Oklahoma moves to finish redistricting ahead of schedule

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April 26, 2011

By Eileen McGuire-Mahony

Oklahoma City, OKLAHOMA: Quietly, Oklahoma's legislature set itself to redistricting, something it has been doing without the parade of bruised egos and transparent power grabs characterizing so many states.

The state lost one Congressional seat after the 2000 Census, but managed to hold steady at five seats this rime around. With GOP majorities in the legislature and the Congressional delegation and a newly installed Republican Governor, herself a long familiar face in Oklahoma politics, the process might easily have gotten bogged down in charges of bias. However, the Democratic minority largely had positive words for the process. After the 2010 midterms, the GOP holds supermajorities in both chambers; the numbers work out to the party's largest ever margin of control in the state.

Dan Boren, the only Democratic Congressmen, was pleased with HB 1527, a map that unanimously passed the House and moved on to the Senate. Boren's 2nd District will likely pick up territory from both the 1st and 4th seats, including Marshall County and the northwest corner of Rogers County. At least on the Congressional maps, drawn for the first time under a Republican dominated committee, rancor was not in evidence. All five current U.S. Representatives intend to run again in 2012 and none have been handed a seat that would make re-election too difficult.

Still on the agenda are state House and Senate maps and boundaries for Judicial districts. Term limits in the legislature mean some lawmakers might turn their attention to their next races and to their preferred successors. Alternately, the six Representatives and three Senators who are term limited could come under fire for being insufficiently attentive to the future of a seat they can't continue holding. The matter will also receive major attention from Oklahomans considering a legislative campaign and to voters worried over what their districts will look line when they next go to the polls.

Where a rift might occur is within the state Republican party, as some of the most socially conservative GOP lawmakers were left off the redistricting committee. That committee is working on HB 2145 and SB 821, both "shell bills," in a House conference committee. Urban and suburban areas, 50 out of 77 counties in all, have grown in the past decade, while rural areas lost population. Overall, the state's population rose 8.75%

A second area of concern is tied to state Senators' staggered four-year terms. Shifting Senate seats now for areas of the state that last elected a Senator in 2008 and were due to vote again in 2012 could push those regions back to a 2014 election, meaning some voters would go six years without being able to cast a ballot concerning the state Senate.

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