Democrats will face greater odds of claiming one of the state’s five U.S. House seats if a redistricting plan unveiled last week is approved when lawmakers return for a Nov. 15 special session.
Since Oklahoma’s population grew in the last decade by 200,000 — with much of that 5% growth coming around Oklahoma City and Tulsa — lawmakers must redraw the maps so the five districts have roughly the same amount of people.
Republican leaders claimed last week that their proposal would lead to “little changes.” But data shows it could significantly change the state’s political dynamics for the next decade.
Specifically, the congressional redistricting proposal threatens to make Oklahoma’s 5th District, the only state district that has seen competitive races since 2012, a more difficult target for Democrats.
Democrat Kendra Horn broke a long-running GOP winning streak in the district in 2018 when she defeated incumbent Steve Russell with 50.7% of the vote. Stephanie Bice retook the seat for the GOP in 2020 when she beat Horn with 52.1% of the vote.
With Democrats holding a 220-to-212 member advantage in the U.S. House of Representatives, the race holds importance beyond the state’s borders. Last election cycle, the Hill named the 5th District one of “10 bellwether House races to watch.”
Under the GOP-led Legislature’s plan, the 5th District, which currently covers most of Oklahoma County and all of Pottawatomie and Seminole counties, would be extended to include all of Lincoln County plus the southern portion of Logan County and an eastern portion of Canadian County.
Oklahoma City, most of which is currently in the 5th District, would be split into three congressional districts. The 3rd District, which covers much of the western part of the state including the Panhandle, would absorb much of the city’s southwest side, a heavily Hispanic area that has been a Democrat stronghold. And the 4th Congressional District would continue to cover part of southeast Oklahoma City, including Tinker Air Force Base.
Currently, Republicans hold an advantage in the 5th District in a partisan lean score developed by Dave’s Redistricting App, a program the state partnered with to allow users to submit maps to the Legislature, with 52.4% of the district leaning Republican. The proposal unveiled last week would increase that lean score to 58%.
Republican lawmakers said last week that they did not consider the partisan makeup of the five districts as part of their decision-making process since it wasn’t part of their official guidelines.
But, as part of this story I wrote last month, Michael Crespin, director of the University of Oklahoma’s Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center, told me politics are never far from the mapmakers’ minds.
“The drawing of the map is always very political,” he said. “Except in a few instances where they just use population, the maps are drawn more to get a political outcome more than anything.”
Democrats also have claimed that Republicans are using their power to gerrymander the maps to protect their own interests.
“It is clear from the proposed map released (Monday), the goal was to draw gerrymandered congressional districts to protect incumbents from competitive elections,” said Senate Democratic Leader Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City.
With Republicans carrying overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate, there is little Democrats on their own can do. But that doesn’t mean the plan is set in stone.
Lawmakers are still taking public feedback on the proposal, as well as the House and Senate legislative redistricting plans that will also be voted on later this month. In addition to contacting your House and Senate representatives directly, you can leave comments about the redistricting plan on the House’s website and the Senate’s site.
My Oklahoma Watch colleagues and I will be working on some redistricting stories before, during and after the special session, so I also want to hear what you think? Do you like the redistricting plan or are there changes you would like to see? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Twitter at @tbrownokc.
The Top Story
Ida’s Law: The Promise, Limitations of Oklahoma’s Pursuit of Justice for Indigenous People
A new law that goes into effect this week aims to give the state’s Native American families a more coordinated pursuit of justice.
But Oklahoma Watch’s Rebecca Najera and Whitney Bryen report that progress will be slow due to a lack of funding. [Read More]
More From Oklahoma Watch
Balancing Safety, Resettlement As Afghan Refugees Arrive in Oklahoma
They arrive here from a military base at the pace of one or two a day seeking shelter and a sense of belonging in communities with mixed feelings about their presence. Oklahoma Watch’s Lionel Ramos examines how a network of non-profit, religious and law enforcement organizations are helping them meet those needs in a state where 4 in 10,000 people speak a Persian language. [Read More]
If you ever wondered how the actual redistricting bill that lawmakers will vote on when they return to the Capitol on Nov. 15, here is a preview from Keith Beall, redistricting director for the Oklahoma Senate.
And if it’s anything like the last redistricting bill it is going to be a pretty hefty bill. In 2011, the bill rewriting House legislative lines ended being 870 pages while the Senate redistricting bill came in at 49 pages.
What I’m Reading This Week
- Over 200,000 Oklahomans have enrolled in SoonerCare through Medicaid expansion, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority announced Wednesday. Of those, more than 118,000 are new applicants. [The Oklahoman]
- Oklahoma health officials said Wednesday they are prepared to begin COVID-19 vaccinations to children aged 5-11 as soon as the vaccines arrive. [The Associated Press]
- The Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus on Wednesday urged Gov. Kevin Stitt to grant clemency to Oklahoma County convicted killer Julius Jones. [Tulsa World]
- Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt is traveling to Mexico, arriving Tuesday afternoon for what his office says is a visit to strengthen trade and economic ties and discuss plans for a Mexican consulate in the state. [The Associated Press]
- Gov. Kevin Stitt’s reelection campaign raised more than $500,000 during the third quarter and had nearly $1.5 million in cash at the end of the reporting period on Sept. 30, according to Oklahoma Ethics Commission reports filed last week. [Tulsa World]
Support our newsroom
During times of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, Oklahoma needs high-quality investigative journalism. That is our mission at Oklahoma Watch. We produce stories that hold government and public officials accountable and that make transparent what some prefer to keep secret. We depend on financial support from readers like you to sustain our coverage. Help us make a difference.