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Group mounts ballot effort to remove Legislature from redistricting process
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.
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.
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The push for legalized marijuana has moved into Utah and Oklahoma, two of the most conservative states in the country, further underscoring how quickly feelings about marijuana are changing in the United States.
If the two measures pass, Utah and Oklahoma will join 30 other states that have legalized some form of medical marijuana, according to the pro-pot National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana laws. Nine of those states and Washington, D.C. also have broad legalization where adults 21 and older can use pot for any reason. Michigan could become the 10th state with its ballot initiative this year.
Utah and Oklahoma already are among 16 states that allow for use an oil called cannabidiol, or CBD, a compound from cannabis that doesn't get users high but can treat a range of health concerns.
Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, is confident the Utah and Oklahoma measures will pass.
"America's appetite for cannabis is not going away," Strekal said. "We are in the death rattles of prohibition."
Marijuana legalization efforts have faced some pushback from religions before — including in 2016 in Arizona and Nevada from the Mormon church, and the same year from the Catholic Church in Massachusetts. But not to the scale they could face this year in Utah, where Mormons account for about two-third of the population, said Matthew Schweich, executive director of the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project.
Mormons have long frowned upon marijuana use because of a key church health code called the "Word of Wisdom," which prohibits the use of alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came out against the proposal this month, saying in a statement drugs designed to ease suffering should be tested and approved by government officials first. The church said it respects the "wise counsel" of doctors, and commended the Utah Medical Association for opposing it. The association has accused organizers of trying to disguise their intention of simply paving the way for legalizing recreational marijuana.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert told middle school students in January that he thinks medical marijuana will someday be legalized in the state but in March he announced his opposition to the ballot question, which he argues lacks safeguards for the growing and distribution of marijuana.
Advocates remain confident that they've crafted a medical marijuana measure that respects the Mormon church and culture while providing much-needed relief for people with chronic pain, Schweich said. His Washington, D.C.-based organization helped draft the measure.
Unlike other medical marijuana states, Utah's proposal would not allow pot smoking or for residents to grow their own, Schweich said. It would create a state-regulated growing and dispensing operation to allow people with certain medical conditions to get a card and use the drug in edible forms like candy, in topical forms like lotions or balms, as an oil or in electronic cigarettes. Proponents turned in the signatures Monday to get the measure on the ballot in November.
"It's a question of compassion," Schweich said.
Oklahoma will vote in June on its proposal that would allow doctors to recommend that patients receive a medical marijuana license allowing them to legally possess up to three ounces of the drug, six mature plants and six seedlings.
Ted Lyon, a 78-year-old Mormon, is a supporter because he saw in the past decade how medical marijuana helped two of his neighbors in Provo — one with multiple sclerosis and another who has seizures. He said he wouldn't support the drug's legalization for recreational use.
Lyon, a retired professor at Mormon-owned Brigham Young University, said he's afraid the church's opposition will have a chilling effect on members of the faith but said he remains hopeful there are enough progressive-leaning Mormons who will see the benefits.
"In 10 years, the church may say something different," Lyon said. "This is not an eternal banishment of medical marijuana. My father was a good historian, and he used to say, 'If you don't like something in the church, just wait a while because it will change.'"
Nathan Frodsham, a 45-year-old married Mormon father of three, is hoping the measure passes so he can get off opioids and back to using the vaporized form of marijuana that he used when he lived in Seattle after his doctor recommended trying for his painful osteoarthritis in his neck.
Frodsham wasn't discouraged by the Mormon church statement, which he notes doesn't go as far in opposition as when the church explicitly asked members to vote against full marijuana legalization in Arizona and Nevada. He said marijuana is a natural plant and that the religion's health code doesn't single out cannabis as being prohibited.
"I think there's some room for interpretation on this," said Frodsham.
The 4,500-member Utah Medical Association isn't against the idea of legalized medical marijuana but has numerous concerns with an initiative it thinks is too broad and doesn't include necessary regulatory measures, said Michelle McOmber, the group's CEO.
"We want to be very careful about what we bring into our state," McOmber said. "This is an addictive drug."
FORT SMITH, Ark. (AP) — Legislation on an alternative substance that some say could help mitigate the effects of opioid withdrawals is divided along state lines.
