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 As redistricting filibuster resumes, women senators decry ‘self serving’ debate

After the conservative caucus once again hijacked proceedings in the Missouri Senate Wednesday afternoon over the state’s redistricting plan, a bipartisan group of women senators denounced what they called the “purely political” way the debate has played out so far.

Sen. Elaine Gannon, R-De Soto, took to the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon and declared it was time for the 11 women of the Senate to “step up to the plate and say what we want to say.”

A succession of both Democratic and Republican women senators decried the intraparty fighting among the GOP and how members of the conservative caucus have cast fellow Republicans who don’t support a 7-1 map as aiding Democrats.

“This last week, to me, has been the most self-serving kind of work that I’ve ever seen, “ said Sen. Karla Eslinger, R-Wasola.

Their sentiments were echoed by Gov. Mike Parson’s spokeswoman Kelli Jones, who wrote on Twitter: “Once again, it’s the Missouri Senate’s women who restore common sense. It’s about time we stop tip-toeing around a few men’s fragile egos.”

Wednesday marked the third day that senators had deliberated how to redraw Missouri’s Congressional map. Despite a 31-hour filibuster that began Monday evening, by Wednesday lawmakers were back to where they had started with the House-passed version that would maintain Missouri’s current partisan breakdown.

The 11 women senators’ takeover of the debate Wednesday was yet another example of the bipartisan collaboration the group has tried to foster since last year after they came together to find a compromise to renew an essential tax on hospitals, nursing homes and pharmacies, known as the federal reimbursement allowance (FRA).

The women, who call themselves “The Eleven” in reference to the largest number of women senators ever serving at one time, identified improving literacy rates as a key policy goal they hoped to accomplish. It was part of the basis that inspired a recently published children’s book they collaborated on that shares the stories of the 36 women who have ever served in the Senate.

Sen. Sandy Crawford, R-Buffalo, said versions of a 7-1 map have not been the focus of behind-the-scenes negotiations she’s been party to, and that rather the focus has been on crafting a strong 6-2 map that would shore up Republican U.S. Rep Ann Wagner’s 2nd Congressional District.

“Voting for a 7-1 map doesn’t get you to heaven. Accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior does,” Crawford said, in response to a message she received telling her she would go to hell if she didn’t support a 7-1 map.

Crawford said she voted against a 7-1 map offered Monday by Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, because it paired rural Pettis County with the second-most populous Jackson County, and that the map would balance “on the back of the rural communities.”

Sen. Holly Thompson Rehder, R-Sikeston, rebuked the way members of the conservative caucus have “assassinated” the characters of fellow Republicans, by casting those who don’t support a 7-1 map as passing a “Nancy Pelosi map.” She echoed concerns raised that a 7-1 map may eventually cede a seat to Democrats in later years.

“I’m not okay with eating steak today and every year after that eating Hamburger Helper,” Thompson Rehder said.

Sen. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City, said that while she personally felt a 5-3 map more accurately represented the direction Missouri was going, that she believed common ground could still be found.

“I believe in the women of the Senate to find a path forward,” Arthur said, later adding: “We need to finally put this to bed and to move onto other things that are going to have a more direct impact on the people that we represent.”  

The 31-hour filibuster ended just after midnight Wednesday, and hours later when the Senate reconvened at noon Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, was quick to throw a wrench in the proceedings. He began offering amendments to the Senate journal before the proposed Congressional maps could be formally brought up for debate.

Onder questioned whether Senate Republican leadership would be willing to employ a rarely used move against fellow GOP senators to cut off debate, and both Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden and Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz did not rule out the possibility.

“I’m not sure anything is off the table,” Rowden said.

Last month, the Senate voted to raise the threshold from five signatures to 10 in order for a signed petition to “call the previous question.” If 18 senators agree to deploy the seldom-used move, then debate is cut off and a vote is immediately held on the underlying bill. 

But as Onder decried the potential use of procedural moves to stymie debate, Schatz railed on the dozens of quorum calls that have been deployed over the course of the past three days that he said have interrupted negotiations.

Onder in particular has repeatedly issued quorum calls, which require a majority of senators, many at this point who are trying to catch up on sleep, to make an appearance on the Senate floor. If a quorum is not reached, then the Senate immediately adjourns.

“It’s complete and total ridiculous nonsense when we’re working to get a solution,” Schatz said.

Sen. Steven Roberts, D-St. Louis, also said the House-passed maps were “not acceptable” to him, and argued his amendments “a lot of them are basic points of compromise.”

On Tuesday, an amendment offered by Roberts that would alter the 1st and 2nd Congressional Districts and boost minority representation was withdrawn over a drafting error shortly after Rowden’s proposal for a 6-2 map was tacked on by a vote of 22 to 5.

Onder ultimately held the floor for roughly three hours Wednesday, where he raised past fissures with Senate leadership and said dozens of proposed maps have been repeatedly shot down during behind-the-scenes discussion. Sen. Rick Brattin, a Harrisonville Republican who is running for Congress, indicated that moving forward with the House-passed version was raised as the path forward after discussions fell apart.

As of 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, the proposed Congressional maps had still not been formally brought up on the floor to be discussed, as Eigel returned to hold the Senate floor and began reading aloud from “The Conservative Heart” by Arthur C. Brooks to kill time.

Fellow senators held the floor by reading other books, song lyrics and emails from people supporting their cause. Among the songs read aloud by Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, was Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood,” with the line: “Now we got problems, and I don’t think we can solve ’em.”

Less than two hours later, the Senate adjourned until Thursday morning.

“This really isn’t supposed to be a partisan process,” said Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City and chair of the Senate Select Committee on Redistricting. “It’s supposed to be a reflection of our state.”

Rep. Dan Shaul, an Imperial Republican and chair of the House Special Committee on Redistricting, said his focus had been doing everything he could to ensure the Senate passes the House’s map.

“I think at the end of the day they will realize it is a good map for the state of Missouri, a sustainable map for the state of Missouri,” he said, “and one they should consider voting for.”

This article by Tessa Weinberg is published from The Missouri Independent, whose Rudi Keller contributed. The Associated Press also contributed.

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