Stories about Oklahoma

Oklahoma enacts new congressional, legislative maps

On Nov. 22, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) signed new congressional and legislative maps into law. These maps will take effect for the state’s 2022 congressional and legislative elections. Oklahoma is the 17th state to complete congressional redistricting, and the 21st state to complete legislative redistricting.

The Oklahoma State Senate approved the Senate map in a 46-1 vote on Nov. 17, and the House approved the Senate map 95-1 on Nov. 19. The only dissenting votes came from Sen. Nathan Dahm (R) and Rep. Wendi Stearman (R). The Oklahoma House of Representatives approved the House map 88-3 on Nov. 17, and the Senate approved the House map 44-2 on Nov. 19. Reps. Stearman, Tommy Hardin (R), and Eric Roberts (R) cast no votes in the House. Sens. Dahm and George Young (D) cast no votes in the Senate.

The Oklahoma state legislature previously approved a different set of legislative maps for the 2020 redistricting cycle. The legislature drew the maps using the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey data for 2015 through 2019, and Stitt signed them into law on May 13, 2021. On Aug. 23, the House and Senate redistricting committee chairs announced the first round of enacted maps would have to be redrawn following the release of 2020 census data.

The congressional map had narrower margins of approval in the legislature. The Oklahoma House of Representatives voted 75-19 to approve the map on Nov. 17, and the Oklahoma State Senate voted to approve the map 36-10 on Nov. 19. Eighteen Democrats and one Republican voted no in the House. Nine Democrats and one Republican voted no in the Senate.

Rep. Collin Walke (D), who voted against the congressional map, said: “While I have no doubt that somebody wasn’t sitting there looking at the numbers of Democrats versus Republicans while literally drawing this map, I think we’d all be naive to assume that there weren’t political influences outside of this building dictating what happens inside of this building.” Rep. John Pfeiffer (R), who voted in support of the map, said: “We do like to fight about the change and the things that have changed. But the truth be told, although our population has increased, this map hasn’t changed that much.”

During the 2010 redistricting cycle, Oklahoma approved legislative and congressional maps on May 10, 2011, and May 20, 2011, respectively.

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Redistricting timeline updates: Georgia, North Dakota, and Oklahoma announce special sessions to tackle redistricting

Image of several stickers with the words "I voted"

Here’s a summary of recent redistricting timeline updates from Arkansas, Georgia, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and West Virginia.

Arkansas: The Arkansas General Assembly reconvened at the start of a state legislative special session to consider congressional map proposals on Sept. 29. The state’s Board of Appropriation will begin work on redistricting for state legislative districts later this fall. 

Georgia: Gov. Brian Kemp (R) called for a special session of the Georgia General Assembly to address redistricting on Sept. 23.  The special session is scheduled to convene on Nov. 3.

New Hampshire: TheSpecial Committee on Redistricting continues to hold public hearings on redistricting. The committee will attend meetings in Brentwood and Lancaster this week on Oct. 5 and 7, respectively. The hearings will continue until Oct. 14.

North Dakota: On Sept. 23, Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner (R) announced that a special legislative session focused on redistricting and COVID-19 aid spending will begin on Nov. 8. Wardner said the Legislative Redistricting Committee will have finalized its plans by the start of the session, and the session is expected to last five to eight days.  

Ohio: The Ohio legislature did not meet its Sept. 30, 2021 deadline to produce a congressional district map. Since a congressional map wasn’t completed by that date, the Ohio Redistricting Commission must draw a map by Oct. 31. If the commission does not adopt a map, the General Assembly must draw a map by Nov. 30.

Oklahoma: On Sept. 24, Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) called a special session of the legislature to address redistricting. The special session will begin on Nov. 15.

Rhode Island: The special Legislative Commission on Reapportionment continues to hold public hearings on redistricting.  The commission held a meeting on Oct. 4 in Woonsocket and is scheduled to hold another in Kingston on Oct. 7. Hearings will continue until Oct. 25.

South Carolina: Senate President Harvey Peeler (R) canceled a special senate session originally scheduled to begin on Oct. 12. The Senate had planned to address COVID spending and redistricting during the special session, but the Senate redistricting committee asked for more time, saying it would not be able to draft district maps until later in the month.

West Virginia: The West Virginia Senate Redistricting Committee began the redistricting process by holding an organizational meeting in which they approved rules for drawing district maps. The House committee held its own organizational meeting on Sept. 30. Sen. Charles S. Trump (R) said he expects Gov. Jim Justice (R) to announce a special legislative session beginning the week of Oct. 11.

Oklahoma governor appoints new state attorney general

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) appointed John O’Connor (R) as the state’s attorney general on July 23. O’Connor was sworn in on the same day for a term expiring in 2023.

