November election: Oklahoma ballot issue would change makeup of backup redistricting group

BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Published: October 16, 2010
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Voters next month will consider establishing a new backup plan to redraw state House legislative districts.

Backers of State Question 748 say it would establish a bipartisan commission while opponents call the proposed change a legislative power grab.

Legislators every 10 years — after the census figures are released — redraw the House and Senate district boundaries. If lawmakers and the governor can't agree on new lines for the 101 House and 48 Senate districts by the end of next year's session in late May, a commission is to take over the task. This never has happened.

"Hopefully, we won't have to use this one either," said Senate President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee, who wrote the legislation.

House Minority Leader Danny Morgan counters: "If it's not broke, why are we trying to fix it? If it is in fact broke, we need an independent council that is appointed, particularly by having some justices involved."

The issue is on the Nov. 2 general election ballot.

The commission now is made up of three elected statewide officials — the attorney general, state schools superintendent and state treasurer.

SQ 748 proposes to replace it with a seven-person commission. One Republican and one Democrat would each be appointed by the governor, House speaker and Senate president pro tem. The lieutenant governor would serve as chairman and would be a nonvoting member. At least four members of the commission would have to agree on a redistricting plan.

Legislators put the question on the ballot on a party-line vote in both chambers. Republicans supported it and Democrats opposed the measure. Senate Joint Resolution 25 passed the Senate, 25-21. The House of Representatives passed it, 59-38.

For most of the 103 years Oklahoma has been a state, the three officials comprising the redistricting commission have been Democrats. Republicans, who gained control of the Senate in 2008 after taking over the House in 2004, set out to revise the reapportionment commission makeup with this bipartisan commission proposal.

"It just modernizes what the (state) constitution originally intended to do," said Coffee, who authored SJR 25. "The way the constitution is currently drafted, it arbitrarily picks three statewide officers to draw the lines if the Legislature and the governor can't agree. Under the current configuration, all three of those officeholders are of the same party."



What is State Question 748?

Legislative redistricting
This measure amends Sections 11A and 11B of Article 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution. These provisions deal with how the Legislature is divided into districts. This process is known as apportionment. The Legislature must make an apportionment after each ten-year federal census. If the Legislature fails to act, an Apportionment Commission must do so. The measure changes the name of this Commission. It removes all three existing Commission members. It removes the Attorney General. It removes the Superintendent of Public Instruction. It also removes the State Treasurer. The measure increases the number of members from three to seven. The President Pro Tempore of the Senate appoints one Democrat and one Republican. The Speaker of the House of Representatives appoints one Democrat and one Republican. The Governor appoints one Democrat and one Republican. The measure provides that the Lieutenant Governor chairs the Commission and is a nonvoting member. It requires orders of apportionment to be signed by at least four members of the Commission.

What it means
The measure, if approved, would change the backup plan if legislators and the governor fail to reach an agreement on redrawing legislative districts. As it is now, a reapportionment commission, made up of three elected statewide officials — the attorney general, state schools superintendent and state treasurer — would take up the task if legislators fail to reach an agreement. SQ 748 proposes to replace that commission with a seven-person commission. One Republican and one Democrat would each be appointed by the governor, House speaker and Senate president pro tem. The lieutenant governor would serve as chairman and would be a nonvoting member. At least four members of the commission would have to agree on a redistricting plan.

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