Kratom, a tropical tree from Southeast Asia with leaves that produce stimulant and sedative effects, has been used in the Fort Smith region to both treat chronic pain and mitigate the effects of opioid painkiller withdrawals. Though it is sold legally through alternative medicine stores throughout Oklahoma, it is listed as a banned substance in Arkansas.
People in the United States have started to use kratom as a remedy for drug dependence, anxiety and pain. Proponents argue it is safer than prescription opioids like Vicodin and OxyContin, according to the Associated Press.
The Drug Enforcement Agency has listed kratom as a "Drug of Concern." In February, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said claiming kratom is harmless is "shortsighted and dangerous" and that it's "an opioid that's associated with novel risks because of the variability in how it's being formulated, sold and used recreationally."
The Jack Henningfield, vice president of Research, Health Policy and Abuse Liability at Pinney Associates, an organization that assesses the medical value of substances, said there is "insufficient evidence" for the DEA to restrict kratom.
In Oklahoma, a similar debate is being held.
"Right now, I just don't think everyone is on board with banning it," said Kayla Madera, an employee at the kratom store Earthly Mist in Roland. "They're just butting heads right now."
Kratom was banned in February 2016 in Arkansas and is listed as a Schedule I controlled substance in the state. It is also banned from Tennessee, Alabama, Indiana, Wisconsin and Vermont.
Paul Smith, director of the 12th and 21st District Drug Task Force in Sebastian and Crawford counties, said the legislation that banned kratom likely came about after the substance was tested in the Arkansas state crime lab. He said other substances have been banned in similar fashion in Arkansas.
"They start receiving submissions, and they come back for a particular substance," Smith said. "They'll kind of keep track of it and see if it's a problem, and they'll also do their own research around the United States and see what their other colleagues at other state crime labs."
Smith, who supports the substance ban, said other countries that have extended experience with kratom consider it to be dangerous. He called such protocols "a good guide for us to go by here in Arkansas."
West of the Arkansas border, kratom is dispensed without fear of seizure, the Times Record reported . Though legislation has been brought against kratom in Oklahoma, no law has officially passed that would ban or schedule the substance in the state.
Because of its legality, kratom is sold through shops designed purely for its sale and smoke shops across the state. A handful of them are under the brand name Earthly Mist, which has locations in Tulsa and Oklahoma City along with its Roland location.
Earthly Mist in Roland receives 7-10 customers a day, including people who have been prescribed methadone, Madera said. She said she does not ID people at the store, as it is not under any licensed medical practice.
"They'll come in, and they'll be tired and groggy and all that, and there will be a lot of pain," Madera said. "They'll come back a week or two later and say how great they've been feeling."
Smith said law enforcement officials have conducted one kratom seizure in Sebastian County and a handful of seizures of the drug in Crawford County since the substance was banned in 2016.
Though the kratom seized in Sebastian County was found in a plastic bag, it was found in Crawford County with labeling from Earthly Mist, Smith said.
"They're basically coming from Roland," Smith said of the drug seizures.
Though seized like other recreational drugs, Smith has not seen kratom used in Arkansas for recreational purposes. He said people are attracted to the drug to overcome symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea that come from heavy opioid withdrawals.
"It can be used to kind of satiate or stop that kind of withdrawal that comes when they don't have any kind of opioid pills to consume," Smith said.
Personal testimonies submitted to Earthly Mist line up with Smith's statements. Some even go as far as to say the substance gives the user energy and helps with pain.
"I had been prescribed oxycodone and morphine for five years due to chronic illness," one testimony reads. "One of my friends introduced me to kratom when I was complaining about some of the side effects that were making my life miserable. Within one month, I was able to quit taking those drugs because of the effectiveness of kratom."
"Kratom has changed my life," another reads. "I have PTSD, bipolar and fibromyalgia. I am also a recovering addict. Since starting to take kratom, I have been able to stop taking all prescription medications."
While he has spoken against opioid over-prescribing and its effects in Sebastian County, Smith also spoke against the use of kratom in an opioid withdrawal situation.
Smith said anyone going through an opioid withdrawal — especially a severe one — needs to seek medical attention for his or her symptoms.
"It's a medical problem that needs to be addressed in a medical setting, not someone who's trying to do it themselves," Smith said of opioid withdrawals.
