Once upon a time, the Democratic party in Oklahoma, which has always been the majority and generally an overwhelming one at that, used its clout in the state legislature to redraw the Congressional boundaries in such a way as to put all the known Republicans in the state into two districts the First, which is basically Tulsa County, and the Fifth, which extends from the north (and putatively wealthier) half of Oklahoma City to the Kansas line, taking in oil towns like Ponca City and Bartlesville. This little nod to the genius of Elbridge Gerry, they were sure, would guarantee no less than a 4-2 Democratic majority in the state's House delegation.
Came 1994, and suddenly it was five Republicans, and a single Democrat who was about to retire. The Democrats went into panic mode, a typical response after years of complacency, but one which, from the vantage point of 1996, seemed to be unnecessary some of the GOP frosh are preparing to self-destruct before their very eyes.
Occasional Baptist counterexamples notwithstanding, the true religion of Oklahoma is football, which explains why two of the state's Representatives (out of six) are former college football players who have little else to recommend them. The First District's Steve Largent, recently stroked by America's leading political magazine People Weekly is owned and operated by the Pat Robertson crowd, and this always plays well in Tulsa, which is, after all, Oral Roberts' home base. Largent, therefore, will probably survive this fall. More troublesome for the GOP is Julius Caesar Watts, installed in the Fourth District seat after spending a couple of years on the Corporation Commission shilling for utility companies. In the House, he rails against all government programs except the one that enabled him to buy a distressed Midwest City apartment complex dirt-cheap. And remember all that yammering about how Congress shouldn't exempt itself from the laws it inflicts on the public sector? Our friend J. C. has managed to exempt a mere 94 percent of his staff from the Fair Labor Standards Act. (Steve Largent, by comparison, has fully a third of his staff covered, which by this state's standards borders on commendable. The Tulsa World covered all this during the spring, if anyone is curious.) Word is now out that Watts turned a profit on his investment with Hillary-like speed, which automatically arouses suspicion around Dustbury, and this could well cost him his seat come November.
Of the remaining GOP types in the delegation, Frank Lucas of the Sixth District is most secure. The Sixth used to be a purely-rural district, though population redistribution has now brought in some Oklahoma City constituents, and Lucas at least has a clue about agriculture. The Fifth District's Ernest Istook is widely regarded as a flake or a crank, depending on whose oxen he's attempting to gore at any given moment; in any other district he'd be history, but the Democrats gave up on this part of the state years ago. Istook's main claim to fame is a bill to prevent non-profit organizations from lobbying, where they might compete with corporations. Does Istook want any limits on corporate lobbying? Don't be silly.
That leaves Tom Coburn of the Second District, who eased into this slot after Mike Synar, widely regarded as Soonerland's last actual card-carrying liberal, was trashed in the 1994 Democratic primary. And much as the Second may wish they had Synar back, the Divine had other plans; he died six months ago. Coburn, for his part, hasn't done much of anything, and maybe that will redound to his credit.
The real fun, though, will be in the Third District, where the state's lone Democratic Congressman, Bill Brewster, has decided he's had enough. If I ever figure out just what the heck is going on in Little Dixie, I'll pass it on.
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Copyright © 1996 by Charles G. Hill