Capitol Insider: New Year Begins With Redistricting Atop Legislative Agenda
In Part Two of their discussion on redistricting, KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley talked to the two legislative leaders tasked with completing the complicated process by the end of the 2021 legislative session. This Oklahoma Engaged report follows the results of the General Election in November, 2020 and how the new legislature will set the political playing field for the next ten years.
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and government. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol news director, Shawn Ashley. One of the biggest tasks facing the next legislature when it begins its work in February will be redistricting. Joining us again for Part Two of our discussion on how Oklahoma will draw legislative and congressional district lines in 2021 are House Redistricting Committee Chair, Representative Ryan Martinez, Republican from Edmond and Senate Select Committee on Redistricting Chair, Senator Lonnie Paxton, Republican from Tuttle. Welcome, gentlemen.
Lonnie Paxton and Ryan Martinez: Thank you for having us.
Shawn Ashley: Senator Paxton, redistricting is a complicated process with input from a lot of different people. How do you actually draw the lines to ensure roughly equal size and fair representation in these districts?
Sen. Lonnie Paxton: Well, in the 2020 cycle, we'll be using a software program called Maptitude. And unlike 2010, the House and the Senate are working very close together using the same software so that we can work on these things together. One thing that you'll notice - sometimes you'll see precincts that will have maybe ten or twenty or thirty people in those actual precincts. They're kind of called sliver precincts. Those can be avoided when the House and Senate work together and start drawing the lines, so we don't have, for example, the Kilpatrick Turnpike being the southern border of the House district and Memorial Road being the southern border of a Senate district. Because that would create a little precinct in the middle of there. So that's what we're trying to avoid. And that's where we start laying those lines out. The Senate and House will be working very, very closely together to make sure that those lines coincide with each other.
Dick Pryor: Representative Martinez, what cultural considerations do you have to make to draw districts that are accurate reflections of the areas involved?
Rep. Ryan Martinez: That's a great question. And, you know, we have talked about in the past how we're doing a lot of different town halls across the state, giving people an opportunity to come and talk about what they want their specific district to look like. And one of the things that we hear a lot of times are people that say, “hey, I've lived in this neighborhood, in this area for a long time.” And it's pretty clear, based off the census data and from the public that lives there, that a community of interest might be based off of a culture, as mentioned for so maybe a largely Hispanic area. And they say, “hey, we really want to be one voice and we want to stick together and we want this district to look this way.” So, I think that's something that should be taken into account and that's something that we absolutely will. I think in years past and historically, you could look across the country in certain states where there has been an attempt to separate those communities of interest to water down their votes and voices. That's definitely not the case in Oklahoma. We're definitely taking into account the best way to make people one person has one vote and they have equal representation.
Shawn Ashley: Looking at the House, do you expect we will see any districts disappear? And if so, why would that happen?
Rep. Ryan Martinez: So, that's a good question. As you know, we're working off estimates right now because we are waiting on final data from the Census Bureau. But based off of what I've seen, I don't imagine there'll be any districts that simply disappear. You will see some shifting sizes, maybe areas just because you look at where the population growth has happened in Oklahoma, for example. If you look at the metropolis areas around Oklahoma City, the suburbs, Edmond, you have a lot of growth there. So obviously those districts will shrink in geographical size and the districts surrounding those areas will have to move into those urban and suburban centers to pick up enough population to have an equal amount of people that will be voting. So, I don't think anything will just simply disappear. There might be a shift and some shifting to make sure that every district has an equal amount of population.
Shawn Ashley: Senator Paxton, how does that look for the Senate?
Sen. Lonnie Paxton: Well, the average Senate district in 2010 was around seventy- eight thousand in population. We're anticipating it be somewhere about eighty- three thousand. Representative Martinez mentioned a lot of that population has moved in towards the metro areas. I think we looked at the Canadian County, Oklahoma County, Cleveland County areas that that area might have gained by estimates around one-hundred and thirty thousand people.
So, when you look at a senator's Senate district, it's going to be around eighty-three thousand. It makes a lot of sense that a lot of the rural districts will be pushing into those metropolitan areas. And so, we're going to start with forty-eight Senate districts and end with forty-eight Senate districts, but they most certainly will be shifting around to accommodate where the population has moved to.
