Governor to scrutinize any carving up of Tulsa

Friday, February 9th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) --Differences over whether to carve up the 1st Congressional District, which includes Tulsa County and little else, could produce a redistricting stumbling block at the state Capitol this year.

Gov. Frank Keating, who hails from the 1st District, warned in his State-of-the-State speech that he would veto any redistricting bill that tries to create a partisan advantage.

"We will not gerrymander Oklahoma in 2001," Keating said.

Afterward, Rep. Bill Paulk, chairman of the House Redistricting Committee, asked Keating about his specific concerns and the governor mentioned a move to split Tulsa County.

"We're not looking at anything like that at all," said Paulk, D-Oklahoma City. "I think the state would be best served if Oklahoma City had a U.S. congressman, if Tulsa had a U.S.

congressman and then you could divide the rest of the state by a third. That's just one man's idea."

But Sen. Mike Morgan, D-Stillwater, chairman of the Senate redistricting panel, has a wait-and-see position on the Tulsa County question.

"I have assured people who want to do that that we will look at it as a possible scenario," Morgan said. "But I think it is way too soon to say it is likely or not likely."

Rep. Chris Hastings, R-Tulsa, vice chairman of the House committee, has a different view.

"I seriously doubt it will happen," Hastings said. "I would say splitting Tulsa into three parts would assure almost certain litigation."

His Senate counterpart, Rep. Jim Dunlap, R-Bartlesville, said had not taken a position on the issue. "There are a lot of agendas coming out of Tulsa County," he said.

At a recent public hearing, former Tulsa County Democratic Chairman John Nicks said "it makes sense that you would have greater impact with more than one" congressman from Tulsa.

Proponents of splitting up Tulsa point out that Oklahoma County, the state's most populous, is represented by more than one congressman and is an oddball L-shaped district that stretches to the Kansas border.

It's basic configuration came about as result of an attempt by Democrats to put as many Republicans as possible into one district.

The political landscape has changed drastically since redistricting in 1990. Democrats held a 4-2 edge in the delegation then. Now they are outnumbered 5-1.

Democrats can be expected to try to gain an advantage during the latest effort since they remain the majority party in the Legislature.

But they will be limited by the fact that Oklahoma is losing a congressman and other factors, including a Republican governor who has the veto power to force concessions.

If a stalemate develops, the final decision will be made up by a panel of three elected officials, all Democrats. They are Attorney General Drew Edmondson, State School Superintendent Sandy Garrett and state Treasurer Robert Butkin.

State Republican Chairman Steve Edwards anticipates that Democrats will endeavor to protect their lone congressman, Brad Carson, in the 2nd District and try to create one more Democratic-leaning district elsewhere.

Oklahoma's incumbent congressmen will be lobbying to keep their constituencies, but 1st District Rep. Steve Largent, a conservative Republican, may not run again. He is mulling a race for governor in 2002.

Redistricting officials say it is premature to talk about final congressional lineups since final U.S. Census data will not be available until late March or early April.

Morgan said it is possible lawmakers will not finish drawing congressional lines by the May 25 deadline for adjournment, although that will be the goal.

Some experts believe the Oklahoma Constitution only mandates that legislative lines must be drawn in 2001 and congressional boundaries can be established at a special session later.

Keating said he does not have a hard-and-fast position on Tulsa County remaining intact.

But spokesman Phil Bacharach said the governor is "leery of blatant division of communities of interest for political purposes."

Keating is well acquainted with the 1st District. A former state lawmaker from Tulsa, he ran unsuccessfully twice for Congress, losing to former Democratic Rep. Jim Jones and Republican Jim Inhofe, now a U.S. senator.

Keating has not expressed any interest in running again in the 1st District, but is considered a possible candidate for the Senate.