As lawmakers officially kicked off the process of redrawing the state’s congressional districts on Monday, the continued divide among Republicans over whether to go after Kansas City’s Democratic seat was on display.
GOP legislative leadership has proposed a map that preserves the congressional delegation’s current partisan breakdown, with two Democratic seats — centered on St. Louis and Kansas City — and six Republican seats.
Members of the Senate conservative caucus, along with a few other elected officials, have pushed for the legislature to rework U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver’s Kansas City-based seat to make it more likely Republicans could capture it.
Joining the ranks of those pushing for a 7-1 GOP map during a public hearing Monday afternoon was Susan Klein, executive director of Missouri Right to Life.
“Pro-life Missourians, as well as Republicans across the state, are asking for you to draw a congressional map that is 7-1,” Klein said, suggesting Republicans add wide swaths of rural Missouri into Cleaver’s district.
The state’s largest anti-abortion organization joining the debate over redistricting is only the latest twist in what’s quickly becoming the most contentious debate of the 2022 legislative session.
Lawmakers usually draw congressional maps a year before they are to be implemented. But a delay in U.S. Census numbers due to COVID-19 pushed the process back.
Further complicating any effort to dramatically rework the map was Gov. Mike Parson’s refusal to call a special session in the fall to focus on redistricting.
The governor also recently appointed two members of the Missouri House to jobs in his administration, lowering the GOP majority below the two-thirds needed to approve an emergency clause.
An emergency clause would be needed for the maps to go into place before the August primary. Without a supermajority, Republicans will need Democrats’ help to pass that emergency clause.
Republican lawmakers supporting the 6-2 map hammered that point home repeatedly on Monday, expressing concern that by going after a 7-1 map they could end up turning over the redistricting process to the courts.
“I’m with you on wanting a 7-1 map,” state Rep. Travis Fitzwater, R-Holts Summit, said to Klein on Monday. “But if we don’t get an emergency clause, how does this play out?”
Klein argued Parson should immediately call a special session to run concurrently with the regular session, something he could do in order to get around the emergency clause issue.
“We have a Republican governor,” Klein said. “We should be fighting for Republican representation.”
Kelli Jones, spokeswoman for the governor’s office, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Fitzwater said Monday he has heard no indication the governor is considering calling a special session. And Rep. Dan Shaul, R-Imperial and chairman of the House redistricting committee, said the ship may have already sailed on that idea.
“The timeline for a special session has pretty much come and gone,” Shaul said.
There was also concern expressed Monday that a 7-1 map would run into issues in the Missouri Senate, where GOP leaders and the conservative caucus have been at odds for most of the last year. Additionally, Democrats would probably filibuster.
“A 7-1 map would not be representative of the state of Missouri,” said Rep. Jerome Barnes, D-Raytown. “When we draw these maps, they need to be fair.”
With the legislative process officially underway — Shaul said the redistricting committee will vote on a map on Wednesday — both sides are working to sway lawmakers.
That includes Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, who came out publicly for a 7-1 map late last year and has been vigorously lobbying lawmakers on the idea since the 2022 session began last week.
“Though the secretary cannot introduce or vote on legislation, he is always interested in promoting ideas that better represent Missouri,” said JoDonn Chaney, Ashcroft’s spokesman.
Shaul said the map presented Monday, which has a 6-2 breakdown, is “just a starting point.”
While the pressure to enact a 7-1 map has grown in recent weeks, some in legislative leadership have been just as adamant that pursuing that option would be a mistake.
Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, warned in an interview with St. Louis Public Radio last week that the effort to enact a heavily GOP map could backfire.
“Anyone who’s pushing a 7-1 map has to be very, very understanding,” he said, “that 7-1 could turn into 5-3, you know, fairly quickly.”
This article by Jason Hancock is published by permission of The Missouri Independent.