Oklahoma's Redistricting News
Capitol: "Federal judge stays redistricting suit." June 6, 2002
A federal congressional redistricting lawsuit was stayed Wednesday by a three-judge panel that ruled a state judge has already resolved the issue of how Oklahoma's congressional district lines should be redrawn. During a brief hearing, Judge Stephanie Seymour of Tulsa, a member of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, said the tribunal believed the case should not go forward, since a redistricting plan was imposed by state District Judge Vicki Robertson on May 28.
"This court considers the matter decided by the state court," Seymour said. The panel said the stay would remain in effect pending the outcome of the state redistricting case.
Other members of the panel were U.S. District Judges David L. Russell and Robin Cauthron, both of Oklahoma City. Following a weeklong trial, Robertson imposed a congressional redistricting plan that was drawn for Republican Gov. Frank Keating and endorsed by Oklahoma's incumbent GOP congressmen.
Democratic leaders criticized the plan as being designed to protect the state's four incumbent Republican congressmen.
Senate President Pro Tem Stratton Taylor, D-Claremore, has said Robertson's ruling would be appealed if the federal case and a second state redistricting case in Sequoyah County did not go forward.
On Monday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court stopped a Sequoyah County judge from proceeding with that case, ruling it would interfere with Robertson's decision.
Taylor's attorney, Lee Slater, said no final decision on an appeal had been made. Slater said Taylor has until the end of June to file one.
Candidates in this fall's congressional elections are scheduled to file their names July 8-10. Oklahoma is losing one of its six U.S. House districts this year because the state's population did not grow as fast as other states during the past decade.
The federal lawsuit was filed by Steve Edwards of Tulsa, former chairman of the state Republican Party, and Canadian County resident Colby Schwartz.
They alleged that the Legislature did not adopt a redistricting plan. Lawmakers adjourned the Legislature's regular session on May 24 without an agreement on a congressional redistricting plan.
Their attorney, Andy Lester of Edmond, filed motions urging the federal panel to dismiss the case. Lester said the allegations in his lawsuit were answered when Robertson handed down her decision.
Slater said he was disappointed in the panel's decision. Democrats wanted the federal court to take over the redistricting case.
Slater said the state Constitution gives the Legislature responsibility for redistricting, not state courts.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court blocked a Sequoyah County judge from beginning a new congressional redistricting trial Monday, saying an Oklahoma County court has ruled on the issue.
District Judge Vicki Robertson approved a redistricting plan last Tuesday developed by Gov. Frank Keating and four Oklahoma Republican incumbents in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Keating filed the motion with the Supreme Court to stop the Sequoyah County trial.
"Governor Keating is pleased the court has dismissed the Sequoyah County redistricting suit and feels it's time to proceed and allow election officials and candidates statewide to do their job," said John Cox, the governor's press secretary.
"The issue was discussed and debated for well over one year, and the governor feels the new congressional boundaries approved by the Oklahoma County court last week are fair and will allow our federal representatives to best serve Oklahoma in Washington, D.C," Cox said.
The Oklahoma County case was filed by Chad Alexander, chairman of the state Republican Party, along with other Republicans.
Ann Weaver of Muldrow filed the redistricting lawsuit in Sequoyah County.
Weaver's lawsuit said the U.S. Supreme Court's one-person, one-vote mandate was violated, and that she was being deprived of her constitutional right to equal protections because the governor and Legislature failed to enact a redistricting plan.
Still pending is a redistricting lawsuit scheduled to go to trial Wednesday in federal court. It was filed by Steve Edwards, a former Republican Party chairman, and Colby Schwartz, of Canadian County.
Andy Lester, their attorney, said he plans to file a motion in federal district court today. He said the federal trial should be postponed because a redistricting plan is in place.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court said Monday a general rule is that when a state court takes jurisdiction of a matter, its jurisdiction continues on all matters until the issue is finally disposed of and no other state court should interfere.
A decision on appealing an Oklahoma County judge's approval of a Republican congressional redistricting plan remains uncertain, Democratic leaders said Thursday. They said they will monitor two other congressional redistricting trials that begin next week before deciding whether to appeal the case they lost earlier this week in Oklahoma County.
On Tuesday, District Judge Vicki Robertson approved a redistricting plan drawn by Gov. Frank Keating and Oklahoma's Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Senate leader Stratton Taylor issued a statement Thursday on behalf of himself and House Speaker Larry Adair, both defendants, saying they would monitor redistricting trials beginning next week in Sequoyah County and in federal court before making a decision.
