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.
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.
“Redistricting is political by nature, but at least people have had some modesty about it in the past,” Adelson said. “Their people were not interested in preserving the voice of Oklahomans, they were interested in increasing the Republican market share for personal benefit.”
Ahlgren's firm, AH Strategies, ran the campaign of Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett, who defeated Adelson in the 2009 mayoral race.
Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, co-chairman of the Senate Redistricting panel, said the process can be emotionally charged.
“This is probably the most personal thing we do in the Senate,” Jolley said.
Ahlgren has had a succession of consulting contracts with the Oklahoma Senate under current and former Republican leaders. Ahlgren, a former assistant secretary of the senate, also worked for Sen. Tom Coburn and former Sen. Don Nickles.
“As such, his knowledge of Oklahoma and the local communities of interest was valuable to the process,” Jolley said. “Members of both political parties consulted with Mr. Ahlgren and any allegations that Mr. Ahlgren actually drew lines are simply false. Lines were drawn under the direction of senators directly to the technical staff.”
The Senate spent $165,500 on redistricting in the past three years, said Jarred Brejcha, spokesman for Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman. That included Ahlgreen's contracts, software and payroll for other employees.
In the House, former Republican Rep. Larry Ferguson served as an informal adviser to the redistricting process for “historical context” but was not paid, officials said. Including software, payroll and travel, the House spent $175,000 on redistricting since August 2010, said John Estus, spokesman for House Speaker Kris Steele.
Because any map must comply with the federal Voting Rights Act to protect minority representation, that's the first place mapmakers start, Jolley said.
“We had to draw those districts before we could do anything else, and we had to draw around those districts and that resulted in some funny looking maps in Oklahoma City and Tulsa,” he said. “That made the process more difficult, but at then end of the day, we've got maps that make sense that I believe the majority of members of both parties hopefully will support.”
The Senate map largely preserves Oklahoma City Sen. Constance Johnson's District 48, a longtime African-American seat. In Tulsa, Sen. Judy Eason McIntyre's District 11 lost more than 11,000 people since 2000. To retain the majority-minority status of that district, additional Hispanic precincts were moved in.
Rice said creating a new Hispanic majority-minority district in Oklahoma City isn't yet a requirement under federal law. But he said Senate redistricting leaders wanted to be ahead of the demographic changes on the city's south side. Rice gave up several urban neighborhoods in his current district to make that happen.
“It's sad to lose them, but I'm excited to get new parts of downtown and the Capitol Hill neighborhood, which has such a rich history and is evolving in interesting ways,” Rice said.
Rice said his hope is that part of town eventually could be represented by a Hispanic senator.