Dick Pryor: Senator Paxton, how do you plan to maintain the integrity of those rural districts when you have to reach into urban areas to get the required number of people?
Sen Lonnie Paxton: That is part of the process is the town hall meetings. We get that input from the people that we're talking to as we attend these eighteen meetings throughout the state. And it is a very difficult process because it all comes down to the numbers. Where does everybody live at? And so when you have to fit eighty-three thousand people into a Senate district, it's going to make some districts much, much larger. You go look at the Casey Murdock’s district in northwest Oklahoma, which includes the Panhandle, it’s already a very large district and it is probably going to get larger by looking at where the population has shifted to. So that is something that we'll work through. And also all these state senators will also be giving input into their districts as well.
Dick Pryor: Representative Martinez, looking at the state's five congressional districts, there has been some speculation that CD-5 might change. It comprises Oklahoma, Pottawatomie and Seminole counties. Do you see that happening now that Stephanie Bice is replacing Kendra Horn as U.S. Representative in that district?
Rep. Ryan Martinez: Yes, that's a great question. I mean, honestly, the way that that I kind of look at it is that the data is going to drive this process. So, it doesn't necessarily matter so much as to who was holding the seat at any given time. But I think if we look at the data and where the population is shifting, there's a real chance of that. I mean, we're going to have to see the precise numbers just simply because once again, if CD-5 has grown so much in population, it will shrink in area and we will have to have some of those other representatives in those other districts grow into some of that population base. So, I anticipate that there will be a shift. But once again, that's going to be decided by the data. That's not something that politics or, you know, whichever party seems to be holding the seat at the time. That's not going to play much of a role in any of this. And I think the data will kind of guide us to where we need to go.
Shawn Ashley: Senator Paxton, Congressman Frank Lucas has one of the largest districts in the United States that stretches from Cimarron County in the west to Osage County in the eastern part of the northern part of Oklahoma, and from the Kansas line to the Texas state line in western Oklahoma. It includes Boise City, Altus and Pawhuska. Do you expect that district, CD-3, to stay the same in the next redistricting?
Sen. Lonnie Paxton: Well, like everything else, the population has changed, so that district is going to change. We have not looked at those numbers about where actually the line will get moved to pick up population. You could potentially move it more into the metro area to pick up some of that population, but then you're going to have people in the metro area and people in the Panhandle in the same U.S. House district. And so that's the kind of things that that we look at because that's the kind of issues that we want to address and also with those congressmen and those people tat the town halls to discuss where they see that happening at. But there is a population shift in that northwest district, in Frank Lucas’ district, and that's what we will be working on this coming spring.
Dick Pryor: Senator Paxton, when must the legislature’s work on redistricting be completed?
Sen. Lonnie Paxton: According to the Oklahoma Constitution, we must have our work finished and signed by Sine Die, which is going to be the last Friday in May. That's when our work has to be completed.
Dick Pryor: That's a lot of work you've got to do in a short period of time.
Sen. Lonnie Paxton: Well, it is, especially because we will not get, you know we're working off estimated data now, but we'll get the actual census data sometime in March or April. Hopefully when we get that, that's when the late nights will start all the time because we'll be trying to get all that data put in to finalize all those districts.
Shawn Ashley: Representative Martinez, what happens if you can't finish the redistricting process by the end of the legislative session?
Rep. Ryan Martinez: So, my understanding is, you know, that that's listed out in the Constitution, as well. If we are not able to come to some type of agreement, and actually finish the process, I guess we could technically probably do a special session. I think I'd have to check on that, but I'm pretty sure we could. And if that still doesn't work there is a way to build a citizen commission with some appointees that would figure that out. Now, it'll be a lot of hard work, but I eagerly anticipate that we will find a way to get this job done, as we always do, and we'll get it done in the most fair way that we possibly can.
Dick Pryor: Good luck doing that. Representative Ryan Martinez and Senator Lonnie Paxton, thanks for joining us and happy New Year.
Rep. Ryan Martinez: Thanks a lot. You as well.
Senator Lonnie Paxton: Thank you.
Dick Pryor: That’s Capitol Insider. If you have questions, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us on Twitter @kgounews and @eCapitol. You can also find us online at kgou.org and ecapitol.net. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I’m Dick Pryor.