Congressional redistricting plan headed for Oklahoma Supreme Court

Friday, June 7th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A congressional redistricting plan that Democrats have said was drawn to protect Republican incumbents will be appealed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, Democratic legislative leaders said Thursday.

The appeal was announced one day after a three-judge federal panel stayed a redistricting lawsuit in a ruling that said a state judge had already resolved the issue of how Oklahoma's congressional district lines should be redrawn.

Oklahoma County District Judge Vicki Robertson imposed a congressional redistricting plan drawn for Republican Gov. Frank Keating on May 28. The plan was endorsed by the state's four incumbent GOP congressmen.

But Senate President Pro Tem Stratton Taylor, D-Claremore, said the plan ``puts incumbent politicians ahead of the people.''

``The bottom line is guaranteeing Oklahoma the best representation possible in Washington, D.C.,'' Taylor said.

``In order to protect the voting rights of the hardworking people of Oklahoma for the next 10 years, an appeal of the Oklahoma County District Court decision is essential,'' said House Speaker Larry Adair, D-Stilwell.

Taylor and Adair said a formal appeal will be filed on Friday.

Election Board Secretary Michael Clingman said a lengthy appeal could delay filing for this fall's congressional elections. Filing is scheduled for July 8-10.

``We do have a lot of concern to get this resolved as soon as possible,'' Clingman said. Without a redistricting plan, potential candidates will not know what district to run in.

``If it goes past filing, we don't know exactly how to proceed,'' Clingman said. He said election officials may not accept filings for congressional races or accept them subject to later challenges if Robertson's redistricting plan is thrown out.

Republican Party chairman Chad Alexander said an appeal could ``put the state in an electoral crisis.''

``It is certainly their right to appeal but we don't feel like the judge made any errors,'' Alexander said. ``They had their day in court. We feel like the judge's decision vindicated us.''

On Monday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court stopped a Sequoyah County judge from trying a separate state redistricting lawsuit, ruling it would interfere with Robertson's decision.

Oklahoma is losing one of its six U.S. House districts this year because the state's population did not grow as fast as other states during the past decade.

The Legislature did not pass a redistricting plan before it adjourned on May 24. But Taylor said one passed by the Senate ``put the people first and preserves historic communities of interest.''

Democrats have criticized the governor's redistricting plan because it combines much of the ``Little Dixie'' Democratic stronghold in southeastern Oklahoma with the 2nd District in northeastern Oklahoma, creating one predominantly Democratic district that runs from the Kansas to Texas borders.