Right turn 

What if the Oklahoma City area becomes even more politically and culturally conservative in the next few years?

According to a story in the Tulsa World, population trends show Oklahoma's fastest-growing political districts are now either controlled by Republicans or trending towards the GOP. These districts include Oklahoma City's suburban areas. If the trends hold, then the next political redistricting after the 2010 census could result in more Republican seats in both the Oklahoma House and Senate.

So as the country turns leftward, does the Oklahoma City area turn right? Perhaps. Conservatives here will undoubtedly cheer this news. On the other side, Democratic Party Chairman Ivan Holmes told the World, "If it stays the way it is, it's going to hit us hard and we know it."

But what does it mean for a metropolitan area, already nationally known for its outspoken right-wing politicians, such as state Rep. Sally Kern and Oklahoma County Commissioner Brent Rinehart, to become more politically conservative? This is an important question for both progressives and conservatives.

Most everyone can agree large cities are different than states in how their political dynamic is tied to image. If Oklahoma City becomes known as even more conservative and even less socially tolerant, then its image as a city on the move will surely be recast by the next generation of kooky right-wing politicians who will spout intolerant views to get votes and won't care one moment about diversity.

What's worse is the new rush to neoconservatism here could prompt more young progressives to pack up and leave. It's only natural for people to want to be around other people who think and believe like they do. Conservatives build enclaves as do progressives. But really, how much more conservative can it get here?

If there is a progressive exodus, retaining skilled workers and sustaining a vibrant cultural atmosphere could become a serious issue for Oklahoma City.

So before local conservatives start celebrating, here are three issues to consider:

Younger people tend to be more concerned with progressive issues, such as tolerance of different groups, alternative energy and new technologies. All these issues will impact the quality of life here in coming years. As economic globalization becomes even more solidified, many city residents will need to learn new languages or acquire knowledge and show acceptance of other cultures and lifestyles. Both alternative energy and new technology development, two important issues for the city, often require the skills of open-minded, progressive thinking people.

The city's cultural life beyond the NBA, minor league baseball and college athletics will suffer if the city's creative community is not nurtured. Not all of the city's musicians and artists are progressive, of course, but many are, and their art is often based on open-minded views of the world. Will a more conservative Oklahoma City run off the creative types? Probably.

In his books, "The Rise of the Creative Class" and "Cities and the Creative Class," Richard Florida argues metropolitan areas with a high number of creative people create the conditions for solid economic development. Will Oklahoma City lose out in years to come if the trends hold?

Hochenauer is an English professor at the University of Central Oklahoma and author of the progressive blog Okie Funk: Notes From The Outback, www.okiefunk.com.

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Kurt Hochenauer

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