(Oklahoma City) Governor Keatings congressional redistricting plan would disenfranchise voters in southeastern Oklahoma, preventing them from receiving adequate representation from the state congressional delegation in Washington, DC, according to a coalition of southeastern Oklahoma state legislators.
The lawmakers are taking exception to the Keating plan because it virtually abolishes the 3rd congressional district that currently represents southeastern Oklahoma. Instead of retaining the historic structure of the 3rd, Keating has proposed combining it with the 2nd district in northeastern Oklahoma, making one large district running the length of eastern Oklahoma from the Kansas to Texas border.
Senator Kelly Haney (D-Seminole), Sen. Brad Henry (D-Shawnee), Sen. Billy Mickle (D-Durant), Sen. Jeff Rabon (D-Hugo) and Representative Kenneth Corn (D-Howe) want the governor to withdraw his current proposal and support one that preserves a southeastern Oklahoma district. All of the lawmakers represent 3rd district communities.
If Governor Keating gets his way, southeastern Oklahoma will be stripped of the congressional representation that it now enjoys. A congressman who hails from a town near the Kansas border will be representing people hundreds of miles away in communities along the Red River. Thats not in the best interest of the voters or the state as a whole, said Sen. Mickle.
The lawmakers noted that the new eastern Oklahoma district in Governor Keatings plan is anything but compact one of the requirements that the federal courts have mandated for congressional districts. Stretching from Kansas to Texas, the new eastern Oklahoma district is significantly larger than the existing 3rd district.
The days of an average citizen having an opportunity to talk to their congressman at a town hall meeting will be over. The current district is a manageable size that allows the representative to travel from town to town and meet with the people. If you stretch it from Kansas to Texas, that one-on-one communication goes out the window. I think it will be a real loss for southeastern Oklahoma, said Senator Rabon.
The lawmakers pointed out that even though the state is reducing its congressional representation from six to five members, it is possible to construct a redistricting map that retains the historic structure of existing districts, namely the 3rd in southeastern Oklahoma.
For example, a Senate redistricting proposal now before the state courts does just that, retaining separate districts for northeast, southeast, northwest and southwest Oklahoma.
Its not that difficult to draw a redistricting map that protects the interests of all the different areas of the state. Its considerably tougher, however, when you make incumbent protection your number one goal as Governor Keating has. In his quest to draw a political map, the governor has sacrificed the people of southeastern Oklahoma, said Sen. Haney.
In addition to shorting voters, Governor Keatings plan also ignores the historical structure of Oklahomas congressional districts. Since statehood, southeastern Oklahoma has had at least one district under its control.
For example, if Governor Keatings redistricting plan had been on the books in preceding decades, southeastern Oklahoma may never have elected such political giants as Carl Albert to the U.S. Congress, according to the legislators. Albert represented southeastern Oklahoma for 30 years and was elected U.S. Speaker of the House.
From statehood, the importance and independence of southeastern Oklahoma has been recognized in the many different congressional maps that have governed the state. Governor Keating has ignored 95 years of historical precedent and drawn a district that would shut the doors on southeastern Oklahoma and native sons like Carl Albert, said Sen. Henry.
Rep. Kenneth Corn noted that the Keating redistricting plan may also have been motivated by his general dislike of the Little Dixie area. Keating performed poorly in the area in both of his gubernatorial races and has frequently made off-the-cuff comments that have insulted residents of the area.
Its no secret that Governor Keating doesnt hold southeastern Oklahoma in very high regard. Granted, he may not be the most popular person in this part of the state, but thats no justification for discriminating against the people here. Their vote counts just as much as anyones in the state and that electoral power should be reflected in congressional representation, said Rep. Corn.
The legislators are calling on Governor Keating to withdraw his proposed redistricting plan and offer a revised plan that does not discriminate against southeastern Oklahoma. They also want a member of the congressional delegation who does not have a stake in redistricting to go to bat for Little Dixie. The lawmakers say U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe should show his support for southeastern Oklahoma by lobbying the governor to preserve a Little Dixie district.