http://www.cherokeephoenix.orgOklahoma Watch a nonprofit, tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) corporation whose mission is to produce in-depth and investigative journalism on public-policy and quality-of-life issues facing the state. COURTESY
Oklahoma Watch a nonprofit, tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) corporation whose mission is to produce in-depth and investigative journalism on public-policy and quality-of-life issues facing the state. COURTESY

Group mounts ballot effort to remove Legislature from redistricting process

BY TREVOR BROWN
Oklahoma Watch
01/03/2018 04:00 PM
A newly formed group is seeking a state constitutional change that would strip the Legislature of its power to rewrite the state’s legislative and congressional boundaries when redistricting work begins after the 2020 Census.

Represent Oklahoma Inc., which is applying to be a social welfare nonprofit and has launched a website, has set a $400,000 fundraising goal to put a state question on the 2018 ballot that would let voters decide whether to transfer redistricting duties to an independent, nonpartisan commission.

Rico Smith, executive director of the group, said the goal is to take politics out of the process by preventing any party in power from drawing the lines in a way that gives an advantage to their party or a candidate. Six states have independent redistricting commissions, including Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana and Washington.

“When we allow the Legislature to draw its own lines, we are saying that citizens’ voices don’t matter,” he said. “This isn’t about party. This is about representing the peoples’ interests.”

Smith has worked on Democratic political campaigns, including Connie Johnson’s 2014 U.S. Senate run and Ron Marlett’s bid for a state House seat in 2016.

Smith said the group’s other staffer, Communications Director Cate Strider, is a Republican. And he said their soon-to-be-named board of directors would be bipartisan.

Former Gov. David Walters, a Democrat, was the featured speaker at a fundraiser for the group in November. But Smith said Walters does not have an official role with the group at this time.

The initiative is still in its early phases, so it’s unclear whether supporters can get the measure on the 2018 general election ballot.

Smith said the group is working with a law firm and plans to finalize the ballot language by end of January. Since the proposal would require a change to the state’s Constitution, it will need 123,725 signatures in a 90-day period and clear any legal challenges that may emerge. The 90-day period would begin after the state approves the ballot language.

This also might be the only chance for a change to the state’s redistricting process for the next decade. Rico said it likely would be too late for a 2020 ballot measure to take effect for the next redistricting period because of time constraints.

Redistricting will occur after the U.S. Census Bureau provides states with the latest population figures sometime before the end of 2020.

Oklahoma’s Constitution requires the Legislature to pass congressional and legislative redistricting plans within 90 legislative days of the 2021 legislative session. If lawmakers fail to meet the deadline, an independent, bipartisan commission is to be convened as a backup.

If the upcoming process follows the timeline of the last redistricting in 2010, a legislative committee would be formed in 2020; much of the technical work would start in 2019.

Barring major Democratic gains in the Legislature during the next two years, the GOP-controlled Legislature will have the overwhelming say in the redistricting process for the second decade in a row if the ballot initiative is unsuccessful.

Source of Debate

The question of whether political parties have unfairly given themselves an advantage by gerrymandering districts has been a major source of debate here and elsewhere.

Two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court – one accusing Wisconsin Democrats of gerrymandering state legislative districts and the other accusing Maryland Democrats of gerrymandering a congressional district – could set a new precedent for how the court treats unfairly partisan redistricting plans.

One of the plaintiffs’ main arguments in the Wisconsin case centered around a relatively new mathematical measure, called the “efficiency gap,” which is intended to detect evidence of partisan gerrymandering in any state.

The formula is based on looking at the number of “wasted votes” cast for each party’s candidates in an election. The term “wasted” refers both to votes cast above and beyond the 50-percent-plus-one vote needed by a party’s winning candidate and to all of the votes cast for a party’s losing candidate. If 100 votes are cast in an election, and the Republican wins 60 of them compared to the Democrat’s 40, it means nine votes were wasted for the Republican and 40 were wasted for the Democrat.)

In a calculation of efficiency gaps, Oklahoma and 11 other states scored above what some legal experts and academics argue should be the legal threshold for evidence of gerrymandering.

In the 2012 state House election, the first election after the last redistricting, Oklahoma would have failed the efficiency-gap test, according to a study by pair of researchers.

In 2016, Oklahoma Watch calculated the efficiency gap for the two most recent state legislative elections and found the gap exceeded the threshold set by the researchers in favor of Republicans in 2014 and 2016.