"If those actions do not proceed for any reason, we plan to appeal the ruling that was made by the Oklahoma County District Court," Taylor, D-Claremore, said.
Adair, D-Stilwell, said, "A lot of time and effort has been put into this issue, and for the good people of this state, it would be inappropriate for us to just throw in the towel and give up.
"Several options remain available, including the filing of an appeal of the Oklahoma County District Court ruling. Over the next few days, I will be watching the developments in the other cases and will make the necessary decisions at that time."
Chad Alexander, state Republican Party chairman and one of the Republicans who filed the Oklahoma County redistricting lawsuit, criticized the Democratic leaders for withholding their decision on appealing.
"I think it's irresponsible with the filing period just over a month away for them not to take action if they want to appeal Judge Robertson's decision," Alexander said.
The three-day filing period for people wanting to file as candidates for office begins July 8, Alexander said.
"We're less than three months from the date of the primaries," Alexander said. "It's clearly irresponsible for them not to take any action."
It's the same attitude Democrats took during the session when they didn't pass a congressional redistricting bill that the governor could sign, Alexander said.
Robertson ruled on the congressional redistricting lawsuit after the Legislature adjourned May 24 without adopting a redistricting plan.
The court-approved plan would protect the four Republican congressman and the state's one Democratic congressman.
John Cox, press secretary for Keating, said the governor believes Robertson's decision was correct.
"We feel confident about our position, that it will stand, and we can proceed with an orderly election. We hope there won't be any further delays," Cox said.
Alexander said Taylor and Adair should have to raise money from private donors instead of from taxpayers to finance an appeal.
Taylor and Adair were named defendants in their official capacity as Senate president pro tempore and House speaker.
Alexander said he had no problem with the state paying for their defense during the trial.
"They are no longer defendants. Now they are appellees," he said.
Rep. Wayne Pettigrew, R-Edmond, asked Attorney General Drew Edmondson whether state funds can be used to pursue any appeals by Taylor and Adair.
Adair said no decision has been made yet whether to appeal.
"However, I would note that historically, whenever a suit is filed against the leader of the House of Representatives, we have used public funds to retain counsel to represent the House. I was sued in my capacity as speaker of the House."
Before the trial began in Oklahoma County, the House and Senate had spent a total of $170,000 on the case.
The Sequoyah County case is set to begin Monday. The federal court case is scheduled to begin Wednesday.
A motion to dismiss the Sequoyah County case was filed in the Oklahoma Supreme Court by the governor earlier this month. The motion is pending.
In a trial with national implications, a black publisher who's a special assistant to the governor testified Monday that a Senate Democrat congressional redistricting plan isn't good for blacks.
Russell Perry, who has businesses in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, objected to the Senate plan because it puts black areas of Oklahoma City and Tulsa into proposed rural congressional districts.
Perry was one of several people called as witnesses Monday by Republicans who filed a lawsuit in Oklahoma County District Court. The Republicans are asking a judge to take over congressional redistricting and adopt a congressional redistricting plan drawn by the governor and Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
The trial opened Monday with District Judge Vicki Robertson presiding.
Perry, publisher of The Black Chronicle in Oklahoma City and special assistant for economic development for Gov. Frank Keating, said predominant black areas in urban
Oklahoma shouldn't be placed in rural districts.
Under the Senate plan, northeast Oklahoma City, a predominantly black area, would be placed in a district with southeastern Oklahoma's Little Dixie; that wouldn't be good for blacks, Perry said.
North Tulsa, also a predominantly black area, would be in a mainly rural district in northeastern Oklahoma; that wouldn't be good for blacks either, he said.
Like the other witnesses, Perry testified that Keating's plan would be best for Oklahoma.
Witnesses said the governor's plan maintains communities of interest and doesn't pit incumbents against each other.
Perry said the culture of blacks is different from rural Oklahoma's.
Fred Leibrock, attorney for Republicans who filed the lawsuit, told Robertson "the redistricting process is the most political of all political processes."
The trial began as the Legislature moved into what its leaders hope is the next-to-last week of the regular session.
Leaders have set May 24 as the date to adjourn the regular session.
So far, there's no agreement among legislators on how to draw a new congressional district map with boundaries for five U.S. House of Representatives' districts instead of six.
Oklahoma lost one of its six U.S. House seats this past year because of slow population growth.
State House Republicans were still trying to develop a congressional map Monday that would garner bipartisan support.
Leibrock told Robertson that Republicans hold an 11- member majority in the U.S. House and Democrats are trying to gain control in the next elections.
Democrats will try to take control through elections and through congressional redistricting plans that give Democrats an edge, he said.
