Democratic Party leaders, including former President Barack Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder, are spearheading a national effort to change the way Congressional and state legislative districts are drawn. Their motives are partisan and ideological.
First, these “reformers” seek to reverse the Republican advantage in state politics brought on by widespread disaffection with the Democrat Party’s lurch to the left. Republicans today have unified control over the legislative bodies in 29 of 50 states (including Oklahoma), compared to just 19 for Democrats. Leftist leaders know that simply redrawing these districts may produce faster gains for the Democratic Party than doing the hard work of winning elections. That is why the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, chaired by Holder, is working to redraw these lines exclusively in red-states and areas where Republicans have experienced electoral success.
The NDRC is ideological in nature and understands the stakes are high. Its website cites global warming, gun control and abortion rights as policy priorities and implores like-minded leftists to join their cause.
In Oklahoma, they have found a taker: a coalition called “People Not Politics” that is backed by out-of-state liberal interest groups and in-state Democrat political operatives. They have filed Initiative Petition 420, a precursor to State Question 804, which could appear on the ballot in Oklahoma if the group can overcome legal challenges and acquire the necessary number of signatures.
SQ 804 would remove control over the redistricting process from our elected officials and place it in the hands of unelected activist judges who would then assemble their own “independent” election commission. These new commissioners, unlike the bipartisan legislative committees that today control redistricting, would be held accountable to no one.
How has this worked in other states? About how you would expect from an effort led by leftist activists. Writing on the works of “independent” judges in Pennsylvania, the Wall Street Journal opined: “The judges substituted their own map that helped Democrats gain three seats in Congress last year. That’s not democracy. It’s judicial usurpation of democracy.” (“Eric Holder’s Gerrymanders,” July 7, 2019).
Furthermore, the maps created by many of these independent commissions look as bad or worse than the corkscrew or hockey stick shaped maps that many legislative bodies produce. The difference, of course, being that activist judges are contorting districts into positions that accompany the “correct” numbers of urban, liberal, LGBTQ+ or whatever other left-leaning affiliation that might benefit Democrats. In Oklahoma, the redistricting proposal explicitly mirrors that kind of leftist “social justice” commitment, citing gender identification and sexual orientation as factors that should be taken under consideration when assembling the new commission on redistricting.
Finally, the Oklahoma proposal is designed in a way that will almost certainly benefit urban pockets in Oklahoma City and Tulsa at the expense of rural areas. Our current legislators have taken pains to create legislative districts that empower the state’s rural voters, knowing that power will otherwise flow disproportionately to our bigger, wealthier cities. By contrast, the Oklahoma petition includes provisions that will undercut rural districts by changing, for instance, how the state counts incarcerated inmates. Under our current system, inmates count as residents in the communities that house them, most of which are in rural areas. SQ 804 would change that by counting them based on their pre-incarceration addresses, meaning thousands of inmates in rural prisons would be counted as residents of Oklahoma and Tulsa counties.
Ultimately, this is really about control. Our current system places our Legislature in control of our elections, as envisioned by the Founding Fathers, outlined in the U.S. Constitution and later approved by the U.S. Supreme Court. SQ 804, by contrast, sees the results of our democracy in action and says, “no thanks.” It replaces the will of the people and their representatives with the will — and the whims — of unelected judges and a new commission that will answer to no one.
David McLain is chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party. He lives in Skiatook.
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