By Kent Larsen
Redistricting Puts Istook's House Seat At Risk
NEW YORK, NEW YORK -- While Utah fights to gain an additional seat in the US
House of Representatives, one that would likely be filled by a Mormon, the
same redistricting process may put the seat of an LDS congressman at risk.
As a result of low population growth compared to other states, Oklahoma has
lost a seat in the US House of Representatives. At least one of its current
six congressmen, which includes LDS Church member Ernest Istook, will not be
in the US Congress in 2002.
The next election cycle is still more than a year away, but the
redistricting process is just now getting started. The state of Oklahoma has
named 20 Democrats and 14 Republicans from its majority Democrat legislature
to a committee that will redraw not only its US Congressional district
lines, but also the district lines for its legislature. That committee is
expected to draw the boundaries to favor the Democrats and the political
allies of committee members. Istook, along with another four of Oklahoma's
six representatives, is Republican. In the end, the committee could rob two
Republicans of their seats -- one because the seat is eliminated and the
other if the committee draws the boundaries to make it a Democratic seat.
Istook's seat may be at risk for these manipulations. In his district some
53,000 (27%) voted for his Democratic challenger. In the adjoining
districts, all near Oklahoma City, Democrats pulled similar totals, which
may give the Democrats an opportunity to concentrate their voters into a
single district. However, Oklahoma City itself has generally elected
Republicans to the state legislature.
Meanwhile, Mormon News' analysis of other US states indicates that
redistricting may lead to additional Mormons in the US Congress. Four states
where there are currently Mormon Senators or Representatives picked up
additional seats in the Congress, giving Mormon politicians new opportunities.
Perhaps the biggest opportunity is in Arizona, which added two new seats,
giving a total of eight representatives in the House of Representatives.
Currently Arizona, which has a population that is 6.4% LDS according to the
2001-2002 Deseret News Church Almanac, has just one Mormon congressman.
However, the increased number of representatives could add another
congressman, especially if a new district includes a portion of
heavily-Mormon Mesa and Gilbert or the Mormon towns of Snowflake and St
Johns, in Eastern Arizona. Arizona has also been represented by Mormons in
the southern part of the state, where Representatives Stuart and Morris
Udall held a seat for about 40 years.
Nevada (8% LDS) also gained a seat in the House, as did California (2.2%
LDS) and Colorado (2.7%) LDS. All three states currently have Mormon
Representatives or Senators, with Nevada being the most likely to pick up a
Mormon. Other states represented by Mormons are Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon
and Utah. In addition, it is possible that the states of Texas, Washington
and Wyoming could elect a Mormon to the US Congress.