Missouri congressional redistricting battle shifts focus to bolstering GOP seat in St. Louis area

Republican and Democratic Senate leaders say the push to flip KC-area seat to GOP is losing momentum

By: - January 27, 2022 2:56 pm

A few stragglers collect their papers in the Missouri Senate after the body adjourned four hours ahead of the constitutional deadline on May 14, 2021 (Rudi Keller/Missouri Independent).

Differences over a new map for Missouri’s eight congressional districts have narrowed to how to design three districts in the St. Louis area, Republican leaders of the Missouri Senate said Thursday.

During a news conference that capped a week of continuing rancor in GOP ranks, Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz and Majority Leader Caleb Rowden said the debate among Republicans is now over how to make the 2nd Congressional District, currently represented by Republican Ann Wagner, more secure.

“We are very near a conclusion of how this thing is going to get out of our chamber and get to the governor’s desk,” Rowden said.

Democratic leaders, meanwhile, said they will continue to push for a map that gives them a chance to pick up a third seat in the delegation.

“We have a 60-40 electoral split in Missouri and that’s why I think we should have a 5-3 map,” said Assistant Minority Leader Brian Williams of University City.

Senate leaders had intended to bring the House-passed congressional map to a vote Wednesday. But the plan was quickly derailed when members of the conservative caucus took control of the floor before the chamber could even entertain a motion to bring the map up for debate.

Missouri has sent six Republicans and two Democrats to the U.S. House in every election since 2012, after the state lost a seat because its population did not match growth nationally. Only the 1st District, with Rep. Cori Bush of St. Louis, and the 5th District, held by Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Kansas City, are in Democratic hands.

With control of the U.S. House hinging on whether Republicans can pick up five or more seats in this year’s elections, legislators across the country are working to find advantage for their party in the new districts resulting from the 2020 census.

In Kansas, a map that splits the Kansas City, Kansas, area in an effort to give the GOP all four of the state’s seats is awaiting action by Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat. 

In Illinois, where Democrats control the legislature and the governor’s office, the new map seems likely to eliminate two Republican seats.

Wagner has represented the 2nd Congressional District since 2013, and how large a margin to provide for Republicans in order to hold that seat in the future is one of the remaining questions, Rowden said.

While members of the conservative caucus have pushed for a map that carves up the Kansas City area to make it possible to take Cleaver’s seat, Rowden has responded with warnings that it makes the margins too thin for Wagner and potentially other Republicans as well.

The negotiations have progressed, he said, but exactly what opponents of the House’s plan want is unclear, with some pushing for putting all of Republican St. Charles County in the 2nd District and others wanting to keep it split to provide GOP votes in the 3rd District.

“One of the problems for them is that they are not necessarily in agreement about what they want,” Rowden said.

Democrats will fight any attempt to redraw Cleaver’s district into a Republican seat, said Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo of Independence.

“Carving up Kansas city is an idea with no support pushed by people with no support,” he said. “They are burning a lot of bridges on their way to failure next week.”

Rowden has become the target of advocates for a map that gives Republicans seven seats, with his office deluged with calls about the redistricting fight. Former Gov. Eric Greitens, who is now running for U.S. Senate, has pushed for the 7-1 map and highlighted the fight with Rowden.

At the news conference, Rowden said he’s not concerned about what Greitens has to say.

Greitens, elected in 2016, resigned in June 2018 as he faced felony charges stemming from allegations that he threatened to release a nude photograph of the woman — taken while she was blindfolded and her hands were bound — if she ever spoke publicly about the emotionally and physically abusive relationship.

The Missouri House was investigating Greitens and seemed likely to make him the first governor ever to be impeached.

“Former Gov. Greitens or anybody else who wants to weigh into this process, he clearly could have, had he not quit,” Rowden said. “He could also understand the nuance of how we do what we do but he was never very good at that when he was here, either. I care very little for the opinion of anyone who left office in disgrace the way he did.”

The calls are also coming in large numbers to Democrats’ offices, Rizzo said.

They appear to be generated by a paid campaign, Rizzo said, and many of the callers are angry. It is more about the advantage to be gained by controlling the Republican Party than the immediate issue of congressional districts, he added.

“It is about what type of party are they going to be?” he said. “Are they going to be a sort of a death and destruction party or are they going to be the old country club Republican Party of the Reagan era?”

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Rudi Keller
Rudi Keller

Rudi Keller covers the state budget and the legislature. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, he spent 22 of his 32 years in journalism covering Missouri government and politics for the Columbia Daily Tribune, where he won awards for spot news and investigative reporting.