Rep. James Lockhart argues for bi-partisan reapportionment commission

OKLAHOMA CITY – A state lawmaker said Tuesday (July 7) that he intends to again push legislation next year that would create a bi-partisan commission to apportion legislative districts after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a similar plan in Arizona last week.

State Rep. James Lockhart said people from all over the state are telling him Oklahoma needs less of a Democrat/Republican agenda and more of a plan that puts the best interests of the citizens first. 

In Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, handed down on June 29, the Court held that voters may give control over legislative redistricting to an independent body created by ballot initiative. Voters in Arizona had set up an independent commission in 2000 to draw legislative boundaries, a function that traditionally has belonged to state legislatures via the Elections Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which states that the “Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof.”

The state of Arizona argued that “legislature” can only refer to the official body that makes laws for the state.

The Court rejected the state’s argument, holding that in states where ballot initiatives are available, voters have the power to make laws independent of the state legislative body. 

During the 2015 legislative session, Rep. Lockhart introduced House Joint Resolution 1008, which would have created a “Bipartisan Commission on Legislative Apportionment,” the members of which would be appointed by the Chief Justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The measure was assigned to the House Rules Committee where it never received a hearing.

“We have used the power of apportionment in the Legislature to gerrymander political districts for decades,” said Lockhart, D-Heavener. “Oklahomans really have no say in how those districts are drawn, and by extension, who is representing them at the Capitol. As Justice Ginsburg noted, the citizens should be choosing their representatives rather than the representatives choosing their constituents.

“I still believe there is enough of a populist mentality remaining in this state to get a state question passed if we can get it through the Legislature, and I intend to work hard to make that happen. We need to end the hyper-partisan battles in both the state Legislature and the U.S. Congress.”

Joint Resolutions are used to propose amendments to the state Constitution. Because House Joint Resolution 1008 received no action during the first session of the 54th Legislature, it is still alive for the second session in 2016 and will not have to be refiled.