By Patrick B. McGuigan
After being unveiled over the past two weeks, reapportionment plans for the state House of Representatives and the Senate began moving through the Legislature last week. The process of approval could even be completed this week, as legislative leaders expressed hopes to finish their work by Friday (May 20), a full week ahead of the mandated May 27 adjournment.
The House plan gained 93-3 passage and headed to the Senate for consideration this week. There is little reason to think it will not also gain approval in the upper chamber.
As for the Senate redistricting maps released May 11, it has attracted some critical comments and was expected to face some negative votes, but was applauded by several Democrats, who constitute the minority party in the two chambers.
Late last week, members of both parties in the House said that the Senate plan – in contrast to their own – was unnecessarily divisive, but still likely to pass.
In varied ways, in a series of interviews with The City Sentinel, incumbent legislators serving the heart of Oklahoma City seemed pleased with the districts that will take effect with the 2012 elections.
In the House, MidCity Republican David Dank was chairman of the redistricting process for all of Central Oklahoma – in essence, the Fifth Congressional District.
State Rep. Al McAffrey’s district [House 88] retains much of its MidTown character, but edges both west and northwest of its current base. McAffrey told The City Sentinel, “I’m fine. I have to say that David Dank did a great job. I appreciate him being so fair with me.”
As McAffrey sketched his situation, “My district has shifted some west and northwest. As the plan evolved, Rep. Dank asked me about the lines, and listened to what I had to say. David Dank was fair and honorable in this whole process.”
A new constituent for McAffrey is Dana Orwig, who was seeking the state Democratic Party chairmanship at last week’s convention. Orwig has run three times for the state Legislature, including twice against state Rep. Jason Nelson, the Republican incumbent in House District 87. Orwig’s residence is now located in McAffrey’s district.
In an interview with The City Sentinel, Orwig said, “I assumed that I’d be put in District 88, and that is in fact what has happened. It doesn’t make his district much more Democratic, but it does make District 87 safer for the Republicans.
“I am pleased to have Al represent me, but disappointed that I apparently am no longer in [state Senator] Andrew Rice’s district. As far as the future goes, I might consider a run in District 88 when Al is termed out – but some of that will of course depend on whether or not the new chair of the Oklahoma Democratic Party can get his or her act together and lead us into the Promised Land.”
As for state Rep. Nelson, on the near west side, his comments about the new lines were, like McAffrey’s, positive.
He reflected, “I thought it was really fair. None of us in the MidCity got everything we wanted. As you look at the way the vote in the district could go, it might be better for me, yet it is not a safe seat. It has the potential to be very competitive.”
He continued, “I moved some toward the northwest, but the district is still south of Northwest Expressway. It was not really a lengthy process. I might have spent 45 minutes, total, working on the process.”
As for Dank himself, he told The City Sentinel, “When the speaker and [Redistricting Committee] Chairman [Dale] DeWitt asked me to be chairman of the 5th district reapportionment, I told them every one of the local legislators would have input on the design of the districts. I said we’re not going to ignore the wishes of those who have run for election and been serving here for awhile.
“I told every member we hoped to strengthen the representative process.”
Dank said, “I thought the process wound up being forthright and honest. I had four Democrats who walked in and thanked me for the process. Everybody who plans to try to stay in office is happy.
“My district [House 85] went a little north and now goes to the other side of Lake Hefner. I gave up part of the southern end of my district, but kept Crown Heights and the area east of Classen. It was a process of negotiation and discernment. I gave up some strong precincts.
“In the end, 34% of my constituents will be new. And, I have no problem with that. As it is, I got 58% of the vote in my old district. I felt this was necessary to have a redistricting that could result in everyone having a representative that fit the community or part of town in which they live.”
Perhaps the most significant change in representation for the MidCity area will come in the state Senate.
Senate Minority Leader Andrew Rice, the Oklahoma City Democrat elected from District 46 in the MidCity, told The City Sentinel, “In the end they were fair to Senate District 46 and many other Democratic districts, but I will be voting NAY on the overall bill to show solidarity with members of my caucus who are unhappy with the process, and who will vote against the bill. However, there will be enough bi-partisan votes for the bill to pass.”
Rice posted reflections about the Senate plan on his Facebook page. There he wrote:
“The new Senate maps have been released. My district … has been able to retain some of it’s MidTown OKC character, while also expanding into a new and historic form overall. …
“There was enough Hispanic population in my current southern precincts, along with much of South Oklahoma City/Capitol Hill to the south of my district line, for us to create a 51% Hispanic district out of the new lines of District 46. This is an important and historic part of Oklahoma City’s evolution, progress, and commitment to provide our growing Latino community more political power in the democratic process.
“It will be an honor to represent this historic new district when we transition to the new districts in November of 2012. And my hope for the future is that the growing Latino population in the new District 46 will perhaps some day soon be able to elect a Hispanic Senator to be a strong voice for their community at the State Capitol.
“I am sad to lose many of the unique urban neighborhoods currently in District 46. Among them are the Shepard, Crestwood, Cleveland, Putnam Heights, Las Vegas, Gatewood, Miller Neighborhood, Capitol View neighborhoods, and many others.”
Rice noted most of those neighborhoods are shifting into districts now held by Senator David Holt (District 30) and Senator Cliff Branan (District 40).
Rice commented, “My hope is that their inclusion into those districts can have a moderating influence on the Republican Senators who will represent them.
“The northern area of Senate District 46 (north of the Oklahoma river) will still roughly represent most of downtown, Heritage Hills, Mesta Park, the Plaza District/Classen-Ten-Penn, Classen SAS area, Jefferson Park, Central Park, Paseo, Edgemere Park, Douglas Edgemere, Helm Farm, and all of Crown Heights and Edgemere Heights.
“Redistricting was a difficult and frustrating process, but I am grateful that mid-city residents will still have a unique and multicultural district.”
Following House approval of its own plan and anticipated Senate consent to the new lines for the upper chamber, the respective bodies are expected to give consent to the new districts for the other body. It seems likely reapportionment will be in place for the 2012 cycle, and legal challenges, while possible, do not seem as likely as in past years.
Reapportionment of Congress is required under the U.S. Constitution and occurs every 10 years, on the basis of the U.S. Census. Also unfolding at the state Capitol are new district lines for elective judicial positions. Still ahead at the local level is a redistricting process for city council seats, county commissioners and other elective posts.