Republicans offer congressional redistricting plan

Monday, January 14th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Republicans announced a congressional redistricting plan Monday that protects incumbents and dramatically changes the makeup of the 3rd District.

Gov. Frank Keating said the GOP plan, agreed to by all four Republican congressional incumbents, was fair and met constitutional guidelines.

Keating said it was important for Oklahoma to save its ``congressional seniority'' during a period when its congressional delegation has been reduced. The number of Congress members from Oklahoma is being pared from six to five this year because Oklahoma's population did not grow as fast as other states.

Democrats hold the majority in the Legislature, but have yet to announce their redistricting proposal.

Some lawmakers have predicted a deadlock on redistricting, forcing the courts to draw the new boundaries. But Keating said he hoped ``cooler heads will prevail'' and a compromise can be reached that will be similar to the latest GOP proposal.

Under the GOP plan, a new 3rd District would be created largely in the western Oklahoma area now represented by 6th District Rep. Frank Lucas of Cheyenne. The district would be extended to the east, picking up some Republicans strongholds such as Bartlesville.

Rep. Loyd Benson, D-Frederick, who is heading up redistricting for the House, was critical of the GOP plan.

``I doubt that a Republican plan that would carve up the 3rd District will be well received in the Legislature,'' Benson said.

House Speaker Larry Adair, D-Stilwell, said he expects committees headed up by Democrats will present their redistricting proposal in the next few days. Adair said the latest proposal he has seen would not place any incumbents together, but would be far different from the GOP plan.

Sen. Kevin Easley, D-Tulsa, who is spearheading redistricting in the Senate, had predicted two incumbents might have to run against each other in the Democratic plan.

Keating recently vowed to veto any bill that places incumbents in the same district.

The GOP plan creates a new 2nd District that would stretch from Kansas to Texas, taking in most of the state's strongest Democratic counties. The 2nd District is now primarily in northeastern Oklahoma and is represented by Brad Carson, the only Democrat in the delegation.

Adair described that configuration as ``pretty strange.''

``I think their whole interest is to protect incumbents,'' Adair said of the Republicans. ``I don't know if there is really any provision in the constitution that says we are obligated to protect incumbents.''

The new 1st District in the GOP proposal would pick up Washington County, much of Creek County and a sliver of Rogers County.

The 5th District would be centered in Oklahoma County and would pick up Pottawatomie and Seminole counties.

The 4th District also would be changed, but would still include Cleveland County, home of incumbent Rep. J.C. Watts. It also continue to include Fort Sill and Tinker Air Force Base.

An earlier plan discussed by the governor's office placed Lucas and 5th District incumbent Ernest Istook in the same district. That plan was drawn before 3rd District Rep. Wes Watkins decided to retire, making it possible to avoid pitting two incumbent congressmen against each other.

Oklahoma's incumbent GOP Congress members praised the latest Republican proposal.

Watts called it ``one of the best possible solutions.''

``This is a workable plan that would help preserve the seniority and power of the incumbents in the best interests of Oklahoma,'' Watkins said.

Republican John Sullivan, recently elected to replace GOP Rep. Steve Largent in the 1st District, said he was on board.

Lucas said the plan did a better job grouping common interests together.