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Oklahoma Senate's redistricting favors suburbs

Redrawing of Oklahoma Senate district boundaries protects incumbents while giving gains to the state's suburbs.
BY PAUL MONIES Published: May 15, 2011

Some fast-growing suburbs of Oklahoma City and Tulsa won out in the latest legislative redistricting process that largely protected incumbents in the Senate.

The Senate passed the redistricting plan Friday.

For the first time, the Senate will have a district focused on the fast-growing Hispanic population. The Capitol Hill neighborhood on Oklahoma City's south side will be part of Democratic Minority Leader Andrew Rice's downtown district.

Redrawn boundary maps released in the closing weeks of the Legislature will have political implications in elections for the next decade, redistricting experts and lawmakers said.

“This is not a map that was drawn for the convenience of Democratic incumbent lawmakers, but there's nothing illegal about that. This is politics,” said Keith Gaddie, a political science professor at the University of Oklahoma.

Different approaches

Republicans command majorities in the House and Senate, but differing approaches to the mapmaking in each chamber were evident last week as the plans were first considered. At one point, Democrat Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, jokingly suggested senators could find a mentor in the House to resolve problems with the Senate map.

“In the House, people sat down and worked it out,” said Democrat Sen. Tom Adelson, of Tulsa. “In the Senate, the Republicans seemed like they wanted to jam the boot in your neck.”

Adelson and Sen. Tom Ivester, of Elk City, were among two Senate Democrats who saw their districts change drastically under the new Senate map. Several Democratic senators in the northeastern part of the state also saw major changes.

But the moving of incumbents wasn't limited to Democrats. In all, three GOP senators no longer live in their districts: Sen. Jim Reynolds of Oklahoma City; Sen. David Myers of Ponca City; and Sen. Rob Johnson of Kingfisher.

Myers, who is term limited in 2014, said he has no complaints. His mostly rural district lost more than 9,800 residents in the past decade.

“There's just no way you could maintain that many senators in my rural area,” Myers said.

“Since I was term-limited, who do you think they picked on? But I'm not unhappy. It's a good district and will give me a chance to see some new folks in the next few years.”

Reynolds takes office as Cleveland County treasurer in July, so a special election will have to be held in District 43 under its current boundaries. In 2012, the district will move south to McClain and Stephens counties.

Adelson's District 33 shifted from a mostly downtown Tulsa area to one in the southern and southeastern GOP suburbs.

His house was placed in Republican Sen. Brian Crain's redrawn district.

Adelson, who considers Crain a friend, said he plans to run for re-election in Crain's District 39.

“I think I could compete,” Adelson said. “Some of those precincts have good Democratic numbers.”

Ivester's district flipped from the southwest to one stretching from western Oklahoma to Canadian County. It now includes Republican Sen. Rob Johnson's house in Kingfisher. Johnson plans to move into his redrawn district.

Long odds for Democrats

Senate Democrats said they knew they faced long odds in getting districts redrawn to their liking. But Adelson said the hiring of a GOP political consultant poisoned the process. Karl Ahlgren was paid more than $127,000 for his redistricting advice to the Republican leadership, according to Senate financial records.

DataWatch blog: Open Records and Government Information

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