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Ray Carter | May 26, 2021

Attorney General Hunter to resign from office

Ray Carter

Attorney General Mike Hunter has announced he will be stepping down as Oklahoma’s attorney general effective June 1, citing personal matters.

“It has been a distinct and absolute privilege of a lifetime to serve as the state’s attorney general,” Hunter said. “Regrettably, certain personal matters that are becoming public will become a distraction for this office. The office of attorney general is one of the most important positions in state government. I cannot allow a personal issue to overshadow the vital work the attorneys, agents, and support staff do on behalf of Oklahomans.

“I thank those who entrusted me to fulfill this role and I am very sorry that I will no longer be here,” Hunter continued. “I also extend a very heartfelt appreciation for those employees who chose public service and to work for the office. The employees in the Attorney General’s Office are dedicated, driven, and go to bed every night and wake up every morning with the safety of Oklahomans as their magnetic north. I truly appreciate everything they do.”

Gov. Kevin Stitt will appoint Hunter’s replacement. The governor issued a short statement in response to Hunter’s announcement.

“The Attorney General informed me of his resignation this morning and I respect his decision to do what he thinks is best for his office and the State of Oklahoma,” Stitt said. “I know he is going through a difficult time and I wish him, his family, and the employees of his office well.”

Hunter was originally appointed to the office in 2017 by former Gov. Mary Fallin after the prior state attorney general, Scott Pruitt, resigned to become head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency in the Trump administration.

Hunter was subsequently elected to a full term in 2018, although he was forced into a runoff in the Republican primary that he ultimately won by a margin of just 271 votes out of 296,567 cast.

Hunter’s most high-profile act as attorney general was to sue opioid manufacturers, claiming the drug companies used deceptive marketing campaigns that fueled the state’s opioid epidemic and cost the state government millions of dollars.

The legal arguments promoted by Hunter’s office were controversial and were cited as a factor in the American Tort Reform Foundation’s decision to rank Oklahoma among the nation’s 10 worst “judicial hellholes” in 2019. The foundation warned that Hunter’s arguments relied on “an overly expansive view of the state’s ‘public nuisance’ law” that could impact many businesses, not just opioid manufacturers, and compared the case to suing cell-phone manufacturers for harm caused by distracted drivers.

That opioid case also became controversial, in part, because the state hired private firms that stood to reap millions in fees, including one firm headed by former Oklahoma Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee.

Hunter has also been involved in state efforts to respond to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that held a tribal reservation was never disestablished in Oklahoma, which upended criminal prosecutions across the state. The legality of one of Hunter’s subsequent efforts to devise state-tribal agreements without the participation of Gov. Kevin Stitt was questioned, and ultimately fell apart when tribal officials distanced themselves from it.

But Hunter was also a staunch defender of Oklahoma’s school-choice programs. During his tenure, the National Association of Attorneys General has awarded its 2020 U.S. Supreme Court Best Brief Award to Hunter’s Solicitor General Unit for a brief defending the constitutionality of tax-credit scholarship programs that allow students to attend the private school of their choice.

That brief was submitted in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court that focused on a tax-credit scholarship program in Montana similar to one in Oklahoma. When the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of that program, the amicus brief filed by Hunter’s office was the only one the court explicitly relied on in its decision, although nearly 45 had been filed in the case.

Hunter also issued an official opinion that concluded the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) acted illegally when it imposed new regulations on a state scholarship program for children with special needs. Prior to Hunter’s opinion, the OSDE had effectively banned private Christian schools from serving scholarship recipients if the school adhered to orthodox Christian teachings on sexuality and marriage or required staff to be Christians.

Hunter’s office also successfully defended Oklahoma’s election-security laws when a political organization sought to have courts strike down a state requirement for voter identification when individuals voted by absentee ballot and a state ban on “ballot harvesting.”

In 2020, Hunter criticized Norman Mayor Breea Clark’s COVID-19 regulations, warning that “the city cannot discriminate against religious groups by shuttering churches while allowing other establishments—such as restaurants, gyms, retail stores, hair salons, and massage and tattoo parlors—that pose the same or greater risk to open.”

Most recently, Hunter joined 19 other state attorneys general in opposing a rule proposed by the U.S. Department of Education that would prioritize grants to schools that teach critical race theory.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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