Lone congressional Democrat testifies in redistricting case

Monday, May 13th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma's only Democratic congressman says a congressional redistricting plan supported by four incumbent Republican congressmen would make his district too large to adequately represent.

Rep. Brad Carson said a redistricting plan proposed by GOP Gov. Frank Keating lumps his northeastern Oklahoma district with the largely Democratic ``Little Dixie'' area of southeastern Oklahoma to create a district that stretches from Kansas to Texas.

``You can't get to know the people,'' Carson said Friday during the fifth day of testimony in a trial about how Oklahoma's congressional districts should be redrawn.

``This plan is desperately bad for the people of eastern Oklahoma.''

Carson said he supports a proposal passed by the Democrat-controlled Senate that breaks northeastern and southeastern Oklahoma into separate districts similar to existing congressional districts.

``Little Dixie has always had its own congressman. This recognizes that fact,'' Carson testified as he eyed a map of the Senate plan that was mounted on an easel in Oklahoma County District Judge Vicki Robertson's courtroom.

Carson was the final witness to testify in the case. Closing arguments are scheduled Thursday.

Robertson, who has been asked to choose a redistricting plan, is considering five proposals including the Senate and Keating plans and two proposed by the House. A congressional redistricting plan is pending in the House but no vote has been scheduled.

Oklahoma is losing one of its six congressmen this year because the state's population did not grow as fast as other states during the 1990s. One incumbent, Rep. Wes Watkins, R-Okla., has said he is retiring.

Keating's plan places each congressman in separate districts while the Senate plan requires two incumbents, Reps. Ernest Istook and Frank Lucas, to run in the same district.

Carson characterized the Keating plan as ``raw partisanship'' and said it was drafted to protect GOP incumbents. He said the plan creates four strong Republican districts and an eastern Oklahoma district that would be more competitive.

Testimony during the trial revealed that the plan was drawn during a meeting of the four Republican incumbents with a member of Keating's staff earlier this year. Carson testified he was not invited to the meeting.

``He's trying to pack every Democrat in the state in my district,'' Carson said of the GOP governor. ``It's just so silly. You won't have time to do your work.''

Carson, an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, said the Keating plan also merges tribal governments that he represents with others in southeast Oklahoma that are currently represented by Watkins.

``It's better for the tribes to have two congressmen,'' he said.

Carson said Keating's redistricting plan would place 200 municipalities in Carson's district and 250 towns and cities in Lucas' northwestern Oklahoma district. Istook would have only 43 municipalities and Rep. John Sullivan would have 56, Carson said.

``Frank and I have far too much land mass, too many people to get to know,'' he said.

Contacted following Carson's testimony, Lucas said he already represents the largest district in the state that includes all or part of 24 counties.

``I've already got a district that stretches from Del City to the Colorado state line. You just have to work a little harder,'' Lucas said.