O’Connor succeeded former attorney general Mike Hunter (R), who resigned on June 1. Hunter had served as the attorney general since 2017.

O’Connor has worked as an attorney in private practice and served on the Board of Trustees of Oklahoma State University-Tulsa. Trump nominated O’Connor to a split seat on the United States District Courts for the Northern, Eastern, and Western Districts of Oklahoma on April 10, 2018. The U.S. Senate did not confirm O’Connor during the 115th Congress, and O’Connor withdrew his name from consideration for re-nomination by the next Congress on Apr. 12, 2019.

The Oklahoma Attorney General is an elected executive position in state government. The attorney general serves as the state’s chief legal officer and prosecutes violations of state law, represents the state in legal disputes and issues legal advice to state agencies and the legislature.

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Attorney General of Oklahoma

United States District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma 

Federal judges nominated by Donald Trump

Oklahoma Gov. Stitt appoints state supreme court justice

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) appointed Dana Kuehn to the Oklahoma Supreme Court on July 26. The appointment filled a vacancy on the court caused by former Justice Tom Colbert’s retirement on Feb. 1. Kuehn is Stitt’s third nominee to the nine-member supreme court.

Under Oklahoma law, state supreme court justices are selected by the governor with help from a nominating commission. The nominating commission puts forward a list of three names from which the governor chooses the appointee. The appointed judge serves an initial term of at least one year before standing for retention in the next general election.

Before her appointment to the supreme court, Kuehn served as a judge on the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals. She was appointed to that seat in 2017. From 2006 to 2017, Kuehn was a Tulsa County associate district judge. Prior to becoming a judge, she worked as a Tulsa County district attorney and as an attorney in private practice with Steidley & Neal, PLLC. Kuehn earned a B.A. in political science from Oklahoma State University and a J.D. from the University of Tulsa College of Law.

With her appointment to the supreme court, Kuehn became the first woman to serve on both of Oklahoma’s high courts.

In 2021, there have been 14 supreme court vacancies in 12 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. To date, 12 of those vacancies have been filled.

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Oklahoma adjourns 2021 legislative session without passing any constitutional amendments

The Oklahoma State Legislature adjourned its 2021 state legislative session on May 27, 2021. The legislature did not refer any constitutional amendments to the ballot during the 2021 legislative session. One constitutional amendment, House Joint Resolution 1001, was passed unanimously in the House but did not receive a vote in the Senate before the session adjourned. The legislature may consider the amendment again for referral to the 2022 ballot during its 2022 legislative session.

HJR 1001 would change how the Rainy Day Fund’s maximum balance is calculated. Currently, the state’s Constitutional Reserve Fund (Rainy Day Fund) has a maximum allowed balance of 15% of the General Revenue Fund certification for the preceding year. The amendment would change how the maximum balance is calculated to 15% of total expenditures for the previous fiscal year. The total expenditures would exclude money expended from revolving funds, funds with money derived from fees or non-tax revenues, and proceeds from a bond or debt obligation. In the amendment’s fiscal impact statement, legislative analysts said that “the provisions will increase the basis on which the calculation of the fund balance maximum is made, perhaps as much as a one hundred percent (100%) increase. This will result in the ability for the fund to receive more surplus funds.”

Oklahoma also allows for citizen-initiated constitutional amendments, citizen-initiated state statutes, and veto referendums, making it one of 26 states in which statewide ballot measures can qualify for the ballot through a signature petition. The number of signatures required to qualify initiatives and veto referendums for the ballot is tied to the total votes cast for governor in the last gubernatorial election. For a signature petition to initiate a constitutional amendment, proponents must collect valid signatures equal to 15% of votes cast for governor—177,958 for the 2022 ballot. For initiated state statutes, the requirement is 8%—94,911 for the 2022 ballot—and for veto referendums, the requirement is 5%—59,320 for the 2022 ballot.

One initiative petition has been filed targeting the 2022 ballot. The measure is a veto referendum that was designed to repeal House Bill 1674. HB 1674 would (1) make unlawfully obstructing use of public roads a misdemeanor and prescribe penalties for those found guilty of participation in a riot and (2) grant criminal and civil immunity in certain circumstances to vehicle operators who flee from a riot if they cause injury or death.

