Rural Oklahoma Residents Fear Losing To Oklahoma City With Redistribution | Don’t miss it


OKLAHOMA CITY – Redistribution fighting in Oklahoma is escalating as lawmakers begin to finalize the state’s five-seat congressional limits ahead of next month’s special session.

Some rural lawmakers are expressing concern over an effort they believe would marginalize the voices of rural Oklahoma residents and give the state’s growing urban corridor more influence in Congress by dividing up the most populous county. of state – Oklahoma County – into three congressional districts.

The plan recently suggested to lawmakers at a redistribution hearing would also create a district largely encompassing Tulsa while leaving the fifth district predominantly rural.

“My argument against three districts affecting Oklahoma County is that you could end up with four urban conventioneers and only one representing rural Oklahoma,” State Senator Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville said.

State Representative Ryan Martinez, R-Edmond, said he was aware there were rumors that there were plans to divide Oklahoma County, which could potentially marginalize Oklahoma’s influence. rural in Congress. But he said on Tuesday lawmakers had yet to start work on the cards, choosing instead to wait until the final public hearing ended on Tuesday.

Martinez, who is leading the House redistribution efforts, said it’s clear Oklahoma has a rural culture and history, but the redistribution is being done based on current population. He said there’s a conversation to be had about rural Oklahoma, economic development and why people are leaving those areas, but it’s a conversation that should take place outside of redistribution, he said. .

“I think we appreciate and understand the rural culture of Oklahoma,” Martinez said. “And it’s not a goal to have fewer rural members or rural representation. However, the objective of the redistribution is to realign the population changes. “

Over the past decade, nearly two-thirds of Oklahoma’s counties have seen their populations decline, losing 69,000 residents, according to an analysis of data from the US Census Bureau in Oklahoma. But the rest of the counties – mostly urban and suburban – saw their populations increase by about 277,000 people. While the state has recorded a net gain of around 208,000 people over the past decade, nearly half of all Oklahoma residents now report living in just four counties – Canadian, Cleveland, Oklahoma and Tulsa. . Oklahoma County is home to nearly 800,000 people.

Lawmakers will meet in a special session on November 15 to approve congressional cards. They will also update and redirect the state’s legislative districts as necessary and change application deadlines.

Andy Moore, chief of People Not Politicians, said he had crisscrossed the state in recent months, holding dozens of meetings to discuss how best to realign congressional districts. The coalition aims to ensure that the state’s electoral district redistribution, which must take place every ten years after the U.S. census count, is free from partisan influence. In Oklahoma, politicians are responsible for redesigning electoral districts. He also said rural residents had a consistent message: “Don’t urbanize my rural. “

“I think the concern is that their interests are marginalized,” he said. “People in rural areas don’t want to be represented by someone who lives in the city and never takes the time to go out and meet them and be truly representative (and) to be concerned with the issues that matter most to them. them. Rural Oklahomans.

Moore is proposing a plan that would integrate much of Oklahoma County into a single congressional district, as he believes it makes the most sense with the region’s population growth. The Tulsa County region would also be its own district. The remaining three districts would be made up of the remaining counties, which are predominantly rural.

Moore said he fears it will be a tough sell because influential Oklahomans fear the Republican candidates will win the congressional election.

“In a year that politics have been so controversial, it seems unwise to serve the interests of a few politicians rather than the interests of 3.9 million other Oklahomans,” Moore said.

State employees participating in the redistribution effort told lawmakers in a recent hearing that they received a letter from the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce urging them to place three seats in Congress in the Oklahoma County because it would increase congressional representation in the urban core.

Oklahoma County currently spans two congressional districts because officials at Tinker Air Force Base wanted to be represented by the same congressman who serves Fort Sill in Lawton.

State Representative Forrest Bennett, of D-Oklahoma City, said that by dividing Oklahoma City into three directions, it would have to cross three congressional districts just to get to the State Capitol. He said it might make sense for an Oklahoma Panhandle lawmaker to cross so many lines, but it would be “ridiculous” for someone living in the state capital.

“I live five minutes from here,” Bennett said.

Urban Democrats, meanwhile, said lawsuits were likely if lawmakers carve out new neighborhoods that have a specific impact on areas of Oklahoma City that are home to the state’s growing minority populations.

They note that the maps under consideration clearly and deliberately halved the county’s minority population, a potential violation of federal law. Some map lawmakers are considering deliberately drawing predominantly Hispanic areas and placing them in a different district.

“I think there is a strong point to be made that this is intentionally racial gerrymandering,” Moore said.

State Senator Lonnie Paxton, R-Tuttle, said lawmakers have been collecting public comment since December of last year. He said one of the reasons the legislative redistribution maps were so well received is that they used public input to shape the final product. He said he aimed to use the same method of public input and transparency to craft the final congressional districts.

But Paxton, who is leading the redistribution efforts for the state Senate, said there seem to be a lot of differing opinions on how to divide them.

“It’s enlightening,” Paxton said. “We learn a lot about the state. You learn a lot about people’s ideas. There are so many differences of opinion on how these cards should be presented.

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