Latest estimates show state continuing to slip

Wednesday, December 29th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- The prospect of Oklahoma retaining all of its six congressional seats after the next census is dimming. The latest estimates of the state's population from the U.S. Census Bureau shows Oklahoma falling short of holding on to the sixth seat by about 60,900 people. The gap has widened since 1998 when figures showed Oklahoma missing out by 37,800 people. The estimated number of Oklahomans increased to 3.35 million by July from 3.14 million in April.

The state has added more than 200,000 residents this decade, with the population growing an estimated 6.8 percent. "I say we are doing the best we can," said Jeff Wallace, who is with the state Commerce Department's data center. "We were on the edge in '90 to keep our six, and we will be on the edge again." The next official census will be taken in April and those figures will be used to determine apportionment of the 435 U.S. representatives. The count of Oklahomans living abroad will affect the apportionment picture. The annual population estimates don't include those living abroad. In 1990, there were 12,019 Oklahomans living abroad.

Karen Mills, who works in the Census Bureau branch responsible for congressional apportionment, said the count of Oklahomans living abroad was responsible in 1970 for taking a congressional seat away from Connecticut and giving it to Oklahoma. "We hope we will have six, but we are probably going to have five," said Gordon Melson, executive director of the Oklahoma Democratic Party. "We are doing well, just not as well as some others."

E.Z. Million, a Norman consultant and statistician, said the new data is terrible news for the state. He said hopes for the sixth congressional seat are fading fast. He figures that Oklahoma's ranking for the sixth seat drops to 446, 11 states from qualifying for that post. Million has urged tax breaks and other measures to help increase the state population. Gov. Frank Keating said losing a seat in Congress would be "largely a psychological loss."

House Speaker Loyd Benson, D-Frederick, said the latest information isn't a surprise, but is disappointing. He noted that many thought Oklahoma would lose a congressional seat 10 years ago. Both Melson and Million said the state needed to get a good population count with the next census. Oklahoma ranks 27th in estimated population, just ahead of Oregon and just behind South Carolina.

Oklahoma was the 29th fastest-growing state during the past year with an estimated increase of 0.6 percent. Of surrounding states in the past nine years, Missouri increased 6.9 percent, Kansas increased 7.1 percent, Arkansas 8.5 per cent, New Mexico 14.8 percent, Texas 18 percent and Colorado 23.1 percent.