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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 pmonies@opubco.com Published: May 15, 2011
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“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.

Minority districts

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.

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