Oklahoma Democrats mulling appeal of congressional redistricting plan

Wednesday, May 29th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma Democrats are studying whether to appeal a state district judge's decision to impose a congressional redistricting plan supported by the state's four Republican incumbents.

Democratic Party chairman Jay Parmley said Tuesday that Democratic legislative leaders are reviewing Oklahoma County Judge Vicki Robertson's ruling that imposed a reapportionment plan drawn for GOP Gov. Frank Keating.

State Senate President Pro Tem Stratton Taylor, D-Claremore, said he is disappointed that Robertson did not choose a different plan passed by the Senate. He said he will discuss a possible appeal with House Speaker Larry Adair, D-Stilwell.

``They'll do what's best for the people of Oklahoma, even if that means appealing to a higher court,'' Parmley said.

Republican Party chairman Chad Alexander said the Democrat-controlled Legislature should not use tax dollars in an appeal. About $170,000 has already been spent by the House and Senate on legal fees in the redistricting case, officials said.

Alexander said the GOP spent more than $250,000 in legal fees and expert testimony, all of it from private donors.

Robertson said the governor's plan splits fewer counties and municipalities than other proposals proposed by the Legislature and rates highest in continuity, the number of voters each district would retain from the previous configuration.

``No redistricting plan is perfect,'' Robertson said as she handed down her ruling in a crowded courtroom. ``There is some inefficiency in any plan.''

But the judge said Keating's plan best meets the needs of the people of the state.

``I think the primary asset of the state of Oklahoma is the people of Oklahoma,'' Robertson said.

She said testimony during a weeklong trial in the case indicated that Oklahoma County officials believed they benefitted from multiple congressmen but preferred that the constituency of one of the districts be primarily from the county.

Keating's plan divides Oklahoma County between two congressional districts but puts about 85 percent of the county's population in a single district so county voters will be able to elect their own congressman.

The plan also retains all of Tulsa County in a single district and places the state's two largest military bases, Tinker Air Force Base and Fort Sill, in a single district.

Political scientists, civic leaders and a member of Congress testified earlier this month about how to redraw district lines.

The state is losing one of its six congressmen this year because its population did not grow as fast as other states during the 1990s.

The Republican National Committee hopes to maintain or increase its slim majority in the U.S. House of Representatives in this fall's congressional elections.

The Keating plan was criticized by Democrats as an attempt to protect GOP incumbents. The plan creates a new 2nd District that stretches from Kansas to Texas in eastern Oklahoma. The district is represented by Oklahoma's only Democratic congressman, Rep. Brad Carson.

Republicans criticized the Senate plan because it would have placed Rep. Ernest Istook, who lives in the Oklahoma City suburb of Warr Acres, in the same northwestern Oklahoma district as Rep. Frank Lucas.

The Senate plan featured a new 3rd District in the traditionally Democratic ``Little Dixie'' area of southeastern Oklahoma. The area has no incumbent because 3rd District Rep. Wes Watkins is retiring.