Redistricting Process Will Include Rural Voice

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

In the 2011 session, lawmakers will take up the challenging duty of redrawing the lines for both congressional and state legislative districts.

The redistricting process occurs every 10 years following the completion of the U.S. Census count. Although it is not a glamorous issue, redistricting is crucial to maintaining our most basic right in a democracy, the principle of “one man, one vote.”

As some areas gain population and other areas lose citizens, redistricting ensures that each district has approximately the same number of people, preventing the artificial dilution of any one group’s voting power. In the past, some largely rural districts were drawn in such a way that they included a small but populated urban area. These districts did not truly represent the rural communities in them because of the number of votes in the urban portion of the district.

This time around, I am pleased to inform you that rural lawmakers will have a major role in the redistricting process. House Speaker-Designate Kris Steele has named an eight-member bipartisan Redistricting Steering Committee that includes rural Republican leaders. State Reps. Dale DeWitt (R-Braman) and John Trebilcock (R-Broken Arrow) will serve as co-chairs of the committee. Overall, five of the eight committee members represent rural districts. I have put in a request to be on the standing committee for redistricting once session begins.

In the Senate, state Sen. Mike Schulz (R-Altus) has been named co-chairman of that chamber’s 2011 Redistricting Committee. Schulz is another strong advocate for rural Oklahoma.

The committee’s first task will be to create guidelines for redistricting, drawing on the law governing redistricting and the process required.

The process will begin in earnest once we receive the U.S. Census Bureau data, probably in mid-March. Work on the House and Senate district lines must be completed by the end of the 2011 legislative session and new lines for Congressional and county offices should be completed before the 2012 elections.

As I mentioned, I believe the new lines should be drawn based on common-sense principles. When possible, districts should be geographically compact and include communities with similar interests. Basically, rural communities should be in rural districts, and urban neighborhoods should be in urban districts.

While population changes may mean a few more seats shift to the metro areas, I believe rural Oklahoma will continue to comprise a large share of House and Senate seats if we redraw the lines fairly.

I am pleased several of my allies will have leadership roles, but I will also be actively engaged in the redistricting effort and continue to fight for rural Oklahoma.

In closing, I would like to congratulate Pastor Gary and Helen Barnhart and the Abundant Praise Church of God in Kingfisher on their new sanctuary. I can't thank them enough for their warm hospitality and letting me be a part of their celebration.

I will be traveling through the district during the interim and will keep you regularly updated on the ideas and problems presented to me by constituents. As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.

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