Capitol Insider: Legislature convenes to approve new congressional, legislative districts
With new U.S. Census figures in hand, the Oklahoma legislature has re-drawn legislative and congressional districts that will influence Oklahoma elections and politics for the next decade. The proposed new congressional districts, however, have generated controversy.
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. Our guest is Michael Crespin, director and curator of the Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center and professor of Political Science at the University of Oklahoma. Welcome, Michael.
Michael Crespin: Thanks. Glad to be here.
Dick Pryor: We want to talk to you today about redistricting.
Shawn Ashley: Michael, the legislative special session on redistricting begins Monday morning. How would you evaluate the process the House and the Senate redistricting committees have used this year to draw the new maps?
Michael Crespin: Sure. So, I'd say it's a bit of a normal process, as well as a little unusual. So, the normal processes, they held a series of meetings. They gathered some input from the public and they created a series of maps for the Oklahoma House and Senate, as well as the congressional map. I would say the unusual part is the timing. So, the census data came out rather late. So, in order to meet the constitutional deadline, they produce some preliminary maps and then they're going to approve everything in this special session.
Shawn Ashley: Do you think this has been a sufficiently open and fair process?
Michael Crespin: You know, I think there's two parts of that. One, it was open. They have a series of meetings. I tuned into a couple of them online. You know, what's harder to judge is how much of the input from the public got moved into the maps.
Dick Pryor: The proposed congressional redistricting map was unveiled November 1st. It makes some significant changes, especially involving the 5th Congressional District. But there has been no opportunity for citizen input. Does that hurt the credibility of the map?
Michael Crespin: Sure. Yeah. So, I guess most of the input was on the House and the Senate maps, and then the congressional map has been more of a mystery since it was revealed most recently. There was an opportunity to offer some plans by the public. You know, in terms of credibility, it's going to move through the normal legislative process, all be it in special session. And that's going to be up to, I think, the individual voters to decide. Republicans will probably be happy and satisfied with the map and Democrats less so.
Dick Pryor: So how do you evaluate the look of the congressional districts and the changes in district boundaries?
Michael Crespin: Sure. So, I think the most obvious change is what happened to CD5. They used the technique we call cracking to take Oklahoma County and spread that out into three districts. So, it's a pretty nice, clear-cut example of cracking so that southwest corner of the map moves to CD3, CD4 keeps the Tinker Air Force Base area, and then the rest remains in CD5. You know, the other districts, the Tulsa district gets probably a little bit more compact with Washington County moving over to Two, Two remains pretty much the same, Four remains pretty much the same, and the big differences are with Three and Five.
Shawn Ashley: In cracking the 5th Congressional District, the 3rd District will take more than 180,000 people from South Oklahoma City. As you look at this map, is that really necessary?
Michael Crespin: So, the necessary part of drawing the map is to make sure you have five districts that are contiguous and have the same number of people. You could certainly draw a map with that part of Oklahoma City remaining and CD5, and then you probably would not include Lincoln County and Logan County. So, it wasn't necessary, right? So, the most compact map would be to pack Oklahoma County into one district. I think has probably a little bit too much population. So, you could maybe shave off some of the edges there, so it certainly wasn't necessary.
Shawn Ashley: Does that change resulting in a district that represents Pawhuska, Boise City, Woodward, Altus, Weatherford and south Oklahoma City concern you?
Michael Crespin: Well, if I'm a voter or constituent living in that part of Oklahoma City that's now in CD3, I'm probably not going to be happy with that outcome. Right? So, you have these more urban voters who probably have different views and concerns than a lot of the more rural voters. So, yeah, if I'm one of them I'm probably not happy with this outcome. Probably would want someone as my member of Congress who maybe had more similar views.
Dick Pryor: How likely is it that this map will be challenged in the courts?
Michael Crespin: I haven't really dug into all of the data, but first blush says it's probably legal. I'm not the legal expert on this, so I'd expect the Democrats to try to mount a challenge. It might be hard to have a successful one though.
Shawn Ashley: If you were in charge, how would you do this year's redistricting differently?
Michael Crespin: I think sometimes one way to get more trust in the process is to use a commission, you know, some sort of independent commission where you take the process outside of the hands of the legislature. There's different variations on this. Iowa has one where there's an independent commission that only uses population data. Now, the legislature does get to vote on this, but I think removing the process from the legislature, people tend to have a little bit more faith in the outcomes.
Dick Pryor: How do you think that these particular districts, as they are drawn now for Congress, will reflect partisan politics and representation?
Michael Crespin: Sure. So, you know, these districts are much safer for Republicans. So again, it was Five. That was a district that was represented by a Republican and then a Democrat, Kendra Horn, won, and then Stephanie Bice, Republican, won it again. So, you know, this is a plan to make that district safer for Republicans. So, I think barring any major changes for the next decade, these maps are much better for Republicans than for Democrats. My only sort of question is looking forward - is Oklahoma City going to continue to grow in terms of population and who's going to move there? So, there is a chance that Oklahoma City, more Democratic voters move there, and it might make it a little harder for Stephanie Bice, the current member, to hold on looking maybe six, eight years down the road.
Dick Pryor: Michael Crespin, director and curator of the Carl Albert Center at the University of Oklahoma, thanks for joining us.
Michael Crespin: Sure. Thanks for having me.
Dick Pryor: And we'd like to hear from you. Email your questions to 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.