What’s up this week at Oklahoma Policy Institute? The Weekly Wonk shares our most recent publications and other resources to help you stay informed about Oklahoma. Numbers of the Day and Policy Notes are from our daily news briefing, In The Know. Click here to subscribe to In The Know.
This Week from OK Policy
OK Policy Unveils Policy Priorities for 2022 Legislative Session: Based on feedback from residents statewide, the Oklahoma Policy Institute has developed legislative policy priorities for the upcoming 2022 legislative session that can help Oklahomans live healthier, raise thriving families, and ensure the safety of their communities. [OK Policy]
Medicaid expansion is working just as expected: Oklahoma has successfully expanded Medicaid, as more than 210,000 Oklahomans have enrolled in expansion and there have been substantial declines in the uninsured rate across all demographics. Though it is too soon to definitively identify the long-term benefits for the state and the newly enrolled, it’s safe to say that Medicaid expansion has done what it was expected to: provide thousands of our friends and neighbors with peace of mind about their health. [Emma Morris / OK Policy]
Five Republican House members urge Stitt to grant clemency for Julius Jones (Capitol Update): Seldom does one person have the ability, purely as a matter of forbearance, to spare the life of another human being. This may be one of those things Stitt never anticipated when he decided he wanted to be governor.[Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]
Nov. 30 event seeks to empower Oklahomans to preserve democracy, create change: Together Oklahoma, OK Policy’s grassroots advocacy program, will host a virtual and in-person event on Nov. 30 designed to support and empower advocates statewide. People Have the Power: Preserving Democracy Through Participation will be livestreamed starting at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 30, via the Together Oklahoma website, the OK Policy website, and the organizations’ social media channels. TOK will host in-person watch parties that are free and open to the public. The events are currently planned in Ada, Ardmore, Bartlesville, Claremore, Guthrie, Lawton, McAlester, Muskogee, Sapulpa, and Tahlequah. Other watch parties may be added. For a complete list of locations and more details, visit TogetherOK.org/Events.
Weekly What’s That
A legislative referendum is the mechanism by which the Oklahoma Legislature can submit a constitutional amendment or statutory change to a vote of the people. A legislatively-initiated ballot measure, or State Question, must take the form of a Senate or House Joint Resolution and be approved by a simple majority vote in both chambers. It does not require the Governor’s approval.
Once received by the Secretary of State, each legislative referendum is designated a State Question number and a Legislative Referendum number. Copies are delivered to the Governor and State Election Board to issue the Election Proclamation and place the measure on the ballot for a vote of the people at the time of the next general election. The Attorney General has the responsibility to review the measure’s ballot title and may rewrite the ballot title if he determines that the title proposed in the legislation does not meet requirements.
Since 1989, there have been 78 State Questions referred to the people by the Legislature (including two in 2020), of which all but seven have been constitutional amendments.
Quote of the Week
“I’m disappointed for the people of Oklahoma. This confirms that we have the power to choose our voters, rather than the other way around.”
-Rep. Andy Fugate, D-Oklahoma City, speaking about lawmakers declining to hear a proposed legislative referendum calling for a vote of the people on an independent redistricting commission. [Tulsa World]
Editorial of the Week
Redistricting should be reconsidered
Maps proposed by the Oklahoma Legislature make clear the need to relieve lawmakers of their decennial redistricting duties and create a citizen-led independent commission that can draw something more representative of the state and is less partisan.
Metrics calculated by Princeton Gerrymandering Project show the proposed congressional map ensures there would no competitive districts in Oklahoma for years. The same holds true for proposed redistricting of Oklahoma Senate maps and all but eight seats in Oklahoma House of Representatives.
The project, undertaken by an interdisciplinary team at Princeton University, supports state- and federal-level reforms that would eliminate partisan gerrymandering. The U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged the validity of the team’s work, which includes “mathematical tests that rigorously diagnose unequal opportunity and unfair outcomes in district maps.”
Oklahoma lawmakers deserve credit for making an effort to include the public in the redistricting process, conducting virtual hearings and a number of town halls at locations across the state. Public input included opportunities to submit maps, which included access to high-tech mapping tools.
This technology, which allows users to slice and dice certain demographics with pinpoint precision, was unavailable to most people when redistricting was carried out a decade ago. There were few who understood the power of those tools, but one man whose knowledge of them helped him achieve “near-mythic status in the Republican Party” was hired to help lawmakers redraw the legislative and congressional maps adopted after the 2010 Census.
The involvement and influence of Thomas B. Hofeller on redistricting in Oklahoma were revealed in computer files made public by his daughter after his death few years ago. Muskogee County Democratic Party Treasurer Jimmy W. Haley obtained a copy of those files and learned Hofeller and his company were hired to help Republican lawmakers redraw Oklahoma’s legislative and congressional maps — that included carving the late state Sen. Jim Wilson out of his district and the Oklahoma Legislature.
Hofeller’s files played prominent roles in recent court cases. He apparently was involved in the effort to include a citizenship question on the 2020 Census, which was motivated by his study in 2015 that found adding the question could help Republicans draw even more extreme gerrymandered maps.
The League of Women Voters notes the proposed redistricting of Oklahoma’s five congressional districts would cut out more than half of the Hispanic population from the 5th District and moved to the 3rd District. The proposed map would divide the Hispanic population — an urban community in Oklahoma County, which constitutes racial gerrymandering and a violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
A functioning democracy relies on free and fair elections — that begins with legislative and congressional districts that allow for competitive elections. The electorate will lose faith in a system that offers no choice, and divisions will become even wider. [Muskogee Phoenix]
Numbers of the Day
- 215,163 – Number of Oklahoma residents approved for health care via Medicaid expansion since June 1, 2021 (as of 11/15/21) [Oklahoma Health Care Authority]
- $1,399.34 – Average court fines and fees assessed in Oklahoma’s predominantly rural counties, compared with an average of $1,305.59 for the state’s predominantly urban counties [Open Justice Oklahoma]
- 45 – Current number of people sentenced to death in Oklahoma [Oklahoma Department of Corrections]
- 59% – Percentage of American Indian/Alaskan Native women who are considered financially fragile compared to 37 percent of men [First Nations Development Institute]
- 38 – Number of federally recognized tribes in Oklahoma. Additionally, the State of Oklahoma recognizes the Euchee (Yuchi) Tribe, which is not federally recognized. [U.S. Department of Justice]
What We’re Reading
- The Redistricting Landscape, 2021–22 [Brennan Center for Justice]
- Step One to an Antiracist State Revenue Policy: Eliminate Criminal Justice Fees and Reform Fines [CBPP]
- History of the Death Penalty in Oklahoma [Death Penalty Information Center]
- The monthly jobs report ignores Native Americans. How are they faring economically? [Brookings]
- Census Prompts Push for More Indigenous School Lessons [Pew Trusts]
Note: November is Native American Heritage Month, or as it is commonly referred to, American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month. The month is a time to celebrate rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories and to acknowledge the important contributions of Native people.