The state’s current Senate boundaries were also challenged in court by former Sen. Jim Wilson, D-Tahlequah, following the 2010 Census. But the state Supreme Court rejected Wilson’s lawsuit, saying he didn’t provide “discernible and manageable standards” to prove political gerrymandering had occurred.

Congressional Seats

Less controversial in Oklahoma has been how the state’s five congressional districts are drawn. Those have been largely unchanged since the state lost one seat in 2000.

The status quo likely will be the case following the 2020 Census, too, according to a recent analysis by a national consulting firm.

The study from Election Data Services, using new Census Bureau population estimates, found 12 states likely would lose or gain seats once the final population numbers are calculated.

All three models used by firm showed Oklahoma failing to grow enough to change how many seats it is awarded in the 435-member House of Representatives. Nor is it projected to lose a seat.

That means some congressional district boundaries may be tweaked based on population changes within the state. But a wholesale change – usually required when seats are added or dropped – is unlikely unless lawmakers or an independent panel were to throw out the congressional lines and come up with a new set of them.

News

BY STACIE GUTHRIE
Reporter – @cp_sguthrie
01/19/2018 08:15 AM
TAHLEQUAH – The attorney general’s office cites perjury as a reason why it’s asking the Supreme Court to dismiss a petition from two Tribal Councilors and six Cherokee Nation citizens challenging Freedmen citizenship. In a Dec. 29 filing in the Cherokee Nation v. Nash and Vann v. Zinke case, the attorney general’s office states five of eight citizens listed in a Dec. 11 petition committed perjury and because so the petition should be dismissed and “the Court should take other appropriate action, including sanctions.” “Council Member David Walkingstick, in his individual capacity, Twila Pennington, Randy White, Norman Crowe and Vicki Bratton all swore in notarized statements they ‘voted in the 2007 referendum election…to only allow citizenship in the Cherokee Nation only to people who are Cherokee by blood.’ They did not (vote),” states the response. The response states Election Commission records show Walkingstick, Pennington, White, Crowe and Bratton did not vote in the March 3, 2007, election in which voters amended the Constitution to require Indian blood for citizenship. The Cherokee Phoenix contacted the attorney general’s office regarding the perjury allegation, but was told “there is no further comment on the perjury allegation other than what has already been filed.” Walkingstick said he voted in the election and that the records are incorrect. “In (20)07 I ran for council. I remember voting in that election. I know the records in the Election Commission, you know, they’re not always accurate.” The 2007 general election in which Walkingstick’s name first appeared on the ballot was June 23. Walkingstick added that he didn’t perjure himself. “Perjury, the definition of perjury is getting up on the witness stand and putting your hand on a Bible and take an oath that you’re going to tell the truth and then getting up there and intentionally lying. That’s perjury,” he said. “This is a desperate attempt for (Attorney General) Todd (Hembree) to not face the consequences of him not adhering to his own AG Act. This has nothing to do with who voted or who didn’t vote in the (20)07 election. It has everything to do with the Cherokee Nation trying to uphold its Constitution.” According to Black’s Law Dictionary, perjury is the willful assertion as to a matter of fact, opinion, belief, or knowledge, made by a witness in a judicial proceeding as part of his evidence, either upon oath or in any form allowed by law to be substituted for an oath, whether such evidence is given in open court, or in an affidavit, or otherwise, such assertion being known to such witness to be false, and being intended by him to mislead the court, jury, or person holding the proceeding. In a Jan. 8 affidavit, Crowe states he voted in the election and that EC records are wrong. John Parris, the petitioners’ attorney, spoke on behalf of those alleged of perjury stating they all “remember voting” in the election. “The position of the interveners is that they remember voting and don’t know why the records are inaccurate,” he said. “The interveners hope that we get to the main issue and not deal with these side issues.” In regards to the EC records being “wrong,” EC officials said they do “not feel it would be appropriate to comment” on litigation before the Supreme Court. On Dec. 11, Tribal Councilor Harley Buzzard, Kathy Robinson, Marcus Thompson, as well as the five accused of perjury, filed a petition as individual citizens against the CN and Hembree. It stems from Hembree’s decision not to appeal the District of Columbia District Court’s ruling to bind the CN to the 1866 Treaty and provide Freedmen “all the rights of native Cherokees,” including the right to citizenship. Freedmen are descendants of slaves once held by Cherokees. The petitioners ask the Supreme Court to set aside its