Allowing House members from both political parties to be involved in the redrawing of the 101 House of Representatives seats played a large part in coming up with a plan that appears headed for approval, House leaders said Monday.
“My whole objective was to be fair, be nonpartisan and draw these in a manner that would be fair to every representative out here,” said Rep. Dale DeWitt, R-Braman, chairman of the House Redistricting Committee.
House Democratic Leader Scott Inman, of Del City, said it shows Oklahomans that bipartisanship can work.
“We really can work together in their interest and not in the interest of partisanship,” he said.
Republicans hold a 70-31 edge in the House. This is the first time Republicans have had the majority in the House during the redistricting task.
Started in August
DeWitt started work on redistricting in August and held nine public hearings across the state. House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, named the former House Democratic leader, Rep. Danny Morgan, of Prague, as the panel's vice chairman.
“We were skeptical,” Morgan said. “This is not a perfect solution for everybody, but I think the citizens of Oklahoma ... will be pleased with the work that we've done.”
The committee broke into five subcommittees, each responsible for redrawing the lines for a particular section of the state, and then came together to come up with the final statewide plan.
Population shifted from the rural areas mostly to the urban areas of Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
“Our rural districts actually lost quite a bit,” he said. “Lines changed drastically, especially in rural Oklahoma.
“We still have a lot of our districts that come into the surrounding area of Oklahoma City and Tulsa as we did 10 years ago, but the districts in rural Oklahoma are much larger,” DeWitt said.
Legislators every 10 years redraw the House and Senate district boundaries to reflect population changes. The Senate still is working on its plan. Lawmakers must finish the task before the session ends later this month.
The plan keeps incumbents in their districts, eliminating the need for any incumbent to challenge another one.
“We said, ‘Please don't pit Democrat against Democrat to try to open up a seat or pit a powerful Republican against a freshman Democrat. Let's try to keep the members in their districts and then tweak around the edges,'
Steele said a consultant was not hired. He said he had confidence in the House members and staff.
DeWitt said the committee reduced the number of split counties from 47 to 41. Each district ideally should have a population of 37,142; the range as drawn is 36,900 to 37,200.
The House released maps of the new districts late last week. A House conference committee on redistricting approved the plan, contained in House Bill 2145, Monday; 23 of 24 members voted for it.
It now goes to a Senate conference committee. It's expected the full House could take up the measure late this week. It then would go to the Senate and to the governor.
More than 50 of Oklahoma's 77 counties grew in the past decade as the state's population grew by about 300,000 to nearly 3.8 million people, according to Census Bureau data released this year.
The most drastic change is in House District 60 in western Oklahoma. That district was moved to Canadian County.
In addition to the need to pick up urban population growth, the district also was changed significantly because Rep. Purcy Walker, D-Elk City, cannot seek re-election in 2012 because of term limits.
House District 20, held by Rep. Paul Roan, D-Tishomingo, also was noticeably changed, as it moved northward to take in Cleve
Walker was the only House committee member not to vote for the redistricting plan. Walker said he didn't like to see his district moved and that Elk City would be split into two districts.
The House District 60 he now represents will be placed into four surrounding districts.
“I wanted to maintain a rural district out in rural Oklahoma because they're just chiseling away at the rural voice here at the Capitol by moving these districts into urban areas,” Walker said.
Steele said he is pleased with the redistricting process.
“We've asked each and every member to come and have input into the drawing of this map,” he said.
The plan would establish the House districts for a 10-year period beginning January 2013. Candidates would run for the new districts in next year's elections, and the new districts would be effective when they are sworn into office shortly after the November elections.
View House maps online