Not Kumbaya, but close: House reapportionment headed to a peaceful end

On Monday (May 9), as bi-partisan leaders of the Oklahoma House of Representatives gathered to discuss new House district lines under which incumbent legislators will seek reelection in 2012, one reporter quipped, “Who’s going to set the key for the song, ‘Kumbaya’?” 

House Minority Leader Scott Inman, a Del City Democrat, did not miss a beat. Pointing to Speaker of the House Kris Steele of Shawnee, a Republican, Inman said with a straight face: “The Speaker will lead that song.” 

Reapportionment is required every 10 years under the U.S. Constitution. It is often a contentious and divisive process, and sources say that is still likely in the state Senate process which is still unfolding. However, under the chairmanship of Republican state Rep. Dale DeWitt of Braman, redistricting is headed to apparently easy ratification, perhaps as early as this week.

Monday afternoon, the House redistricting committee was handling final details of the reapportionment that will constitute the 2012 districts. 

Rep. DeWitt’s vice chairman was state Rep. Danny Morgan of Prague, a former House Democratic leader. DeWitt said, “I was blessed to have a tremendous committee.” The group apportioned the House based on the five congressional districts (announced some weeks ago).

DeWitt explained that state population growth of roughly 300,000 was not equally apportioned, but concentrated in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa metropolitan areas. 

Speaker Steele said he appreciated DeWitt’s work in driving “a members-centered process. Of Morgan, Steele said, “his skill set and his demeanor” contributed to the outcome. Steele said if the redistricting committee gave its approval this afternoon, as anticipated, the entire plan could be considered Wednesday or Thursday in the full House. 

Both Morgan and Inman heaped praise on the process that is drawing near an end, at least in the House. Inman said, “They said we would work together, and we did. When they said that, we were hopeful. We are pleased with the process, and the outcome of redistricting. “

Rep. Morgan commented, “We have shown the people of Oklahoma we can work together.” Morgan emphasized the “outstanding staff” at the House that studied federal legal requirements, attending redistricting workshops and worked “extraordinarily well” with members of the House and the leadership of both parties. 

In capsule form, the new plans used population shifts within the districts of departing members (in most cases, those “termed out” after 12 years of legislative service under Term Limits provisions) to handle shifts in lines. The new lines allow members of the House who plan to seek reelection a reasonable prospect for returning. 

However, as Morgan reflected, “A lot of our House members will be out meeting new constituents, new voters.” Rep. Inman said, “The vast majority of our members are pleased with the treatment they received.”

DeWitt summed up the new lines as meaning “many districts in rural Oklahoma are much larger” in geographical area. Districts with the most dramatic changes were those being vacated by termed-out House members like Purcy Walker of western Oklahoma’s sprawling District 60 running north and south of Elk City and Paul Roan of Tishimingo, both Democrats, and Sue Tibbs of Tulsa. 

Rep. DeWitt asserted some changes were simply a matter a numbers. He will have 10,000 new voters in his redrawn district. DeWitt expressed confidence the plan would withstand any legal challenges, but added he did not think such a challenge was likely. 

Members of the state House Redistricting Steering Committee began meeting last year. 

Once the Legislature organized early this year, the full committee was formed. 

The North/Northeast subcommittee was chaired by GOP Rep. Ron Peters of Tulsa. His panel included Democrats Jabar Shumate of Tulsa and Wade Rousselot of Wagoner, and Republicans John Trebilcock of Tulsa and Jadine Nollan of Sand Springs. 

The Eastern Oklahoma Subcommittee was chaired by Rep. Roan . Members were Dr. Doug Cox of Grove, George Faught of Muskogee and Marty Quinn of Claremore, each a Republican, and Chuck Hoskin of Vinita, a Democrat.

Chairing the West/Northwest Subcommittee was Republican Jeff Hickman, the House Speaker pro tempore. His panel consisted of Rep. Walker, and Republicans Sean Roberts of Hominy, Dennis Casey of Morrisonand Mike Jackson of Enid. 

The Southern Oklahoma committee consisted of Democrats Wes Hilliard of Sulphur and Emily Virgin of Norman, and Republicans Steve Martin of Bartlesville and Lisa Billy of Lindsay, serving with Chairman Don Armes of Faxon. 

The central Oklahoma subcommittee did its work under Republican Rep. David Dank of Oklahoma City. His members included Anastasia Pittman and House Minority Leader Inman, both Democrats, and Republicans Tom Newell of Seminole and Randy McDaniel of Oklahoma City. 

To study all proposed state House district maps, go here.
U.S. Census Bureau data was used to redraw the lines. Oklahoma grew modestly in population during the first decade of the Twenty-First Century. Under federal court precedent, districts must be nearly equal in population, with protections for “one person, one vote” strictures without diluting minority voting strength. 

At today’s press conference, Chairman DeWitt told reporters that deviation among the 101 House district would be well within 2%. Some districts will be a small as 36,900 in population, while others could be as large as 37,200.

Under the U.S. Constitution, a Census of the population is taken every 10 years. Representation in the U.S. House of Representatives is then apportioned based on population. Oklahoma dropped from six to five members in the House after the 2000 Census, but held its own in the past decade in congressional representation. 

Besides the Congress, Census results drive reapportionment processes in state legislatures, municipal bodies such as city councils, school districts and other local or municipal legislative bodies.