In November 1889 Republican President Benjamin Harrison signed Proclamations admitting both North Dakota and South Dakota into the Union. He purposely did so in a way that no one, including himself knew which state was 39th and which was 40th. What was clear on that fall day and on four more days in the ensuing nine months was that a total of 6 territories would become 6 states and all of them would immediately elect Republican Senators.
Consequently, the razor thin Republican majority of 39-37 in the 50th United States Senate on November 1, 1889, quickly became a 51-37 Republican majority just in time for the 51st United States Senate compliments of the 102 year old Great Compromise of 1887.
The compromise, sometimes called the Connecticut Compromise was integral to the approval of the United States Constitution by small states and provided that the number of a state’s U.S. Representatives would vary based on the state’s population and that the House of Representatives would retain the exclusive right to originate budget and revenue bills, but that each state regardless of size or population would be entitled to elect two U.S. Senators.
In 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt when faced with petitions from Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory for admission as separate states knew the history. Being a Republican at the time, he knew that both territories leaned Democratic. No Democratic leaning states had been admitted to the Union in 48 years and while Roosevelt faced intense pressure, he did not want to award the Democrats with four new Senators.
Separate statehood was denied. Oklahoma was admitted as a single state 108 years ago this week and Oklahomans promptly elected Democratic Senators Robert Owen and Thomas Gore.
Also adopted by Oklahoma was the federal form of a bicameral legislature that had its root in the Great Compromise based partially on geographic boundaries and partially on population.
Over the years, population shifts resulted in unequal representation to the extent that some rural areas had more than 10 times the representation of urban areas. Oklahoma House Researcher George G. Humphreys found that by the mid-1950’s a majority of the House of Representatives were elected by districts that contained only 29% of the population.
Today, house and senate districts bear no relationship to geography or county lines. The number of senate and house seats is a purely arbitrary number and senate districts are simply oversized house districts. While the Great Compromise is still effective on the federal level, in Oklahoma the legislative duplicity of a house and a senate bureaucratically hinders good legislation and increases the volume of bad legislation.
During the Great Depression, the state of Nebraska eliminated a legislative house. It became unicameral and as a result has saved hundreds of millions of dollars over the past 81 years. Oklahoma could follow that lead.
In fact, Ballotpedia statistics show that Oklahoma could eliminate 57.7% of the entire legislature, that would be the entire senate and 38 of the House seats, and each of the remaining 63 legislators would still have fewer constituents than the average American state representative.
That would produce the type of savings that is being championed by State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones. Will it happen? Likely not until Oklahomans take their job seriously and hold their elected officials accountable.
–David Perryman is the state representative for Oklahoma House District 56.