Residents express redistrictnig concerns - Meeting allows comments on post-census process

Muskogee Daily Phoenix and Times-Democrat (OK) - Thursday, January 13, 2011

TAHLEQUAH — Redistricting of legislative districts after the 2010 Census could impact more than whose Senate or House district goes where. 

Some of the dozens attending a meeting on redistricting, held Thursday at Northeastern State University, wanted to know how it would affect their counties and schools. 

“Is there any cognizant thought given to school districts?” Oktaha School Superintendent Jerry Needham asked. 

He said he hoped districts would not be redrawn to “eliminate” State Reps. Jerry McPeak or Ed Cannaday. 

The House Redistricting Steering Committee held the meeting to tell people what is involved in the post-census redistricting and to hear their concerns. 

By law, the Oklahoma Legislature must redraw district and congressional boundaries to reflect changes in population every 10 years, immediately following the U.S. Census. The Legislature has 90 days from the start of its 2011 session to complete their redistricting said Arnella Karges, redistricting director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives. 

Needham said later that he wanted to make sure area public schools got good representation. The Oktaha school district is within District 13, represented by McPeak, D-Warner. 

“I do not want redistricting to eliminate Cannaday or McPeak,” Needham said after the meeting. “Both are supporters of public education. And public education does not need to lose either one of them.” 

Cannaday is a Democrat from Porum. 

State Rep. Danny Morgan, a steering committee member, said school officials should tell committee members their concerns. 

“That is why local control is so important,” said Morgan, D-Prague. 

Morgan said committee members do not want to reset districts so incumbents would go against each other in the 2012 election. 

All three Delaware County commissioners attended the meeting. 

Delaware County Commissioner Billy Cornell asked when county commissioners would be involved in the redistricting. 

“Our intent, once the Legislature’s numbers are in, is that you do it on your schedule,” Morgan replied. “You should have your numbers by March.” 

Steering Committee co-chair Rep. Dale DeWitt, R-Braman, said, “There are different counties who like to be split up so they can have more representation. Some like having one representative.” 

Oklahoma’s population grew by 8.7 percent in the past decade, 2010 Census figures show. Morgan said most of that growth has been in metropolitan areas. 

Karges said the House will follow several principles when they decide on their redistricting: 

• Equal population in each district. 

• Compactness in the shape of each district. 

• Not having a district split by a something such as a lake. 

• Preservation of political subdivisions such as counties. 

• Preservation of the core of a previous district. 

• Compliance with the Voting Rights Act to make sure minorities are not intentionally excluded from representation. 

Karges said there is no hard deadline to set the revised districts. 

“Ideally, it must be done before candidates file for the 2012 election,” Karges said.