The Senate's plan to redraw its 48 districts won the approval Thursday of a House panel but not before drawing criticism from several House members for hiring a political consultant and including oddly drawn districts.
“When we tried to draw lines that looked like curlicue, the staff told us we couldn't so I'm just curious how the Senate was able to do it,” said Speaker Pro Tem Jeff Hickman, R- Fairview, a member of the House Conference Committee on Redistricting.
“Amen,” said a committee member as members took their first look at Senate Bill 821, which contains the Senate's redistricting plan. Eighteen members agreed to advance the measure; three didn't. It now goes to the Senate.
“If they brought this over here on a napkin, I'd be for it because this is the Senate's business and their way of doing it,” said Rep. David Dank, R- Oklahoma City, and a committee member.
The House, where Republicans hold a 70-31 edge, named a Democrat to serve as vice chairman of its redistricting effort. Public meetings were held across the state and five subcommittees, each representing a part of the state, met with House members. Legislators every 10 years redraw the House and Senate district boundaries to reflect population changes. Oklahoma's population grew by more than 300,000 people during the last decade and the state saw a shift from rural areas to metropolitan suburbs,
In the Senate, where Republicans have a 32-16 majority, Democratic senators complained districts were being drawn in secret with the help of a GOP political consultant who has been paid more than $127,500 since May 2009 as a redistricting adviser and Senate staffer.
A Senate committee approved the redistricting plan Wednesday and released new maps.
Unlike the House plan, in which no incumbent was pitted against another, the Senate plan forces two incumbent Democrats into districts with two incumbent Republicans.
Sen. Tom Adelson, D-Tulsa, plans to run against Sen. Brian Crain, R- Tulsa. The western Oklahoma district of Sen. Tom Ivester, D-Elk City, was moved east to include the residence of Sen. Rob Johnson, R- Kingfisher. But Johnson is planning to move into his new district northwest of Oklahoma City and not oppose Ivester.
Split counties reduced
Lexa Shafer, a Senate staffer who worked on redistricting, told the committee that the number of split counties was reduced from 30 to 27.
Rep. Eric Proctor, D-Tulsa, earlier on the House floor Thursday, criticized the Senate process but complimented GOP House leaders for the open and bipartisan process to redraw the House districts.
“The speaker of the House is to be commended on doing it correctly and doing it openly,” he said. “The state Senate could not have done it any more opposite than everything I just said. ... We did it the right way. They did it the wrong way.”
Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, who often spats with House Republican leadership and members over legislation, also was complimentary of how House Republicans dealt with redistricting.
“It does mean a lot when we can all sit down and work out something,” he said. “I would advise the House members to possibly ask the Senate to use us as their mentors and they can just talk to each other to work out their differences. We do not need to go spend $150,000 on some professional.”
To view the new Senate districts, go to www.oksenate.gov/index.aspx and click on “Senators” on the top of the page. On the drop-down menu, click on “District Maps” and then click on “New Senate District Maps (2011).” Several maps are available to view by clicking on their title. They include a statewide map and maps of proposed Senate districts in Canadian, Cleveland, Oklahoma and Tulsa counties.