Few public comments offered on Missouri House redistricting plan

Political science professor proposes map seeking to eliminate Troost Avenue as ‘color line’ in Kansas City

By: - January 3, 2022 5:36 pm

Michael Smith of Kansas City, a political science professor at Emporia State University in Kansas, explains his proposed Missouri House district map for Jackson County. (Rudi Keller/Missouri Independent)

The only solution offered Monday for the disagreement over Jackson County’s districts in the Missouri House would end the use of Troost Avenue as a boundary for seats in western Kansas City.

While the major road was once a useful boundary to design districts likely to be represented by Black Missourians, Kansas City resident Michael Smith said, it no longer is a practical line and using it results in districts that are narrow east-to-west and long north-to-south.

“They are squeezing the west part of Kansas City along the state line,” Smith told the House Independent Bipartisan Citizens Commission of the maps it has proposed. “One proposed district is only a few blocks east to west but runs from 63rd Street to Cass County.”

The 20-member commission held the constitutionally required public hearing on its proposed plan for 163 House districts on Monday morning in Jefferson City. The tentative plan submitted Dec. 23 to Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft shows agreement on 112 of 163 districts, mainly in rural parts of the state.

The differences are in heavily populated areas in Boone, Greene and Jackson counties and part of St. Louis County.

Smith was the only person to present any comprehensive solution to any of the remaining disputes at Monday’s hearing. The commission is taking written comments as well.

The commission has until Jan. 23 to complete its work, or the job of drawing a new map will be turned over to a panel of six appeals court judges. The map will be used to elect members of the House for the next decade.

There are 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans on the commission. To win approval, a final map needs the votes of 14 members.

A commission appointed to draw Senate districts didn’t make the Dec. 23 deadline for filing a tentative plan and has ceased work. The constitution is silent on whether the Missouri Supreme Court, which selects the judges for the appellate commission that will try to draw 34 new Senate districts, must wait until after Jan. 23 to make the appointments.

Those looming deadlines are worrying local election officials, Greene County Clerk Shane Schoeller told the commission. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, census reports that are the base for designing districts were delayed.

The first date on the election calendar is Feb. 22, when filing opens for the August partisan primary. If the House commission can agree, its map will be ready.

The Senate appellate commission will have 90 days to design districts, a deadline which would be after filing closes March 29.

But there are important dates for election administration that make timely approval of the districts necessary, Schoeller said. Until the results of the April municipal elections are certified, he said, no changes can be made in the mapping used by clerks and election authorities to assign voters to particular districts.

The first date changes can be made, he said, is April 19 and the final date is May 24, eight weeks before the election.

“This process is how we make sure voters get the right ballot on election day,” said Schoeller, who appeared on behalf of the Missouri Association of County Clerks and Election Authorities.

The maps will have to be updated at a busy time, Schoeller noted, with election authorities checking signatures on initiative petitions and updating voter registration rolls.

By the time ballots are printed for the August primary, updated lines must be ready for Missouri House and Senate districts, Congressional districts and county commission districts. 

The General Assembly is responsible for drawing Congressional district boundaries. County commissions adjust the lines between the two associate districts in each non-charter county.

Commission Chairman Jerry Hunter said he is confident that there can be an agreement. The next date for the commission to meet was not decided Monday, but he said he does not want to be working on Jan. 23 to meet the deadline.

Along with Smith, the only other person to comment on the design of districts Monday was Caroline Fan, president and founder of the Missouri Asian American Youth Foundation. She asked the commission to look for ways to draw some districts in the St. Louis area that had relatively high percentages of people of Asian and Pacific Island descent.

“It is not easy to be a person of Asian American background in this state,” Fan said.

About 2.4 percent of the state’s population is Asian or Pacific Island descent, she said, but there are regions of St. Louis County where the share is higher.

For example, she asked that Creve Coeur, which is about 11 percent people of Asian descent, be kept entirely within one district.

“The St. Louis area has two-thirds of the state’s Asian American population, yet we have zero representatives,” Fan said.

There are three members of Asian or Pacific Island descent from the western side of the state, she said.

Of the 26 districts in St. Louis County, 16, including the one that would include Creve Couer, are in dispute. But no decisions have been made about Jackson County.

Smith’s map proposed 18 districts, with six that have majority populations of minority voters, including three that are majority Black. One goal was to have as many majority-minority districts as possible, he said.

He also wants to erase vestiges of past segregation, he said.

“Ours is a segregated city,” Smith said. “There is a long history there and I am not going to go into that. But Troost is considered the color line.”

Smith’s plan received some questioning from the commission. His districts have too many people, they noted, above the constitutional allowance. 

And majority minority, Democratic member Melissa Patterson Hazley, is not the same as majority Black.

“You haven’t given me a compelling reason to cross Troost,” she said.

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Rudi Keller
Rudi Keller

Rudi Keller covers the state budget, energy and the legislature. He’s spent 22 of his 30 years in journalism covering Missouri government and politics, most recently as the news editor of the Columbia Daily Tribune. Keller has won awards for spot news and investigative reporting.

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