As a result, the Oklahoma County case has national implications, he said.
"Oklahoma has become a battle front because the Legislature is controlled by the Democrats," Leibrock said.
The Democrat plan pits incumbent Republicans against each other, Leibrock said, while Keating's plan preserves a district for incumbents, who include four Republicans and a Democrat.
The Senate Democrat plan that passed the Senate last week would put U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Warr Acres, and U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas, R- Cheyenne, into the same district.
Lee Slater, attorney for Senate leader Stratton Taylor, D- Claremore, said the lawsuit "is a choice of a plan of the incumbents, by the incumbents and for the incumbents or a plan of the people, by the people and for the people.
He said the Republican plan meets the needs of five incumbents while the Senate Democrat plan meets the needs of three million people.
Tom Perrelli, one of the Washington attorneys for House Speaker Larry Adair, D- Stilwell, said the Republicans' view of the least change in a redistricting plan is a euphemism for incumbent protection.
He argued that the Senate Democrat plan keeps Tinker Air Force Base, Fort Sill and Altus Air Force Base in the same congressional district while the Keating plan puts Tinker and Fort Sill in one district and Altus and Vance Air Force Base in another.
Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune testified he didn't like the Senate Democrat plan because it puts some of Tulsa into another congressional district.
"There's no doubt in my mind that the governor's plan is preferable," he said.
Richard Burpee, president of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce and a retired Air Force lieutenant general, said he doesn't believe Oklahoma's military bases will be hurt by having two in one district and two in another.
Burpee, a pilot who flew 336 missions in Vietnam, said he believes Altus and Vance shouldn't be harmed by future base closings because there's a pilot shortage. Both those Air Force bases train pilots, said- Burpee, a former commander of the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center at Tinker Air Force Base.
Burpee, chairman of a group that worked to protect Tinker from being closed in a nationwide round of base closings in the 1990s, said pairing Tinker and Fort Sill in the same congressional district would be good for those two installations.
The battle over congressional redistricting will be fought on two fronts beginning today when a trial over the controversial issue opens in Oklahoma County District Court.
District Judge Vicki Robertson will preside over the trial of a lawsuit filed by Republicans who want the court to decide the best way to carve Oklahoma into five congressional districts.
While the trial is going on, legislators will be at the Capitol trying to draft a congressional plan that could be adopted and signed by the governor.
The lawsuit was filed earlier this year by several Republicans including Chad Alexander, chairman of the state Republican Party.
Defendants in the case include Senate leader Stratton Taylor, D-Claremore, and House Speaker Larry Adair, D-Stilwell.
When the lawsuit was filed, Republicans said the Legislature was deadlocked over redistricting and wouldn't get a plan enacted in a timely manner before July 8, the beginning of the three-day period for Oklahomans to file as candidates for elective offices, including the U.S. House of Representatives.
Since then, several unsuccessful efforts have been made to draw a congressional map that would win the approval of Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature.
So far, the Legislature hasn't adopted a plan that the governor will sign.
Last week, the Senate passed a congressional redistricting plan and sent it to the House of Representatives. However, Gov. Frank Keating said he won't sign it or any other plan that doesn't have bipartisan support.
The Senate plan passed last week didn't have any Republican support.
Because of slow population growth, Oklahoma will lose one of its six seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Legislators have had to develop boundary lines for five congressional districts instead of six.
Already submitted for consideration during the trial are five congressional maps -- three by Democrats and two by Republicans, including Keating.
No one can predict when the trial will end.
However, Robertson will withhold her decision until the Legislature adjourns without adopting a congressional plan.
Legislative leaders have set May 24 as the final day for this year's session.
The constitutionally mandated deadline is 5 p.m. Friday, May 31.
If a plan is passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor, attorneys on both sides believe the lawsuit will be dismissed.
After the Senate passed its plan last week, House Republicans began working on another plan in an effort to find some common ground with legislators on both sides.
"This isn't something I necessarily would call a Republican plan," said Rep. Larry Ferguson, R-Cleveland.
Among witnesses listed by the defense for the trial are Taylor and Sens. Angela Monson, D- Oklahoma City, and Maxine Horner, D-Tulsa, said Lee Slater, one of the attorneys for the defendants.
Fred Leibrock, attorney for Alexander, said witnesses for the plaintiffs include Mayor Kirk Humphreys of Oklahoma City and Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune.
Also listed as witnesses for the plaintiffs are state Rep. Odilia Dank, R-Oklahoma City; Richard Burpee, president of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, and Wes Stucky of the Ardmore Chamber of Commerce, Leibrock said.
