Note: This article first appeared in The Journal Record on Nov. 25, 2019.
We have all heard the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
A recently filed initiative petition funded by political special interests is attempting an effort to fix a problem that demonstrably doesn’t exist in our state.
Specifically, the petition in question would completely change the process of how Oklahoma’s legislative and congressional districts are drawn every decade by taking this power away from our duly elected representatives and giving it to a commission of non-elected, unaccountable individuals.
The perceived need for this radical change is to eliminate gerrymandering – drawing politically non-competitive legislative seats to preserve political power. Unfortunately, the proponent’s argument for this change is undercut by historical facts in our state.
Let’s first recognize the obvious: Giving our elected representatives the power to draw these districts provides a level of accountability that this newly proposed commission could never truly fulfill. Since statehood, the people’s elected representatives have exercised the power to draw these districts every decade. The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized this power, subject to certain parameters, as a legitimate legislative power.
During this period, the putative power to realign districts in order to make them less competitive has not achieved the results predicted. Since 1907, we have witnessed political power shift dramatically from one political party to the other. In a small state such as ours, we have also seen political power shift geographically in both urban and rural areas.
Why has this occurred despite the state Legislature’s ability to draw and redraw districts? The answer is quite simple: Because elections are actually the competition of candidates, ideas, policies, and energies rather than how specific districts are configured. People vote for the candidate they believe will best represent them. As history proves, sometimes it’s a Democrat. Other times, it’s a Republican or even a third-party candidate. At the end of the day, voters know what they want, and they have no problem making their opinions known at the ballot box. Nothing takes away from this simple fact.
There are plenty of issues we need to fix in Oklahoma: health care, education, workforce development, government, taxation, etc. But simply put, history shows that Oklahoma’s legislative redistricting process isn’t one of them.