Missouri House pushes ahead on last-chance congressional redistricting plan

Fate of new bill in state Senate is uncertain as General Assembly moves toward Friday adjournment

By: - May 9, 2022 6:46 pm

Rep. Dan Shaul, R-Imperial and chair of the House Special Committee on Redistricting (photo courtesy of Tim Bommel/Missouri House Communications).

The Missouri House on Monday passed a new congressional redistricting map, agreeing to a plan that its sponsor says is intended to appease critics who have blocked previous efforts at agreement.

With a Friday final adjournment looming, the bill debated Monday is a long-shot for passage. Under legislative rules, the first day the Senate could consider the bill on the floor is Wednesday. One potential path to speed the process would be to replace a previous bill that has already passed the House and Senate in different versions but is stuck in a legislative limbo.

“This gives us the best chance to fulfill our constitutional obligation by the end of session,” said Rep. Dan Shaul, R-Imperial, who is sponsoring the redistricting plan. 

Opponents, however, said they liked earlier map proposals.

“This bill gives me heartburn,” said state Rep. Jerome Barnes, D-Raytown. “It is just a last-ditch effort by the majority to salvage a redistricting bill the Senate did not like.”

The bill passed on a 101-47 vote and an emergency clause that would make it effective with Gov. Mike Parson’s signature received 114 votes, five more than needed.

Missouri is one of four states that haven’t finished the redistricting process and the only one where a new map has not passed at all. In the other three — Kansas, New York and New Hampshire — maps have been thrown out by the courts and new efforts are underway to meet the legal objections.

If the session ends Friday without agreement, a map for the state’s eight districts will likely be drawn by a three-judge panel from the federal judiciary. On Monday, U.S. District Judge John Ross ordered the creation of the panel in a lawsuit filed by 2nd District Republican congressional candidate Paul Berry III.

Missouri is entitled to eight seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, and districts must be revised every 10 years after a national census. To be constitutional, the districts must be as nearly equal in population as possible, protect minority representation and be as compact and contiguous as possible.

How the two major political parties would fare in elections in new districts is not a legal requirement but it is the most important factor for many lawmakers.

The first plan, released in December with backing from the Republican leaders of both chambers, essentially kept the partisan breakdown of the state’s delegation unchanged, with six safe Republican districts and two Democratic districts in Kansas City and St. Louis.

That plan, with few changes, passed the House in early February, but ran into unyielding opposition from the seven-member conservative caucus in the state Senate, which demanded changes to make it likely Republicans would also represent the Kansas City area.

After the initial House vote Monday afternoon, complaints again appeared that efforts to pass a “7-1” map were blocked by legislative leaders.

“This is outrageous,” Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, tweeted. “This is second time that (Rep. Nick Schroer) has been denied the opportunity to offer a #7-1 #MAGA Map.”

There are a number of changes that make the latest map passed in the House significantly different from the plan approved in early February:

  • The 2nd District, which currently includes portions of St. Louis, St. Charles and Jefferson counties, would take in a much bigger portion of St. Charles County and add Franklin County and a portion of Warren County.
  • The 4th District, which currently is 24 counties in central and western Missouri, would lose Audrain and Randolph to the 6th District in north Missouri, Cooper, Moniteau and half of Boone counties to the 3rd District while picking up Lafayette and Saline counties from the 5th District and Polk County from the 7th District.
  • The 8th District in southeast Missouri would lose Crawford and Washington counties to the 3rd District and pick up a large portion of Jefferson County now in the 3rd District.

During debate, members who saw their counties split, perhaps for the first time in the state’s history, argued that the map mistreats their constituents.

Rep. David Tyson Smith, D-Columbia, said the new map wasn’t any better than the map passed by the Senate. That map split Boone County on a north-south line that went through the University of Missouri campus. The map approved Monday splits the county on an east-west line that goes through the middle of downtown Columbia.

“This map, especially as it relates to Boone County, is ridiculous,” Smith said.

Opposition to the new proposal wasn’t confined to Democrats. Tension is high among Republicans from southwest Missouri who want to remain in the 7th District.

Currently all of Taney County, with the tourist city of Branson, is in the 7th District and a small portion of Webster County is as well. When a map was proposed as an amendment that would split Taney County, Rep. Brian Seitz, R-Branson, came to his feet.

“Taney County is not a pizza or a piece of cake,” he said, and should not be sliced up.

Rep. John Black, R-Marshfield, argued that Webster County, which is closer to Springfield, the district’s largest city, should not be split.

“The communities of interest of Taney are diluted” by distance from Springfield, Black said.

Time is running out for lawmakers to finish the map and time is running out for local election authorities to assign voters to new congressional districts before the Aug. 2 primary, state Rep. Peggy McGaugh, R-Carrollton said.

The ballot for the primary is supposed to be set as of May 25 and absentee ballots available for overseas military voters by June 17, said McGaugh, who previously was Carroll County clerk.

“Let’s get this done,” McGaugh said. “Let’s do it today. Let’s get this behind us and get to the other things our constituents want done.”

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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.