After recently being diagnosed with cancer, Jim Wilson, a former Democratic state senator and veteran of the Vietnam War, died Sunday on Veterans Day. He was 71.
Wilson served two terms in the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 200-'04 before being elected to the Senate in 2004 and serving until 2012. He also lost to U.S. Rep. Dan Boren in the Democratic primary for Boren's House seat in 2010. Locally, he served on the Tahlequah Public Schools Board of Education and the NeoHealth Board of Directors. His military service was with the U.S. Marine Corps from 1966-'68.
Many community leaders, politicians and residents expressed their emotions after the death of Wilson. State Rep. Matt Meredith, D-Tahlequah, issued a brief statement.
"Jim dedicated his life to serving the people around him," Meredith said. "He served his community by participating on local boards. He served his state in the Legislature, and he served his country as a Marine. His loss will be great, but his legacy of service will continue for many generations. [Wife] Janet [Meredith] and I are praying for the Wilson family during their time of grief."
Deb Proctor, chair of the Cherokee County Democratic Party, said Wilson dedicated his life to service.
"We first send our condolences to his wife Connie and the entire family," Proctor said. "He was in service to his country, state, family and party, and he was in a true sense a patriotic man. Jim was so unique and his shoes will never be filled. He will always be missed."
While at the statehouse, Wilson was a vocal critic of the Oklahoma Senate districts after they were redrawn in 2011, claiming they were gerrymandered. Wilson circulated an initiative petition to void the state law on Senate redistricting, saying it thinned the American Indian electorate in his district. He asked the Supreme Court to toss out the Senate redistricting and take the unprecedented step of letting the Redistricting Commission decide the boundaries. Wilson said his district was shaped like "a toilet bowl." The challenge failed, and the odd shape of the district prevails.
"There seems to be nonpartisan agreement that elections determined by a general election, with two or more parties having a chance of election, is preferable to elections being settled at the primary by a single party," Wilson said in January 2018. "There are guidelines for redistricting that require districts to be contiguous and compact. As with most things the Legislature imposes on itself, there is no enforcement mechanism. When I challenged the map in 2012, it was obvious the districts didn't fit those criteria. One district in Oklahoma City was interrupted by Lake Hefner. When a boat is required to get from one side of the district to the other, it is not contiguous."
During his time in the Oklahoma House, Wilson was a member of the appropriations, finance, retirement and insurance, and health and human services committees. In the Oklahoma Senate, he was on the health and human services subcommittee of the appropriations committee, and the general government, health and human services, and finance committees.
Wilson was born in March 9, 1947, in Lake Mills, Wisconsin, and a graduate of Pauls Valley High School. He held a bachelor's degree in math from Oklahoma State University. He also worked for the Oklahoma Crime Commission and owned his own business before moving to the Tahlequah area.
Services are at 2 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 16, at First Baptist Church of Tahlequah, 201 Commercial Road.