Weekly Wonk: Redistricting in Oklahoma | Veterans and the social safety net | Retired state employee pensions

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

Redistricting in Oklahoma (Guest Post): We commend the legislature for their openness with several in-person and virtual town halls that featured the redistricting process. They also allowed citizens to submit district maps. A lack of openness, though, presented itself recently with the legislature’s slowness in releasing their proposed maps. The timeframe from the release of the maps to the special legislative session on November 15 has given little time to mobilize for organizations like ours. [Jan Largent, LWVOK / Guest Post]

Policy Matters: Social safety net serves veterans, too: The social safety net – the shared service programs that assist low-income Americans – provides essential support, but some may be surprised by the number of veterans requiring such services. A look at the numbers spotlight the real struggle some veterans encounter to put food on their table or a roof over their head after their military service has ended. [Ahniwake Rose / Journal Record]

Interim study examines defined-benefit pension plans for state employees (Capitol Update):  An interim study last week provided solid evidence that a defined-benefit plan is better for both the state and state employees. The committee heard that switching from defined-benefit to defined-contribution did not address pension underfunding as promised. Instead, it increased costs. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Upcoming Opportunities

Nov. 30 event seeks to empower Oklahomans to preserve democracy, create change: Together Oklahoma, the grassroots advocacy program for the Oklahoma Policy Institute, 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 (TogetherOK.org) and the OK Policy website (okpolicy.org) and the organizations’ social media channels. TOK will host in-person watch parties statewide that are free and open to the public. [More Information]

Quote of the Week

“It’s a way, for the most part, to show overpopulation in rural and less urban parts of the state. Then they get more representation.”

-Michael Crespin, director of the University of Oklahoma’s Carl Albert Center, said the pool of eligible voters in districts with large prisons is considerably reduced, giving constituents in those areas more say in state government [Oklahoma Watch]

Editorial of the Week

Women continue to be hard-hit by ‘pandemic recession’

“The pandemic recession,” as labeled by Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, continues to have an unusually harmful economic impact on women. The chair spoke in remarks to a Fed conference on gender and the economy on Monday.

“As schools closed and childcare services shuttered during the worst of the pandemic, that added responsibility and stress made working more difficult for some and took many away from their jobs,’ Powell said his remarks. “These burdens are real and have been an additional challenge during an already challenging time.”

And as many businesses continue to see hardships in filling much-needed jobs, it’s important to note that many of those “front-line” jobs have been held by women.

The departure of so many mothers from the workforce is a big reason why the proportion of Americans who are either working or looking for work remains below pre-pandemic levels, even while employers are scrambling to fill a near-record total of available jobs. Pre-pandemic, women were more likely to hold front-line jobs in health care, at grocery stores and in other public-facing industries,

Since women were overrepresented in such hard-hit service industries as restaurants and retail, many of them may be reluctant to return to those in-person jobs until the pandemic is further under control, the study found.

The key to the return of many women in the workforce hinges on a couple of things — affordable child care options and more certainty that schools will continue to be in session, and that large-scale quarantining for schools is minimal.

While Enid and other school districts across Northwest Oklahoma have struck a better balance in quarantining protocols and keeping school in session, that hasn’t been the case in many areas across the nation.

It’s another reason vaccine efforts must continue. As vaccines continue to ramp up for adults and as more children get the vaccine, hopefully, school quarantining nationwide will subside, and in turn, women will return to the workforce.

[Enid News & Eagle]

Numbers of the Day

  • 1964 – Despite being constitutionally required to occur every 10 years, Oklahoma’s first redistricting process occurred in 1964 (57 years after statehood), only after federal courts ordered the state’s electoral districts needed to be roughly equal in population. [Oklahoma Historical Society]
  • 75.8 years – In Oklahoma, the average life expectancy is 75.8 years, 2.7 years less than the U.S. average life expectancy of 78.5 years. In 75 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties, the average life expectancy is below the U.S. average – significantly lower in counties with higher proportions of non-White residents. [U.S. House Committee on Ways & Means]
  • 4 in 5 – More than four in five American Indian and Alaska Native women and men have experienced violence in their lifetime, and more than one in three experienced violence in the past year, according to a new report from an NIJ-funded study. [National Institute of Justice]
  • 95% – Percentage of the state’s prison population (about 26,300 out of 27,602 incarcerated individuals) would be located in Oklahoma House districts currently held by Republicans in the proposed redistricting map that lawmakers will vote on during the special session that starts Monday, Nov. 15 [Oklahoma Watch]

What We’re Reading

  • What is Redistricting and Why Should We Care? [ACLU]
  • Advancing Health Equity Requires More and Better Data [KFF]
  • Tribal Nations and the United States: An Introduction [NCAI] | [Report (PDF)]
  • Gerrymandering Explained [Brennan Center for Justice]

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. 


David Hamby has more than 25 years of experience as an award-winning communicator, including overseeing communication programs for Oklahoma higher education institutions and other organizations. Before joining OK Policy, he was director of public relations for Rogers State University where he managed the school’s external communication programs and served as a member of the president’s leadership team. He served in a similar communications role for five years at the University of Tulsa. He also has worked in communications roles at Oklahoma State University and the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce in Arkansas. He joined OK Policy in October 2019.

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