Redistribution proposals that could upset Oklahoma politics
Oklahoma’s only competitive congressional district in the past decade could return to firm Republican control – or it could be changed to give Democrats the best chance they’ve seen in years.
State lawmakers will return to Capitol Hill on November 15 for a special session to complete their redistribution work once a decade.
In addition to rewriting legislative constituency boundaries, the legislature is also responsible for creating a new map for the state’s five congressional seats.
Since Oklahoma’s population has grown by 200,000 – with much of that 5% growth in urban areas around Oklahoma City and Tulsa – there will be big changes for many residents.
Some proposed changes could drastically change Oklahoma’s political dynamics for the next decade.
âThe key question is what are they doing with the (US Republic) Stephanie Bice District,â said Michael Crespin, director of the Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center at the University of Oklahoma. “I think whether or how they’re going to divide Oklahoma City is something everyone is watching.”
The fifth arrondissement, explained
Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District, which currently covers most of Oklahoma County and all of Pottawatomie and Seminole, is the only congressional district in the state to have seen competitive racing since 2012.
Democrat Kendra Horn broke a long GOP winning streak in the District in 2018 when she beat incumbent Steve Russell with 50.7% of the vote. Bice took over the GOP seat in 2020 when it defeated Horn with 52.1% of the vote.
With Democrats holding a 220-212 member advantage in the US House of Representatives, the race has significance beyond state lines. During the last electoral cycle, the hill named the 5th arrondissement one of “10 House of Bellwether races to watch. âDepending on what lawmakers do with the redistribution, it could again play a pivotal role in the 2022 midterm elections.
State lawmakers began publicly discussing specific plans for how they will redesign congressional districts when they met on Tuesday to review 10 maps submitted by the public.
Six of the proposals would favor 5th Arrondissement Democrats in a meager partisan score developed by Dave’s clipping app, a program the state has partnered with to allow users to submit maps to the Legislature.
Others would divide Oklahoma City into several congressional districts, breaking a voting bloc that tended to be more Democratic and making it harder for Democrats to win based on current demographics.
This includes a card from Pat McFerron, a longtime GOP pollster and political consultant who has given candidates nearly $ 15,000 since 2016.
McFerron’s plan would divide Oklahoma City into three congressional districts by:
- Relocation of part of southwest Oklahoma City to District 3, held by U.S. Representative Frank Lucas, R-Cheyenne, who covers northwest Oklahoma.
- Extension of the 4th district, held by the American representative Tom Cole, deeper in the south of Oklahoma City.
- Adjust 5th District to cover most of central, northern and southeastern Oklahoma County, extends to Canadian and Logan counties, and encompasses Lincoln County.
McFerron, who did not attend Tuesday’s meeting, included a statement saying his map focused on compacting and keeping entire counties together with limited division of constituencies.
In addition to keeping the GOP heavily favored in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Congressional Districts, McFerron’s card would build on the Republicans’ advantage in the 5th District. The meager Republican supporter there, currently at 52.4%, as defined by Dave’s Redistricting App, would drop to 57.9%.
Only two of the other public submission cards would give Republicans a higher advantage.
Although the Legislative Assembly’s redistribution committee adopted guidelines stating that the political makeup of districts should not be one of the criteria considered by map writers, Crespin said this was likely in the minds of legislators.
Since Oklahoma is not one of the 14 states with independent redistribution committees, the GOP-dominated legislature will have the final say.
âThe design of the map is always very political,â Crespin said. “Except in a few cases where they only use the population, the maps are drawn more to achieve a political outcome more than anything.”
At least two lawmakers, however, have expressed concern over the Oklahoma City split-off proposals.
âI have to ask if you don’t think it’s a little ridiculous that I’m driving through a couple of different congressional districts from my home to the Capitol,â State House Rep. Forrest Bennett, D-Oklahoma City said. . “I live five minutes from here.
He and others also expressed concern that it would divide Oklahoma’s minority groups, especially the southern Hispanic population, in a way that could dilute their vote.
State Senator Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville, has also expressed concern about the idea.
âI would say my argument against three districts affecting Oklahoma County is that you can end up with four urban congressmen and only one representing rural Oklahoma,â she said. âSo I would have the same objections (as Bennett), but for different reasons. “
The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce is among those supporting the division of the state’s largest city into various congressional districts. His argument is that if multiple representatives cover Oklahoma City, the city will gain influence in the United States House of Representatives.
What do the other proposals say
Other public submissions have taken different approaches.
A map by David Greene, a resident of Oklahoma City, aims to create five “geodiversified” districts, with each district containing urban, suburban, rural, and agricultural areas. This map, which likely won’t reflect the final plan passed by lawmakers, would have the five congressional districts covering parts of Oklahoma County.
This would give Republicans the biggest advantage in the 5th arrondissement of all public submission cards. That would bring the Republican partisan lean to 62.6%.
Another plan by Rachel Melot, CEO of the Shawnee Chamber of Commerce known as Shawnee Forward, would keep Pottawatomie and Seminole counties in the 5th district by moving much of southwestern Oklahoma County to the 3rd Lucas district.
A proposal most closely mirroring the current congressional map came from Andy Moore, executive director of People Not Politicians, a group that unsuccessfully tried to get a state question on the 2020 ballot to create a committee of independent and non-partisan redistribution.
Moore’s plan would keep most of Oklahoma County in 5th District except for Tinker Air Force Base, which would remain in 4th Cole District. His map would accomplish this by moving Pottawatomie and Seminoles to the 4th arrondissement.
âIn drawing this map, we have sought to prioritize equal representation, fairness and honestly, common sense,â he said. “Our goals were to equalize representation between districts, to minimize the division of counties, to keep communities of interest together wherever reasonable and possible to reflect existing natural and political boundaries.”
Moore’s proposal would slightly improve the chances of Democrats in the district. But the GOP would still retain a partisan advantage of 50.9-44.7.
What happens next?
State House Representative Ryan Martinez R-Edmond, who is one of the chairs of the Legislative Assembly’s joint special committee on redistribution, said a map proposal has yet to be finalized. He said lawmakers wanted to wait for the hearing on public map submissions before proceeding.
The committee is expected to release its proposal “weeks” before the start of the Nov. 15 session, he said.
Once the Legislature enters special session, Martinez said the committee will vote on proposed maps of congressional and state legislative districts, which must be redrawn now that full census data has been provided.
Whatever progress the committee makes is likely to gain the support of the Republican-led House and Senate. After that he will go to Governor Kevin Stitt for his signature.
If Democrats or others believe the map was unfairly drawn to give Republicans an advantage, Crespin said they likely had little recourse.
State and federal courts have been reluctant to override maps based purely on politics. Crespin said that unless the cards raise constitutional issues or violate federal voting rights law, gerrymandering along political lines is not explicitly illegal.
âJust because it looks funny or helps boost Bice’s chances (in 2022), it’s not necessarily illegal or anything,â he said.
Trevor Brown has been a reporter for Oklahoma Watch since 2016. He covers politics, elections, health care policies, and government accountability issues. Call or text him at (630) 301-0589. Email him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @tbrownokc
“Oklahoma Watch, at oklahomawatch.org, is a non-profit, non-partisan news organization that covers public policy issues facing the state.