Robertson was assigned the case after District Judge Niles Jackson was appointed as a federal bankruptcy judge.
Robertson is a former teacher who received her law degree in 1978.
She was in private practice until 1996, when she became a special judge in Oklahoma County.
In 1999, she was appointed district judge by Keating.
Oklahoma House members will see another congressional redistricting plan Monday as state leaders try to find a compromise to a court-bound fight.
This one, developed by House Republicans, is described as a compromise plan getting a lot of initial support from leaders on both sides of the political aisle.
"This isn't something I necessarily would call a Republican plan," said Rep. Larry Ferguson, R-Cleveland, who helped work on the plan with about a half dozen other members.
"It probably isn't going to satisfy everyone, but we haven't been able to get even half of the members to agree on a plan yet," Ferguson said. "We feel like this one has a good chance."
Ferguson and other supporters say their version is similar to the one the Oklahoma Senate approved earlier this week.
Some important differences do exist, though. District 1 would include Stillwater with Tulsa, Bartlesville and Ponca City.
Haskell County would return to District 3, along with the rest of southeastern Oklahoma.
The district would reach into Oklahoma County, however, and take in heavily Republican areas in west, northwest and eastern parts of the county.
Tinker Air Force Base would stay with Fort Sill and the state's other bases in District 4. District 5 would represent most of northwest Oklahoma.
"We feel like it meets most of the concerns we have heard expressed about redistricting throughout the process," Ferguson said.
The plan, he said, combines like interests and leaves each incumbent in a lone district where he could run later this year without facing a colleague.
U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Warr Acres, would still find himself in Little Dixie's heavily Democratic district, but Ferguson said Istook could win that race.
Istook representatives declined comment Thursday, saying they had not had a chance to evaluate the plan.
"You could look at it, I suppose, and predict that one district might go one way or another. But as far as I am concerned, you could see all five seats go either Republican or Democrat," Ferguson said. "That is not likely -- but it is a possibility."
As for whether the plan could be the ticket out of court for the state, Ferguson said it is too soon to tell. State leaders are saying they would like to see the matter settled without having a court decide.
A new congressional redistricting plan fell apart Wednesday, so state Democratic senators pulled an earlier version off the shelf and passed it, sending it to an uncertain fate.
The plan passed 27-19, and was developed by Senate leader Stratton Taylor. It puts U.S. Reps. Frank Lucas, R- Cheyenne, and Ernest Istook, R-Warr Acres, into the same district.
Last month, Taylor, D-Claremore, submitted the same plan in an Oklahoma County lawsuit involving congressional redistricting. The trial of the lawsuit, which was filed by some Oklahoma Republicans, begins Monday in Oklahoma County District Court.
All Senate Republicans present during Wednesday's vote opposed Senate Bill 1683.
They were joined by two Democrats, Dave Herbert of Midwest City and Robert M. Kerr of Altus.
House Speaker Larry Adair discussed the Taylor plan later with House Democrats and said he won't call for a vote on it until he's sure he has the 51 votes needed to pass it.
He is four votes short of that, he said.
The Senate did not pass the bill as an emergency measure and held it for reconsideration. If senators send the bill to the House today, the earliest the House could handle the bill would be Friday.
"I don't have any assurances that we have bipartisan support on this proposal," Adair, D-Stilwell, said. "If we can get some kind of consensus, then we will vote on the bill. If not, we will be in court in Oklahoma County on Monday."
Gov. Frank Keating doesn't approve of the Taylor bill, although he doesn't want the issue decided by a court.
Dan Mahoney, communications director for Keating, said Keating is against the Taylor bill because it doesn't have bipartisan support.
"He hopes there is still time to reach a bipartisan compromise, but it appears this is headed to Oklahoma County court on Monday," Mahoney said. "Republicans are prepared to seek a fair redistricting plan which protects communities of interest and adheres to the basic theory of representative government, one man, one vote."
The Taylor plan was submitted to the Senate after House Democrats rejected a plan that surfaced Tuesday. It would have put Istook and U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Norman, in the same district.
Republican senators said Tuesday they were told Keating and Democratic legislative leaders had agreed to the plan and were going to vote on it Wednesday.
That was derailed Wednesday morning when House Democrats, meeting in a caucus, objected to it.
Keating's office had indicated Tuesday the governor was receptive to the plan if it got bipartisan support.
After the Taylor plan passed the Senate, Istook issued a statement.