Smith said "all treatment facilities" in Sebastian and Crawford counties have a protocol to ensure the person going through an opioid withdrawal is medically safe while he or she is going through an opioid overdose.
"We try to steer people away from these types of remedies into treatment or medically supervised withdrawal protocols," Smith said.
Though he has discussed how opioids are over-prescribed in the past, Smith said the difference between prescription opioids and kratom is that prescription opioids are prescribed as the patient needs them. He also said prescription opioids, if prescribed correctly, are given with the patient's medical reactions in mind.
"(Kratom) causes different reactions, psychologically and physiologically to the individual that's taking them," Smith said.
SYRACUSE, N.Y. – “An Indigenous Response to #MeToo” is a half-hour Rematriation Magazine film featuring cultural change-makers from Haudenosaunee Six Nations territories and the Guachichil de La Gran Chichimeca. The film’s purpose is to share a culturally grounded response to address the #MeToo movement in Indigenous communities, start conversations and lean into culturally based solutions.
Recently, more than 70 Indigenous people from across Haudenosaunee territories and communities around the world met for the 2018 launch of Rematriation Magazine – “Returning the Sacred to the Mother” at Syracuse University S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Rematriation Magazine, an Indigenous women’s online publication, will include feature stories, videos, podcasts, interactives and other multi-media offerings focusing on topics important to Indigenous women. During the meeting, the women and men also discussed the #MeToo movement and how it has differed in Indigenous communities across Turtle Island from the mainstream. “An Indigenous Response to #MeToo” was a result of this discussion.
“The #MeToo movement has taken the country by storm and this is why I asked a group of Indigenous people to come together to discuss what is – and what is not – going on so that we can extend the conversation into our communities and take control of the narrative,” Michelle Schenandoah, Rematriation Magazine CEO and editor-in-chief, said. “We are not part of the mainstream society; yet knowing how pervasive sexual abuse is in our communities, this film provides a backdrop to explore this issue in our own way.”
Schenandoah said the mainstream trend has been to outcast prominent men accused of sexual harassment, but asked what does #MeToo look like for Indigenous people. “There is no recourse for both men and women in the mainstream and there really hasn’t been much direction beyond this point for the movement. As Indigenous people, we’ve been working to address sexual abuse a lot longer than in the mainstream.”
She said the film was intended to start group conversations within Indigenous communities.
“We highlight examples of women and men who’ve created change by leaning into traditional teachings and ceremonies – and the impacts have been profound,” she said. “Acceptance of the mainstream does not have to be our response; it’s not the healthiest option for our communities and we have our culture to help guide us.”
Rematriation Magazine sponsored the film for free viewing by Indigenous nations, organizations, health care providers, educators, community members and those interested in joining the conversation. Visit <a href="https://vimeo.com/261177660" target="_blank">https://vimeo.com/261177660</a> to access “An Indigenous Response to #MeToo” on Vimeo. To support similar projects, Rematriation is accepting online contributions at <a href="http://www.rematriation.com/donate" target="_blank">rematriation.com/donate</a>. The producers are also available for community screenings with discussions.
EUCHA – Threats of thunderstorms and cold weather did not hold back nearly 60 flat-bottom boats carrying two-person teams from competing in the annual National Green Country Giggers Association Tournament on April 13-14 at Lake Eucha in Delaware County.
In its 46th year, the tournament has become more popular each year.
“When we started out there was probably about 12 or 14 boats entered. We’ve had as high as 80 or 90 (boats),” Clifton Hughes, NGCGA board member and Cherokee Nation citizen, said.
Hughes said the tournament brings in between 5,000 and 8,000 people during the weekend and that more than two-thirds of the competitors have Native American heritage.
CN citizen Doug Postoak said this year was his 12th tournament.
“I’ve participated for about 12 years, but we’ve been gigging all of our lives down here,” he said. “This thing started out pretty much with a bunch of us Cherokee boys. We used to get up and wade this creek, and it was two-prong gigging during the daytime. It’s a whole different level now, how far it’s evolved.”
Postoak said he’s won two tournaments. His partner, CN citizen John Henry Ward, has won six and makes the three-prong gigs used in competition.
