OKLAHOMA CITY — A grassroots coalition seeking to overhaul Oklahoma’s redistricting process has withdrawn its proposal after the pandemic complicated its signature-gathering efforts.
However, coalition members supporting State Question 810 pledged Monday to remain actively involved. The Republican-controlled Legislature will begin the controversial process of redrawing state and congressional voting districts next year following the U.S. Census population count.
“This is super important so we are kind of exploring what the next path looks like,” said Andy Moore, executive director of People Not Politicians. “I think it’s safe to say with the Legislature doing redistricting next year, we’ll be keeping a close eye on how they do it. I hope we can push (lawmakers) toward a more transparent process.”
Moore said the coalition made the “heartbreaking decision” to withdraw its initiative petition after not finishing the process needed to get on the ballot by Aug. 24 — the state’s printing deadline.
“Clearly, this is not the right time to be out there collecting signatures in the midst of a huge spike (in COVID-19 cases),” Moore said.
The coalition had proposed creating a nine-member citizen panel comprised of three people from the state’s largest party, three from the next largest and three who are affiliated with neither party. The idea was to prevent the political party in power from manipulating legislative voting districts to guarantee victories at the ballot box.
Moore said gerrymandering has long been a problem in Oklahoma — regardless of the party controlling the Legislature.
“It is not a partisan issue,” Moore said. “It’s a power issue. Whichever party is in power draws the lines however they want.”
The chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party Monday, meanwhile, called on Moore to resign from his other job as director of Freedom of Information Oklahoma. The chair demanded that Moore release the names of all donors and expenses for State Question 804, which was ruled invalid, and 810.
“The irony of Mr. Moore’s conflict of interest is beyond comprehension, and must be brought to light,” said David McLain, the party chair. “On one hand, he heads an organization whose mission statement is ‘promoting open and transparent government in Oklahoma.’ On the other hand, he also has led two initiative petition campaigns, which have never made public who their liberal, and likely out-of-state, donors and key supporters are. This is blatant hypocrisy, and while I seriously doubt Mr. Moore will comply, I call on him to promptly release all donors and expenses to SQ 804 and SQ 810, and resign from his position with (FOI Oklahoma).”
Moore said state law doesn’t require or provide a mechanism to report campaign financing until a state question actually makes the ballot.
State lawmakers recently voted to close that loophole and require such reporting starting Nov. 1.
“Transparency is at the core of what People Not Politicians is all about,” Moore said. “Suffice it to say, the Republican Party has a vested interest in keeping politicians in place, same as Democrats did when they were in power. I think it’s nothing more than a power play by the status quo. We really deserve more from our leaders.”
State Senate leaders have pledged a more transparent process aimed at ensuring the public can play a role in the upcoming redistricting process.
“Redistricting will be one of the most important issues considered by the Legislature next year,” said Sen. Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, who serves as the president pro tem. “The Senate has been working on redistricting for months, and we are preparing for the culmination of that work by taking steps to ensure the general public’s role in the process. The Senate is committed to an open and transparent process as we conduct our constitutional duty to draw state legislative and congressional districts in Oklahoma using data from the 2020 Census.”
State Sen. Lonnie Paxton, R-Tuttle, has been tapped to chair the Senate’s Redistricting Committee.
He said he plans to hold hearings at locations statewide to allow for public comment. The public also will be allowed to submit their own proposed legislative and congressional district maps.
Resources also will be made available to local officials working to redraw county commission, city council and local school board voting districts, Paxton said.
Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.