Sept. 1 order to enroll Freedmen as citizens and instruct the attorney general’s office to appeal the federal court ruling until the Tribal Council approves or disapproves of Hembree’s decision not to appeal. According to the attorney general’s response, the petition should also be dismissed because its grievances against the CN and Hembree do not have “any basis in law or fact.” “Movants fail to demonstrate a legally cognizable interest in the present action that establishes a right to intervene under Cherokee Law. Nonetheless, even if Movants can establish a right to intervene – which they cannot – the Court must dismiss the Writ of Mandamus because this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction,” the response states. “Specifically, Movants fail to cite any jurisdictional statute which permits Movants to maintain a lawsuit against AG Hembree – an appointed official of the Nation that enjoys sovereign immunity from this type of suit. Moreover, Movants fail to establish standing to bring this action against AG Hembree and fail further to plead a claim for relief.” The attorney general’s office also asks the court to maintain its Sept. 1 order by stating the request to continue litigating the case is “simply not available under Cherokee law.” Walkingstick said, hypothetically, if the tribe doesn’t appeal the federal ruling the Constitution would still have to be amended. He said Cherokee voters could accept the ruling or “vote in contradiction to it.” “The consequences are if the Cherokee people vote in contradiction to (federal) Judge (Thomas) Hogan’s ruling, or opinion, then federal program dollars could be frozen. Those are the consequences, and it just kind of depends what our Cherokee people want and, you know, me as being elected official, I take the Cherokee people’s voice very seriously,” he said. According to the Sept. 1 order, the Supreme Court deemed the special election void and without effect. Walkingstick said he’s “never taken a stance” on citizenship rights for Shawnees, Delaware, intermarried whites or Freedmen but that he did take an oath to uphold the Constitution. “The disappointment in all of this is our Cherokee Supreme Court contradicted our own Constitution. That’s a catastrophe. The other catastrophe is our chief and our attorney general supports contradicting our Constitution,” he said. “If we were wanting to protect our Constitution to the highest degree possible we would appeal this decision, which that’s the highest degree we can go with in regards to what that outcome is. It may be favorable. It may not be favorable, but we can look our constituents in the face and say we did everything possible to uphold your voice.”
BY STAFF REPORTS
01/17/2018 04:00 PM
The Cherokee Phoenix and Cherokee Family Research Center at the Cherokee Heritage Center teamed up to create this series on Cherokee genealogy. Thanks to CFRC genealogists Gene Norris and Ashley Vann, we are able to show you the genealogies of the Cherokee Phoenix staff and the CFRC’s genalogy inner workings at the CHC as well as the people behind them. For the next several months, we will highlight Cherokee Phoenix staff members’ genealogies and bring you information regarding Cherokee genealogy. You may even spot an ancestor on a staff member’s genealogy chart. This month we spotlight Advertising Representative Danny Eastham and Advertising Specialist Samantha Cochran's genealogies Wado! <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2018/1/11902__Samantha.pdf" target="_blank">Click here</a>to read Advertising Specialist Samantha Cochran's genealogy.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
01/17/2018 12:00 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The first trial date has been set for a lawsuit by a state against pharmaceutical companies over the opioid epidemic, according to Oklahoma’s attorney general. Oklahoma, one of at least 13 states that have filed lawsuits against drugmakers, alleges fraudulent marketing of drugs that fueled the opioid epidemic in the lawsuit filed in June 2017, and seeks unspecified damages from Purdue Pharma, Allergan, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Teva Pharmaceuticals and several of their subsidiaries. “We appreciate the urgency Judge (Thad) Balkman saw in getting the case to trial,” Attorney General Mike Hunter said. “Oklahomans who have suffered immeasurably from the years of fraudulent marketing campaigns will see this case resolved sooner rather than later.” Hunter said Balkman scheduled the trial to begin May 28, 2019. The companies deny wrongdoing and say they complied with Federal Drug Administration requirements that include warning labels showing potential risks that come with using their drugs. “We are deeply troubled by the prescription and illicit opioid abuse crisis, and are dedicated to being part of the solution,” Purdue Pharma said in a statement. “We vigorously deny these allegations and look forward to the opportunity to present our defense.” Teva spokeswoman Kaelan Hollon said the company “is committed to the appropriate use of opioid medicines,” and complies with all state and federal drug regulations. “Teva also collaborates closely with other stakeholders, including providers and prescribers, regulators, public health officials and patient advocates, to understand how to prevent prescription drug abuse without sacrificing patients’ needed access to pain medicine,” Hollon said. