TULSA — Ten years ago, Rep. Ron Peters, R-Tulsa, was a freshman legislator and a member of the minority party.
When it came time to redraw legislative districts to adjust for the 2000 Census numbers, the Democratic leadership asked him what three precincts he most wanted to keep in his district and what three precincts he most wanted to get rid of.
“Being in the minority, I thought I might want to reverse those, but ... I told the truth,” Peters said.
When the redistricting process ended, Peters ended up keeping all three of the districts he wanted to get rid of and losing all three of the ones he most wanted.
Ten years later, Peters and the Republicans are the majority party, and he is the chairman of the subcommittee that redrew district lines for the Tulsa area. But he says he isn’t looking for any payback in the process.
Dividing Oklahoma’s population among 101 House members and 44 senators in a way that will pass federal court muster is a difficult and very political task. Doing it in a way that makes every lawmaker happy, is probably impossible.
But if the goal is comity, the state House seems to have done a better job with the task that comes around every 10 years than the Senate.
In the Senate, Democratic discontent with the process is boiling.
Although the final Senate lines haven’t been drawn and revisions are being worked out, Sen. Andrew Rice, D- Oklahoma City, said last week that the pending design is a “total disaster” designed to drive Democrats out of office.
Sen. Tom Adelson, D-Tulsa, could end up being the most notable victim of the process. One possibility under consideration would move Adelson’s District 33 from midtown Tulsa to Duncan. The territory Adelson had represented would be redistributed to surrounding senator’s districts, and he would end up reporting to voters in Stephens County for the final year of his current term.
Rice and Adelson said a lawsuit is possible, but the co-chairman of the Senate Redistricting Committee said the plan will pass legal scrutiny and that it is driven by demographics, not politics.
“Honestly, not everybody’s going to get exactly what they want,” said Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond. “But I’m hopeful at the end of the day we’ll have Democrats vote for it, we’ll have Republicans vote for it, we’ll have Democrats vote against it and we’ll have Republicans vote against it.”
Jolley points out that the Republicans in the Senate aren’t doing anything that the Democrats didn’t do when they were in the majority.
So long as that adds up so that more than half of the Senate accepts the plan, Jolley said his job is done.
While Senate Democrats complain that their district lines are being drawn secretly with the aid of a political operative, the House Democrats say they were included in the process.
In Tulsa County, Democrats credit Peters with making the process work smoothly.
After the House designed a district — currently represented by Rep. Jabar Shumate — that would ensure the voting rights of blacks in north Tulsa, Peters showed Reps. Jeannie McDaniel, Seneca Scott and Eric Proctor proposed lines for their districts.
McDaniel said Peters let the three Democrats adjust the lines for their districts so that they were as comfortable as possible with them.
“We all had to grow our districts and make compromises,” she said. “I think change bothers people, but I’m excited about it.”
She said she plans to spend her summer knocking on the doors of her new constituents and getting to know their concerns.
No legislators ended up getting their districts pulled out from under them. No legislators saw their homes drawn into districts with other lawmakers.
“I think we’ve been very fair and open,” Peters said. “They’re all pretty happy with what they’ve ended up with.”
By the way, Peters said he won’t end up getting back those three treasured precincts he lost 10 years ago — proving you can’t make everyone happy.