The Woodward News

Local News

June 11, 2013

Lawmakers say rural Oklahoma was big winner

Woodward, Okla. — \Area legislators used baseball metaphors to describe the recent legislative session as they spoke to Woodward Chamber of Commerce members during their monthly Chamber luncheon Monday.

"As I look back at the session I would say rural Oklahoma hit a grand slam," State Rep. Gus Blackwell, R-Laverne, said.

Blackwell said big part of that was the success of Senate Bill 965, co-written by Sen. Bryce Marlatt, R-Woodward.

Blackwell and Marlatt explained that SB 965 gave rural Oklahoma more representation on the Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB) by changing the composition of the water board membership.  Instead of members being appointed based on population areas, the members now represent different geographic areas, so that every area of the state is represented.

"The Panhandle now has its own representative and Northwest Oklahoma has its own," Blackwell said.  "Southeast Oklahoma and Southwest Oklahoma have their own as well."

Previously he said Tulsa alone had 2 representatives and another 3 OWRB members lived within 30 minutes of the Oklahoma City metro area, because those are the highest population areas.  But this didn't leave much room on the board for rural representation.

For instance, State Rep. Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher, said that Southeast Oklahoma previously didn't have any representation on the board even though that is where the majority of Oklahoma's water is located.  And the panhandle didn't have a representative even though those 3 counties use more water than other regions in the state, largely due to the high agricultural production in those counties, Marlatt said.

However, those in the urban areas tried to make it a population issue, Blackwell said, noting they argued against giving "8 percent of the population, 20 percent of the vote."

But "water is a regional issue," Sanders said.

This is because water is used differently in different areas of the state, from agriculture in the Panhandle to watering lawns in the urban areas.  That's why the area legislators felt, as Blackwell put it, that SB 965 was a "huge victory for rural Oklahoma," because it allows those in the different regions have a say in what's best for their region rather than Tulsa and Oklahoma City representatives controlling everything.

"In the past Oklahoma City and Tulsa were driving the train and rural Oklahoma was just along for the ride trying to get whatever crumbs we could from the table," Blackwell said.

But thanks to leadership from rural legislators, including Marlatt, "this time rural Oklahoma drove the train."

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