Oklahoma Senate passes redistricting plan

Wednesday, May 8th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Incumbent Republicans Ernest Istook and Frank Lucas would be thrown into the same congressional district under a Democrat-sponsored redistricting plan approved Wednesday in the Oklahoma Senate.

The vote was 27-19 for the plan, which now goes to the House, where approval is in doubt. All 17 Republicans present voted against the plan. They were joined by Democrats Dave Herbert of Midwest City and Robert M. Kerr of Altus.

``We're trying to protect the interests of the three million-plus citizens of Oklahoma, not the five incumbent politicians who are revving up their re-election campaigns,'' said Senate President Pro Tem Stratton Taylor, D-Claremore.

``This legislation preserves historic communities of interest, retains the flavor and compact nature of the existing districts and complies with all one-man, one-vote requirements.''

Republicans charged the plan is a partisan political document that breaks up communities of interests.

Among other things, they criticized it for splitting out minority sections of Tulsa and Oklahoma counties into rural, Democratic-leaning districts.

``I think this plan is a slap at Oklahoma and Tulsa counties,'' said Sen. Mike Fair, R-Oklahoma City.

Dan Mahoney, Republican Gov. Frank Keating's communications director, said the Senate vote was ``obviously not bipartisan so the governor is against'' the plan.

``He hopes there is still time to reach a compromise, but it appears this is headed to Oklahoma County District Court on Monday.''

Leaders of the Democratic majority decided to run the original Senate plan after a compromise brokered in part by the governor's office was pronounced dead.

That plan would have placed Istook, who resides in the Oklahoma City suburb of Warr Acres, in with 4th District Rep. J.C. Watts, who lives in Norman.

``First, it was Istook versus Watts. Then, it was Istook versus Lucas. Tomorrow, they'll try Istook versus Mike Tyson. I won't worry unless it's Istook versus Godzilla,'' Istook said in a statement released by his Washington, D.C. office.

The Senate redistricting vote came four days before a trial is scheduled to start in Oklahoma County District Court on a lawsuit filed because of the delay on drawing congressional boundaries.

Oklahoma is losing one of its six members of congress because the state has not grown in population as rapidly as other states.

House Speaker Larry Adair, D-Sallisaw, said he could not pass the Senate plan solely with Democratic votes in the House.

He said four members of the 52-member Democratic caucus oppose the Senate plan, short of the 51-vote majority needed for passage.

``If we get 51 people to agree to pass the bill, then we'll bring it up,'' Adair said. ``If not, it looks like Monday we'll be at the courthouse.''

He said there is a possibility the bill could be considered on the House floor on Friday, but ``we're running out of time.''

The proposal passed by the Senate would place several southwestern counties into the new 4th District and would retain military bases at Midwest City, Lawton and Altus, as requested by Watts.

A new 3rd District would take in the traditional ``Little Dixie'' counties of southeastern Oklahoma, while stretching into central Oklahoma, picking up much of Oklahoma County.

The 2nd District of Democrat Brad Carson would continue to be primarily in northeastern Oklahoma, differing from a Republican proposal that would combine northeastern and southeastern Oklahoma into one district.

The new 5th District under the Senate-passed plan would be mainly in northwestern Oklahoma, but would pick up population in Payne and Canadian Counties.

The 1st District would continue to center around Tulsa, while picking up voters in Washington County to the north, Wagoner County to the east and Grant, Kay, Garfield, Osage, Noble and Pawnee counties to the west.

The governor's office had hoped a compromise plan offered on Tuesday would get enough support to avoid a court battle and head off partisan showdown.

But House Democrats and many Republicans rejected that plan and no one was claiming ownership.

Steve Jones, aide to Istook, blamed it on ``the redistricting gnomes. They walk around the Capitol with maps on their head singing: 'Hi-ho, hi-ho.'''

Besides the Oklahoma County lawsuit, a trial is set for June 3 in a Sequoyah County suit and a hearing is scheduled on the issue on June 5 before a three-judge federal panel in Oklahoma City.