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office said other states that have filed lawsuits are Alaska, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, South Carolina and Washington state. The state lawsuits are separate from pending lawsuits in Ohio by dozens of local governments, and lawsuits by Native American tribes in the Dakotas and Oklahoma. In Ohio, a federal lawsuit by local governments nationwide that makes similar allegations is pending. And in South Dakota, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe and the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate filed a federal lawsuit in January against 24 opioid industry groups. In Oklahoma, a federal judge has ruled that another similar lawsuit by the Cherokee Nation cannot be tried in tribal court, and CN Attorney General Todd Hembree siad the tribe would file the lawsuit in state court.
BY STAFF REPORTS
01/16/2018 04:00 PM
The Cherokee Phoenix and Cherokee Family Research Center at the Cherokee Heritage Center teamed up to create this series on Cherokee genealogy. Thanks to CFRC genealogists Gene Norris and Ashley Vann, we are able to show you the genealogies of the Cherokee Phoenix staff and the CFRC’s genalogy inner workings at the CHC as well as the people behind them. For the next several months, we will highlight Cherokee Phoenix staff members’ genealogies and bring you information regarding Cherokee genealogy. You may even spot an ancestor on a staff member’s genealogy chart. This month we spotlight Staff Writer Brittney Bennett and Former Intern Chandler Kidd's genealogies Wado! <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2018/1/11898__ChandlerKidd.pdf" target="_blank">Click here</a>to read Former Intern Chandler Kidd's genealogy.
BY STAFF REPORTS
01/16/2018 03:30 PM
The Cherokee Phoenix and Cherokee Family Research Center at the Cherokee Heritage Center teamed up to create this series on Cherokee genealogy. Thanks to CFRC genealogists Gene Norris and Ashley Vann, we are able to show you the genealogies of the Cherokee Phoenix staff and the CFRC’s genalogy inner workings at the CHC as well as the people behind them. For the next several months, we will highlight Cherokee Phoenix staff members’ genealogies and bring you information regarding Cherokee genealogy. You may even spot an ancestor on a staff member’s genealogy chart. This month we spotlight News Writer Brittney Bennett and Former Intern Chandler Kidd's genealogies Wado! <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2018/1/11895__BrittneyBennett.pdf" target="_blank">Click here</a>to read News Writer Brittney Bennett's genealogy.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
01/16/2018 12:00 PM
MUSKOGEE (AP) — Cherokee Nation leaders marked Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 15 by acknowledging the tribe needs to come to terms with its treatment of former slaves, known as Freedmen. The tribe — one of the country’s largest — recognized the King holiday for the first time with participation in a King parade and a visit to the Martin Luther King Community Center in Muskogee. Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said Principal Chief Bill John Baker decided the tribe should honor the King holiday this year because of ongoing racial tensions nationwide and because the tribe is seeking to make amends with slavery. King’s writings spoke of injustices against Native Americans and colonization, but Hoskin said the tribe had its own form of internal oppression and dispossession. “The time is now to deal with it and talk about it,” said Hoskin. “It’s been a positive thing for our country to reconcile that during Dr. King’s era, and it’s going to be a positive thing for Cherokee to talk about that history as part of reconciling our history with slavery.” Such talk from tribal officials would have been surprising before a federal court ruled last year that the descendants of slaves owned by tribal citizens had the same rights to tribal citizenship, voting, health care and housing as blood-line Cherokees. One descendant of Freedmen, Rodslen Brown-King, said her mother was able to vote as a Cherokee for the first and only time recently. Other relatives died before getting the benefits that come with tribal citizenship, including a 34-year-old nephew with stomach cancer, she said. “He was waiting on this decision,” Brown-King, of Fort Gibson, said. “It’s just a lot of struggle, a lot of up and down trauma in our lives. It’s exciting to know we are coming together and moving forward in this.” Derrick Reed, a city councilman in Muskogee, and director of the King Community Center there, said the Jan. 15 event was the first attended by citizens of the CN in honor of the holiday. Baker later spoke at an after-party the tribe sponsored, and Hoskin served breakfast earlier in the day. “We have a wonderful story to tell but we need to tell the whole story,” Hoskin said.