Once an initiative petition is filed, protests may be filed challenging the sufficiency of the petition within 10 days after the notice of filing is published. The Secretary of State sets the date for signature collection to begin at least 15 days (but no more than 30 days) after any/all protests challenging the petition have been resolved. Initiatives can be circulated for a maximum of 90 days. Signatures are due by 5:00 p.m. local time on the 90th day. State election officials in Oklahoma recommend filing a proposed initiative during the first months of the year preceding the targeted election year due to the two periods during which challenges may be filed against an initiative. For example, to qualify an initiative for the November 2022 ballot, Oklahoma election officials recommended filing the initiative proposal in the early months of 2021. For a measure to appear on the ballot, signatures must be submitted long enough in advance for the governor to issue an election proclamation, which must be issued and certified to the State Election Board at least 70 days prior to an election (August 30, 2022, to qualify for the November 8, 2022, ballot).

A total of 71 measures appeared on statewide ballots in Oklahoma from 2000 to 2020, including five measures that appeared on the ballot during even-numbered years. Of the measures, 74.65% (53 of 71) were approved, and 25.35% (18 of 71) were defeated.

Mike Hunter announces resignation as Oklahoma attorney general

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter (R) announced on May 26 that he would be resigning effective June 1. Hunter cited “personal matters that are becoming public” as the reason for his resignation. The Oklahoman reported that Hunter allegedly had an affair with another state employee.

In a statement, Hunter said, “It has been a distinct and absolute privilege of a lifetime to serve as the state’s attorney general…I cannot allow a personal issue to overshadow the vital work the attorneys, agents, and support staff do on behalf of Oklahomans.”

Gov. Mary Fallin (R) appointed Hunter attorney general of Oklahoma in 2017 after former Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R) was sworn in as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Hunter was then elected to a full term in 2018. Before his appointment as attorney general, Hunter served as secretary of state of Oklahoma from 2016 to 2017 and from 1999 to 2002. Hunter began his political career by serving in the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1984 to 1990.

The attorney general is an executive office in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, serving as the chief legal advisor and chief law enforcement officer for the state government. The office is empowered to prosecute violations of state law, represent the state in legal disputes, and issue legal advice to state agencies and the legislature.

The attorney general is an elected position in 43 states and the District of Columbia, including Oklahoma. However, when a vacancy occurs in the Oklahoma attorney general’s office, the governor appoints a successor to serve until the next election. 

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Here’s a round-up of this week’s redistricting news: May 5, 2021

Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau released apportionment counts for the U.S. House of Representatives, kicking off the 2021-2022 redistricting cycle. Throughout this year and next, policymakers (including state legislators, governors, and special redistricting commissions) will draft and implement new state legislative and congressional district maps, which will remain in force for the next 10 years. Beginning today, we will provide weekly updates on major redistricting events across all 50 states.

Oklahoma lawmakers unveil draft maps for state legislature: On April 21, Oklahoma lawmakers released their proposed district maps for the state senate and house of representatives, making Oklahoma the first state in the 2021-2022 cycle to produce draft maps. In lieu of final 2020 census data, which has not yet been made available to the states, lawmakers used the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey data for 2015 through 2019 to draft their proposals.

Release of apportionment counts triggers lawsuits in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania: On April 26, Democracy Docket filed three separate lawsuits on behalf of registered voters in three states, asking courts in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania to intervene and set up timelines for enacting court-drawn maps for the 2022 election cycle “in the near-certain event” that governors and legislatures in each state fail to do so. The substantive language used in the three suits is similar. All three allege that “there is no reasonable prospect that … political branches will reach consensus to enact” lawful district maps in a timely manner because the three states operate under divided governments (i.e., both the Democratic and Republican parties control at least one of the following: the governorship, the upper chamber of the state legislature, and the lower chamber).

New York Gov. Cuomo mulls legal challenge over loss of congressional seat: On April 27, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) told reporters that he was considering the state’s “legal options” with respect to New York’s loss of one congressional seat to reapportionment. According to estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau, the state could have kept the seat if 89 additional New York residents had been counted. Cuomo said, “Do I think it was accurate within 89? No. And we’re looking at legal options. Because when you’re talking about 89, that could be a minor mistake in counting.” According to Janna Johnson, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs, no state has ever succeeded in challenging apportionment counts in court.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court appoints chairman of state legislative redistricting commission: On May 3, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court announced the appointment of Mark Nordenberg as chairman of the Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission. Nordenberg, Chair of the University of Pittsburgh’s Institute of Politics, joins Sen. Majority Leader Kim Ward (R), Sen. Minority Leader Jay Costa (D), House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R), and House Minority Leader Joanna McClinton (D). The state supreme court appointed Nordenberg as chairman after the four other members of the commission failed to agree on an appointment. The commission has the sole authority to draft and implement new state legislative district maps.

