BY DAVID PERRYMAN
This week marks the beginning of Spring and there are few childhood memories that give me a warmer feeling than those of laying in the soft green grass watching clouds float across the sky. Normally, a few minutes of “cloud-watching” would produce a number of clouds that with minimal imagination resembled animals of all types and sometimes even uncles, aunts or super heroes.
The shape of those clouds often seemed to defy nature.
In contrast, the gerrymandered and contorted shapes of Oklahoma legislative districts defy not only nature but also the constitutional mandate that districts have an element of compactness.
The latest case in point is Oklahoma Senate District 44, the metro-Oklahoma City district currently held by Republican Sen. Ralph Shortey. According to a recent Oklahoma City newspaper article, SD 44 was drastically changed after the 2010 census and the re-shaping of the district made the election of a Republican much more likely by omitting a large number of non-Republican voters and adding several neighborhoods of predominately Republican voters.
The ratio of registered Republicans and registered Democrats in SD 44 is particularly pertinent at this time because of a possibility that the Oklahoma Senate might attempt to remove Sen. Shortey from office because of allegations against him and pending charges in the District Court of Cleveland County. If the state Senate does remove the Oklahoma City Republican, the resulting vacancy would be required to be filled by a special election.
[Editor’s Note: Since this column was written, Shortey’s attorney has announced the senator will resign no later than 5 p.m. Wednesday.]
Under those circumstances, the registration of the district’s electors becomes a foremost concern and the redistricting steps taken after the last census will likely have a greater impact on the identity of the ultimate senator-elect than will the credentials of the respective candidates.
In Oklahoma, the 10-year cycle of redistricting is performed under the strict scrutiny of the party in control of the Legislature and the last cycle was no exception with the party in control having the partisan ability to protect the seats of incumbent legislators as well as gain additional partisan seats.
Most Oklahomans believe that elections are based on a level playing field and that candidates who go head to head in a general election vie for election based on the candidates’ qualifications and the amount of work that they invest in pursuit of elective office.
Most Oklahomans are wrong. The outcomes of general elections are more influenced by the extent to which a district has been gerrymandered than the amount of work devoted by the candidate.
That is why I filed House Joint Resolution 1008, seeking to allow the people of Oklahoma to vote on a constitutional amendment to remove partisan politics from the redistricting process by allowing a non-partisan commission with nothing to gain and nothing to lose from redistricting.
Unfortunately, the House Rules Committee refused to hear my HJR and unless the constitution is changed before the 2020 census, history will repeat itself and a political party with a vested interest will once again impose partisan standards in setting legislative boundaries.
It would be nice if the resulting districts didn’t resemble elephants … or donkeys.
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House