Filibuster continues after Missouri Senate rejects ‘7-1’ redistricting plan

Tuesday morning, Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden offered an amendment that he said was an ‘attempt to bridge the gap’

By: - February 8, 2022 8:03 am

A view of the Missouri Senate chamber from the visitors gallery (photo courtesy of the Missouri Senate).

The Missouri Senate voted down a proposed Congressional map that would have carved up a safe Democratic seat in Kansas City to add another in Republicans’ favor, but the redistricting debate stretched into Tuesday morning as the Senate remained deadlocked.

After hours of internal caucus discussion that stretched late into the afternoon, the Senate gaveled in five hours later than planned Monday, with Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City and chair of the Senate Select Committee on Redistricting, offering a map Monday night that would maintain the districts passed out of the House — but with an emergency clause.

“Our maps were designed to meet the requirements of the Missouri and U.S. Constitution,” Bernskoetter said, “and make sure all the citizens of Missouri are appropriately and fairly represented.”

But by 7:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, senators continued to hold the floor as a filibuster stretched into its 14th hour after numerous quorum calls and two failed motions to adjourn by Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis.

Shortly after 7 a.m., Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, offered a plan that he said was an “attempt to bridge the gap.” It would bolster the GOP’s strength in the 2nd Congressional District, currently represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, by taking in all of Jefferson County, and portions of St. Charles and St. Louis counties. 

Rowden said he had not yet discussed the map with Wagner.

Rowden said his proposal would ultimately result in a stronger 6-2 map that would maintain the current partisan breakdown of Missouri’s Congressional districts: Six Republican and two Democratic districts centered in St. Louis and Kansas City.

“This is our attempt to compromise,” Rowden said, later adding: “I’m going to assume that probably no one is going to be singing and dancing entirely about this map.”

The map was quickly met with disapproval. Sen Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, said he could not support it as the map would not keep Missouri’s military bases in one district and Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, noted that under the proposal she would be written out of the 2nd Congressional District.

“From what I’ve seen so far, this is a work in progress and a very inadequate one,” Onder said of the proposal, adding that not all senators had seen it.

Conservative hardliners had rallied support earlier Monday for a map that would carve up Democratic U.S. Rep Emanuel Cleaver’s district, granting seven Republican-leaning seats.

Nearly five hours into the debate, senators voted down the first proposed 7-1 map offered by Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring. Fourteen Republicans, including Senate leadership, joined 10 Democrats in rejecting the proposal, with members of the Conservative Caucus and Sen. Paul Wieland, R-Imperial, voting in favor.

Eigel was the first to propose an amendment that would draw a 7-1 map that would keep St. Charles County intact in the 2nd Congressional District, currently represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Wagner. It would also split Kansas City between districts, carve Jackson County out of the 5th Congressional District, currently represented by Democratic U.S. Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver, and shift the district’s boundaries. Eigel said his proposed map “remains superior” by every measure he was able to determine.

“I didn’t come here to be an obstructionist,” Eigel said.

The Congressional map discussed Monday evening was the first bill senators have discussed on the Senate floor all session.

Deep fissures between the Republican majority and the Conservative Caucus have repeatedly stalled legislative work in the session’s first month, as conservative senators have held the floor hostage for hours on routine motions, debated rule changes and made clear their opposition to the former state health director’s appointment.

Sen. Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee’s Summit, said the debate was reminiscent of the dynamics that surrounded the renewal of an essential tax on hospitals, nursing homes and pharmacies, known as the federal reimbursement allowance (FRA), last year. Those in opposition to hard-liners’ calls for a 7-1 map were being cast as aiding Democrats, Cierpiot said.

To him, the most important feature of the proposed Congressional map that maintained the districts the House drew was sustainability — noting that in a competitive year, a 7-1 map could sway in favor of Democrats, granting them additional seats. 

What’s more, Cierpiot cautioned that risking a court intervention of a 7-1 map would be taking the process out of lawmakers’ hands — a risk that conservatives who rallied at the Capitol Monday said lawmakers should take regardless.

Onder said supporters of the House-passed map are “determined to shove it down our throats tonight.” He said ahead of Monday’s debate that Rowden had informed members a narrow majority of the GOP Caucus supported the proposed 6-2 map.

“It stinks of the sellout of the Missouri Republican Party and the people who sent us to sit in these chairs,” Onder said of how the redistricting process has played out so far.

Early Tuesday morning, Onder put forth a motion to adjourn the session for the year, which failed by a vote of 25 to one. A subsequent motion to adjourn until next Monday also failed by a vote of 22 against and zero in favor.

Democrats began holding the floor and committee hearings were canceled Tuesday morning as it appeared the debate would still stretch on. For hours, senators had remained on an amendment proposed by Sen. Steven Roberts, D-St. Louis, that he said was a “simple amendment” and would only affect Congressional Districts 1 and 2 and aims to bolster minority representation.

But shortly after its proposal, it appeared some lawmakers were already not in favor.

Eigel said he had incorporated some of those changes in the 7-1 map that had been voted down, but that it would be difficult to support those changes in a vacuum.

“It already meets all the requirements of the Voting Rights Amendment,” Bernskoetter said of the 1st Congressional District under his proposed map. “So it’s going to make the 2nd (Congressional District) worse, I don’t see any reason to do that.”

Sen. Karla May, D-St. Louis, defended the amendment, arguing it would put the state in the right direction to protect a district that can be won by African Americans.

“We have to protect the future and stand here today,” May said, later adding: “It’s a shame we’re still fighting the same fight today that we fought back in 1960 and 1920.”

Lawmakers face the impending candidate filing period, which begins in a little over two weeks on Feb. 22 and lasts through March 29.

Hoskins said earlier Monday afternoon that he believed there was still plenty of time to pass a map, and Onder said he was disappointed a map hadn’t already been drawn, noting other states completed their redistricting processes in special sessions —  a call Gov. Mike Parson declined to make. 

Lawmakers from both parties have expressed their ambivalence to passing an emergency clause, which is necessary for the Congressional districts to be in place ahead of the August primary.

Late last month, nearly all Democratic House members voted down an emergency clause, refusing to give House GOP members the necessary two-thirds majority to add one. Without one, House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said lawmakers may shift the filing deadline, or candidates would simply file in multiple districts.

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Tessa Weinberg
Tessa Weinberg

Tessa Weinberg covered education, health care and the legislature with the Missouri Independent. She previously covered the Missouri statehouse for The Kansas City Star and The Columbia Missourian, where her reporting into social media use by the governor prompted an investigation by the Attorney General’s office. She also covered state government in Texas for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram.