Initiative petition No. 420 was filed on Oct. 28, 2019, by a group that wants to remove the state Legislature from the redistricting process. Two lawsuits were filed on Nov. 15, 2019, with the Oklahoma Supreme Court challenging the petition.
"The biggest issue in initiative petition No. 420 is that instead of being controlled by the people's elected representatives, legislative redistricting would be controlled by a body of people who are neither elected nor accountable in any way to the voters," said Robert McCampbell, the attorney representing Eldon Merklin, Robert Gaddis, and Paula Newberry. The three protestants content the petition violates U.S. constitutional first amendment rights to participate in the political process. If the challenges are successful, the petition will not be circulated. If resolved with ballot language changes, supporters will have 90 days to collect 177,958 valid signatures from registered voters to get the question on the November 2020 election ballot.
First, expect the state Supreme Court to resolve the challenges and allow the petition to be circulated. Oklahoma's Supreme Court has proved to be inconsistent in past rulings and have leaned "liberal." This power grab of redistricting is a national coordinated effort of liberals, so it is likely the court will allow the petition to go forward.
Second, conservatives should mount an effort to ensure the petition drive is not successful. Fighting the battle sooner rather than later is critical. If redistricting makes it to the November general election ballot, liberal out-of-state money will flow into the Sooner state with the intent to confuse, confound, baffle and bamboozle voters. Educating fellow citizens on who is behind the effort and what their real motive is could foil the group's effort to get the signatures.
Third, this is not about fairness in drawing districts - it's about winning. Democrats controlled Oklahoma state government for the first century of statehood and never once complained about the unfairness of redistricting. Republicans have presided over just one redistricting effort in Oklahoma (2011) since gaining the majority, and Democrats now believe the process is unfair. Democrats believe the only way they can win is by doing exactly what they claim they condemn: gerrymander districts.
Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry argued at the 1787 Constitutional Convention that members of Congress should be chosen indirectly (selected by state legislatures). He was unsuccessful for U.S. reps, but senators were chosen that way until 1912 with the passage of the 17th Amendment. Gerry, who later served as vice president under James Madison, is better known for signing a bill that created a very partisan district in Boston that was shaped like a salamander. Gerry's efforts became known as gerrymandering.
Is gerrymandering unfair, biased, partisan and self-serving? It can be, but a self-governing form of government offers a simple solution to cheaters and self-serving politicos: Vote them out! Initiative petition No. 402/State Question No. 804 takes redistricting not only away from the state legislature, but from Oklahoma voters as well. If voters want true accountability in redistricting, they will not sign the petition.
Steve Fair is the District 4 Oklahoma Republican Party chair.