"First, it was Istook versus Watts. Then, it was Istook versus Lucas. Tomorrow they'll try Istook versus Mike Tyson. I won't worry unless it's Istook versus Godzilla," Istook said.
The redistricting proposal passed Wednesday by the Senate creates a new 4th District that has Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City, Altus Air Force Base and Fort Sill in Lawton.
The proposed 5th District in Taylor's plan would include most of northwestern Oklahoma, including Oklahoma State University in Stillwater.
Taylor's proposed 3rd District would include predominantly Democratic southeastern Oklahoma. The district would stretch into central Oklahoma and include part of Oklahoma County.
The 2nd District is primarily in northeastern Oklahoma.
The 1st District would include Tulsa County, Bartlesville and Ponca City, which Taylor called the energy district.
Because of slow population growth, Oklahoma is losing one of its six seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, forcing legislators and the governor to draw a map with five districts.
CONTRIBUTING: Jack Money in the Capitol Bureau
The governor and Democratic legislative leaders have a tentative agreement on a congressional redistricting plan that would pit two Republican congressmen against each other, some Republican state senators said Tuesday.
The plan would create a new 4th Congressional District that would put Republican U.S. Reps. J.C. Watts of Norman and Ernest J. Istook of Warr Acres in the same district, the GOP senators said.
The new 4th District would combine Cleveland County with a major part of Oklahoma County south of Memorial Road.
The plan also has a new 3rd Congressional District that stretches from southeastern Oklahoma west to Jackson County. No incumbent lives in this area, meaning it would be a wide-open race for this seat this year if the plan becomes law.
Already mentioned as possible candidates are Democratic legislators including Rep. Loyd Benson of Frederick, Rep. Mike Mass of Hartshorne and Sen. Billy Mickle of Durant.
Republican senators were briefed on the plan Tuesday afternoon and told by Senate
Republican leader Jim Dunlap of Bartlesville that Gov. Frank Keating's representatives presented it to Democratic leaders of the House and Senate, said Sen. Mike Fair, R-Oklahoma City.
Fair said Senate Republicans were told in their caucus the plan would be voted on by the Senate today.
"We were told the governor said if this is put on his desk, he will sign it," said Sen. Jim Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City.
Edmond would be in the new 5th District, which would include a major part of western Oklahoma including the Panhandle, GOP state senators said.
"I don't see how you can justify putting a suburb like Edmond with the Panhandle," said Sen. Mark Snyder, R-Edmond.
The new 5th District -- which would include most of the areas represented by U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Cheyenne -- also has an area of Oklahoma County between SW 89 and SW 44 and runs close to Sooner Road, Reynolds said.
Fair said the idea apparently is to attempt to run the plan through the Legislature before anyone can review it, make suggestions and, if necessary, muster opposition to it.
Snyder called the plan a backdoor agreement between the governor and the Democratic leaders.
"The tragedy of the whole thing is if they intend to push this tomorrow, no committee has met," Snyder said.
Top Democratic leaders of the House and Senate had no comment on the plan, although reports have circulated for the past two weeks that a plan was in the making. House Democrats probably will caucus on this plan today, sources said.
The redistricting plan is surfacing just days before an Oklahoma County District Court will begin a trial over redistricting.
The lawsuit is asking the court to draw the congressional map.
A similar lawsuit has been filed in Sequoyah County.
A three-judge panel in federal court has scheduled a trial on congressional redistricting to begin June 5.
Sources said there's reluctance in the governor's office and Legislature to leave the decision to the courts.
Dan Mahoney, the governor's communications director, said the governor is open minded to compromise but wouldn't confirm if it is the plan Keating would approve.
"His goal is for the Legislature and the governor to decide this issue, not the courts," Mahoney said.
Keating would be receptive to looking at a map that could be agreed upon in a bipartisan fashion, Mahoney said.
He said the governor wouldn't comment until he sees what comes to him from the Legislature.
"Particular maps can be adjusted with the click of the mouse," he said.
Secretary of State Mike Hunter, who has handled redistricting efforts for Keating, said there have been discussions about redistricting and "the pace has picked up considerably in the last 24 hours."
Negotiations have been joint and bipartisan, Hunter said.
If there is a consensus on a map, it is based on input of everybody who's been involved in discussions, he said.
Hunter wouldn't comment on the particular map Senate Republicans have been shown.
"Everybody close to this has conceded if there is a design for compromise, it would involve something many would describe as a 3-1-1 (plan)," he said.
This means a plan that would give three Republican incumbents a district, one Democrat incumbent a district, and one district that would be a swing district. Watts could not be reached for comment. Istook could not be reached immediately either.