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Oklahoma school board elections see lowest unopposed rate in eight-year cycle

In 2021, 48.6% of Oklahoma school board races covered by Ballotpedia will not be on the ballot due to lack of opposition, which is the lowest unopposed rate since Ballotpedia began tracking this figure in 2014. Thirty-five seats are up for election across 26 school districts included in Ballotpedia’s comprehensive coverage in 2021. Candidates ran unopposed in 17 of those races.

Across eight years of tracking, the highest unopposed rate for Oklahoma school board elections occurred in 2015, when 85.7% of races had an unopposed candidate. Below is a list of unopposed rates from 2014 to 2021.

  • 2021: 48.6%
  • 2020: 62.1%
  • 2019: 53.3%
  • 2018: 76.7%
  • 2017: 52.9%
  • 2016: 80.0%
  • 2015: 85.7%
  • 2014: 62.5%

The general election for races that do have opposition is scheduled for April 6. For races that had more than two candidates file, the primary election was held on Feb. 9. Candidates were able to win the election outright if they earned more than 50% of the vote in the primary.

The following districts will hold a general election on April 6:

  • Banner School District
  • Crooked Oak Public Schools
  • Deer Creek Public Schools
  • Edmond Public Schools
  • Midwest City-Del City Schools
  • Mustang Public Schools
  • Oklahoma City Public Schools
  • Owasso Public Schools
  • Piedmont Public Schools
  • Putnam City Schools
  • Tulsa Public Schools
  • Union Public Schools
  • Western Heights Public Schools
  • Yukon Public Schools

These fourteen school districts served a total of 190,878 students during the 2016-17 school year.

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Oklahoma voters decide school board primary elections

Primaries for school board elections were held in Oklahoma on February 9. Ballotpedia is covering elections for 35 seats across 27 Oklahoma school boards in 2021. These 27 school districts served a combined total of 261,543 students during the 2016-2017 school year.

Seventeen seats were won outright by unopposed candidates. There were 13 seats where two candidates automatically advanced from the primary to the general election on April 6. The remaining five seats held primaries between three or more candidates. Elections can be won outright in the primary if a candidate receives more than 50% of the vote.

  • In the Edmond Public School District, Margaret Best and incumbent Lee Ann Kuhlman advanced to the general election for the District 1 seat. Best and Kuhlman earned 34% and 27% of the vote, respectively.
  • In the Oklahoma City Public School District, Charles Henry and incumbent Paula Lewis advanced to the general election for the chairperson seat. Henry and Lewis earned 48% and 44% of the vote, respectively.
  • In the Owasso Public School District, Stephanie Ruttman and Rick Lang advanced to the general election for the Ward 1 seat. Ruttman and Lang earned 31% and 24% of the vote, respectively.
  • In the Putnam City Public School District, Judy Mullen Hopper won outright in the primary for Seat 3. Hopper earned 66% of the vote against two other candidates including incumbent Sky Collins.
  • In the Tulsa Public School District, Judith Barba won outright in the primary for Seat 2. Barba earned 53% of the vote against two other candidates.

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Oklahoma Supreme Court rules that Gov. Stitt overstepped his authority in negotiating two gaming compacts without legislative approval

On January 26, 2021, the Oklahoma Supreme Court issued an opinion in Treat v. Stitt, a case regarding the governor’s power to renegotiate state gaming compacts. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Speaker of the House Charles McCall (R) and Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat (R) who argued that Governor Kevin Stitt (R) overstepped his constitutional authority when he renegotiated the terms for the gaming contracts with the Kialegee Tribal Town and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians. The gaming contracts at issue were enacted under the State-Tribal Gaming Act, which voters approved through State Question 712 in 2004. 

Justice James Winchester wrote the opinion for the court. Chief Justice Richard Darby joined Justice Winchester, as did substitute Justice John Reif. Justice Yvonne Kauger wrote a separate concurring opinion and was joined by Justices Douglas Combs, Noma Gurich. Justice Dustin Rowe concurred in the result only. Justice M. John Kane IV wrote a dissenting opinion. Justices James Edmondson and Tom Colbert recused themselves. 

Writing for the majority, Justice Winchester said “The Legislature has not authorized the Governor to bind the state with regard to tribal compacts… the compact executed by the Governor contravened state law. The Governor’s powers are limited by the Constitution. The Governor may exercise only the specific power granted. The Governor’s attempt to exceed this authority results in the actions being rendered wholly ineffectual and invalid.”

In his dissenting opinion, Justice Kane said he would dismiss the case for lack of indispensable parties, The Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribes, who also have gaming contracts with the state. 

Gov. Stitt said that he will not appeal the court’s decision. On January 27, 2021, he issued a statement that said he plans to work with a joint legislative committee to review the gambling compacts. 

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