklahoma Senate has rejected Gov. Kevin Stitt's nomination of Susan Bergen (left) to the OSU/A&M Board of Regents. Sen. Rob Standridge (right), who sponsored her nomination, did vote for Bergen on the Senate floor.
The Oklahoma Senate has rejected Gov. Kevin Stitt's nomination of Susan Bergen (left) to the OSU/A&M Board of Regents. Sen. Rob Standridge (right), who sponsored her nomination, did vote for Bergen on the Senate floor.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The Oklahoma Senate has resoundingly rejected one of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s nominees to the board of regents that governs Oklahoma State University, just eight days after the Senate Education Committee unanimously recommended her confirmation to the post.

The Senate voted 32-13 Wednesday against confirming Susan Bergen, of Norman. Among the senators who opposed Bergen’s nomination were eight members of the Education Committee — Sen. Jo Anna Dossett, D-Tulsa; Sen. Grant Green, R-Wellston; Sen. Carri Hicks, D-Oklahoma City; Sen. Lonnie Paxton, R-Tuttle; Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee; Sen. Dave Rader, R-Tulsa; committee Vice Chair Sen. Ally Seifried, R-Claremore; and Sen. Kristen Thompson, R-Edmond.

All were part of the 12-0 committee vote that advanced Bergen’s nomination on May 21.

Education Committee members who voted for Bergen on Wednesday in the full Senate included committee Chair Sen. Adam Pugh, R-Edmond; Sen. Micheal Bergstrom, R-Adair; Sen. Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville; Sen. Casey Murdock, R-Felt; and Sen. Dusty Deevers, R-Elgin. All previously had voted to confirm Bergen except for Daniels, who was not present when the committee voted on Bergen’s nomination on May 21. None of those who switched their votes could be reached immediately for comment.

Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, also voted for Bergen’s confirmation, as did Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman, who sponsored Bergen’s nomination in the Senate.

Earlier: Stitt's nominees for OU, OSU, regional university boards are unopposed in Senate committee

Had she been approved, Bergen would have succeeded Rick Davis, of Guthrie, who had served since May 2011 on the nine-person OSU/A&M board, which governs Oklahoma State University, Langston University in Langston, Oklahoma Panhandle State University in Goodwell, Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College in Miami and Connors State College in Warner.

Bergen is a Boston native, but has lived in Oklahoma for four decades. She serves as the chief executive officer of Bergen Enterprises, a multi-generational, family owned company. Among its businesses are Prairie Dirt Solutions and Eco Wood Solutions, Oklahoma City companies that offer services to create sustainable preservation opportunities.

When he nominated Bergen, Stitt said her “incredible experience within Oklahoma’s agricultural and business community” made her a strong choice to serve on the OSU/A&M board and that he looked forward “to seeing how her business acumen will uplift students across Oklahoma.”

During the May 21 committee meeting, Bergen addressed senators for fewer than 80 seconds, speaking about the ranch and farm operations in which she’s involved and saying she understands “the importance of quality food.” She later said that, “Everyone in this room is involved in agriculture because you ate this morning.” No senator asked her a question or engaged in debate concerning her nomination.

So-called “Tier I” executive nominations, such as those for the OSU/A&M board, receive individual votes in the Senate and often are formalities, especially after a unanimous positive committee vote.

“The Senate voted down a female agricultural leader and business owner who dedicates significant amounts of her time and talents to ensuring that school children around the state have access to nutritious meals," Stitt said in a statement. "It seems like a weird person for the Senate to make an example out of, but Susan will keep serving her community and the Senate can feel victorious in their effort of keeping another qualified and willing Oklahoman from serving at the state level.”

In reply to an email Stitt sent Wednesday to Treat that discussed other executive nominations that weren't considered by the Senate, Treat noted Bergen's nomination "failed on the floor today (despite my vote for her)" but didn't address the reasons for the nomination's failure. A Senate spokesman and the governor's office said they were unaware of the reasons.

Treat concluded his response to Stitt by saying, "While we have found most of your nominees this session qualified and exemplary, we will not hesitate to decline to advance nominees that we believe are unqualified or a bad fit for the position you have appointed them to."

Other key education nominees by Stitt gain final approval from Senate

The Senate did approve Stitt’s other nominee to the OSU/A&M Board, Chris Franklin, of Arcadia, along with the nominations of Kenneth Waits, of Tyler, Texas, to the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents; Thomas Kupiec, of Edmond, and Chuck Perry, of Broken Arrow, to the Regional University System of Oklahoma Board of Regents; Ken Levit, of Tulsa, to the board of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education; and Nellie Tayloe Sanders, of Kingfisher, as the state’s secretary of education.

The Senate also approved the nomination of Zachary Archer, of Hammon, to the Oklahoma State Board of Education, but six Democrats voted against confirming Archer, who has served since October on the board led by state schools Superintendent Ryan Walters.

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Oklahoma Senate rejects Gov. Stitt nominee to OSU Board of Regents