Set Us Free
October 29, 2020
Redrafting congressional districts is a tricky process that can become even more difficult when the state in question has been growing slower than its counterparts, is basically standing still or might be even losing population. If you don't believe that, find and ask a friend or neighbor who was a member of the Oklahoma Legislature back in 2000 or 2001. That was when a slower-than-usual growth rate cost Oklahoma one seat in the United States House of Representatives. Poof! One minute our state had six members in what somewhat improperly is called "the lower house" and the next we had only five. Alas! Woe is Oklahoma!
In most instances losing a seat in Congress bounces the population of remaining districts from lower to higher than the national average ... and, yes, that happened in our state following the 2000 census. No one knows yet what the 2020 census will demand, but as things stand now, Oklahoma's Third District covers 34,088.48 square miles and that's actually larger than Maine and 11 other states. Hard to believe, isn't it?
To put that in another perspective, District 3 blankets the three Panhandle counties plus all or part (mostly all) of 29 other Oklahoma counties. That one congressional district wanders over more than 48 percent of all the land in Oklahoma. Ask Frank Lucas how big it is. He knows. Rep. Lucas is the Republican congressman who lives in Cheyanne, the county seat of Roger Mills County. That county bumps up against the Texas panhandle.
Cheyenne had a population of 801 in the 2010 census, but you can make that an even 800 when Rep. Lucas dons his cowboy hat and goes wandering over the territory he represents or when he's dressed much more formally in Washington where he works hard for almost half of our state. If you never met this man, you need to. Yep! He may look something left over from the Gene Autry-Roy Rogers era but take our word for this: He's as sharp as a tack. We'll guarantee that, pardner!
But you know what else? We're really much more interested in Congressional District 5. It covers all of Pottawatomie County, all of Seminole County and most but not all of Oklahoma County. You don't need a map to understand just how this district looks. Hold up your left hand and push your thumb down as far as it will go. There! Your thumb represents Potawatomie and Seminole counties and the rest of your hand is Oklahoma County. Now guess where the big decisions are going to be made! You got it right on the first try.
The problem is that Oklahoma County by itself is large enough to become its own congressional district. Its population is pushing 800,000 (hopefully, we'll all know more in several months). Under current standards, that's easily enough to support a district. OKC, set us free!