“It takes about two hours to make one of them. It’s one of those things of you’re not ever going to get rich doing them, but it’s a fun little hobby and something people around here have to have. It’d be kind of hard to go if we didn’t have any gigs,” Ward said.
He said most gigs are made using spring steel for prongs and walnut, ash, oak, poplar or black cherry for handles. Most gigs are around 12 feet long.
“Most of the water you go gigging in is 3 feet or lower. Some of it’s a little deeper. But you get in a little deeper, the fish is a little further away, you need a little bit more pole so you can get out there to them,” Ward said.
He said his father helped start the tournament in the 1970s, so he’s been around gigging most of his life.
Hughes said competitors can use any light source, a 15-horsepower or less motor in a flat-bottom aluminum boat, up to a three-pronged gig and only “rough” non-game fish can be caught, which includes redhorse, white bass and carp. Two people comprise the teams – one to gig and one to operate the motor.
“The placement on fish like redhorse is the hardest fish to find because they’re the fastest and they’re five points a pound. Suckers are four points a pound. Bass are three, and carp and anything like perch is one point per pound. Then they combine all the points of the two nights,” Hughes said.
He said they place the top 10 teams by points. Takeoff on the first night is at 9 p.m. and giggers have two hours to gig and bring their fish in to be weighed. On the second day, usually a Saturday, all the fish caught from the night before are cleaned and cooked for a free fish fry. As nightfall comes around, competitors are ready for the second night of gigging.
“It’s a great deal. It’s a family deal. If you’ll come out here on a regular night, dads will have their little kids out there gigging,” Hughes said.
TAHLEQUAH – Musicians, food trucks, a kids’ zone, a vintage plane fly-in, coon hunt, car show and art in the downtown square are all part of this year’s Red Fern Festival.
The festival honors the story “Where the Red Fern Grows,” which was written by Cherokee Nation citizen Woodrow Wilson Rawls from nearby Scraper. The book was published in 1961 and was adapted into a movie that was released in 1974. A second movie based on Rawls’ book was released in 2003.
The original movie will be shown at 8 p.m. on April 27 in Norris Park.
“Where the Red Fern Grows” is about a boy who buys and trains two redbone coon-hunting dogs in the Ozark hills of northeastern Oklahoma. The movie follows the boy as he competes in coon-hunting contests and other adventures with his dogs. Both movies were shot in and around the Tahlequah area with Rawls serving as a consultant for the first movie.
Rawls was born on Sept. 24, 1913, in Scraper on his Cherokee mother Winnie (Hatfield) Rawls’ allotment land. His father Minzy Rawls took the family west during the Great Depression that caused economic hardship for people in the 1930s. Woodrow Wilson Rawls’ papers are located at the Cherokee Heritage Center.
In honor of the hound dogs in Rawls’ story, hound dog field trials will take place at 10 a.m. on April 28 in Sequoyah Park. Also, on April 28, several antique and ex-military planes will fly into the city’s airport west of town and will be joined by model planes exhibits, static displays from the military and emergency services as well as an antique tractor display.
City officials said they have a bigger role in this year’s Red Fern Festival.
“The city has always supported these type of events by the Tahlequah Main Street Association, but this year we’re trying to enhance the festival with the addition of the events located at our airport,” Tahlequah Public Relations Specialist Jami Murphy said.
The festival is still seeking vendors in arts and crafts and food. If interested, visit <a href="http://www.tahlequahmainstreet.com" target="_blank">www.tahlequahmainstreet.com</a> for more information or for a complete list of events and times.
“Honestly, there are so many things for you and your family to do during the week and weekend of Red Fern. You just don’t want to miss any of it,” Murphy said.
MUSKOGEE – The Cherokee Nation’s Three Rivers Health Center at 1001 S. 41st St. E. will host a Safe Kids Tulsa Area car seat checkup event from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on April 25.
Visitors can learn how to install children’s car seats or booster seats or find out if it’s time for a seat change. Nationally certified technicians will be on site to show caregivers how to properly install char seats and check those already installed.
A limited number of cars seats will also be available for $10, cash only. To qualify for a car seat, a child or an expectant mother within two months of delivery must be present and proof of government assistance (WIC, SNAP, SoonerCare) must be provided.
Limits are one seat per child and two seats per family.