An impasse on lines for Missouri’s eight congressional districts broke Thursday when the Missouri Senate approved a proposal that is likely to produce no changes in the partisan makeup of the state’s delegation.
The issue stymied the Senate for weeks as the seven-member conservative caucus sought to win support for a map likely to give Republicans another seat. The GOP currently holds six of the eight districts, with Democrats representing the 1st and 5th Districts in the urban centers of St. Louis and Kansas City.
Entire weeks went by where little of substance occurred in the chamber or in committee rooms.
In the end, members of the caucus had to accept that they had only achieved minor goals – keeping the state’s military bases in the same district and adding a few reliable GOP votes to the 2nd District – but had otherwise failed.
“We are disappointed that we couldn’t deliver on a 7-1 map we have been talking about since before the session started,” said Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Springs.
Passage Thursday means it is possible for the map to be put into effect before filing for this year’s August primary closes at 5 p.m. Tuesday. The Senate voted 22-10 to approve the plan, offered to replace the House-passed version by Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, then voted 30-2 to make the bill effective with Gov. Mike Parson’s signature.
Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City and chairman of the Senate Redistricting Committee, said during floor debate that he hadn’t anticipated the difficulty of winning approval for a plan.
“I never believed that keeping the districts 80% the same would cause a ruckus,” Bernskoetter said. “The disappointing thing to me is we never got a chance to vote on any of the maps I proposed.”
In the vote on the bill, 17 Republicans and five Democrats voted in favor and five Republicans and five Democrats were opposed. The vote Thursday came more than two months after the Missouri House passed its version of the proposal. The Senate map isn’t a slam dunk when the House reconvenes on Monday, said Rep. Dan Shaul, an Imperial Republican and sponsor of the House plan.
It will be up to the Republican caucus to decide whether to seek a vote or ask the Senate for changes, Shaul said.
“People are going to have to look at the map and see how it treats their constituents,” he said.
The goal of a map is to produce eight districts with populations as close as possible to the ideal of 769,364. The plan must protect minority representation, and districts are supposed to be as compact and contiguous as possible.
There are no legal requirements for partisan fairness in the design of the maps. The term gerrymandering describes districts drawn to bring voters together who are likely to support one party over its competition.
The information provided with Koenig’s plan shows that five districts are heavily Republican, producing GOP majorities of 59 percent or more of the vote in the 2016 and 2020 presidential and 2018 U.S. Senate elections. Two, the 1st District in St. Louis and the 5th District in Kansas City, were heavily Democratic, with 81.6% and 65.8%, respectively, in the 2018 Senate election.
The 2nd District has the closest partisan split. The redesigned district changed from including parts of St. Louis and St. Charles counties to having much less of St. Charles County and adding Iron, Crawford, St. Francois from the 8th District and a large portion of Franklin County. It had a 50.9% Republican majority for Sen. Josh Hawley in 2018, with somewhat larger GOP votes for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020.
At some point in the next decade, Senate Democratic Leader John Rizzo said, the 2nd District could be won by a Democrat.
“I would argue that probably is the seat most likely or give us the ability to challenge it,” he said.
Along with moving counties for the 2nd District, other significant shifts in the Senate map from the current districts are:
- Audrain, Carroll, Chariton, Monroe, Randolph and Ray move from the 4th District to the 6th District. There is much less of Jackson County in the 6th District.
- Most of Boone County, along with Cooper and Moniteau counties, move from the 4th District to the 3rd District. The 3rd District also picks up Crawford County from the 8th District and loses the eastern portion of Franklin County and the northern part of Jefferson County.
- Laclede, Wright and Pulaski counties move from the 8th District to the 4th District, as does Dade County from the 7th District.
- All of Jefferson County is included in the 8th District.
The map produced in the Senate is likely to have critics in the House, Shaul warned. The bill sent to the Senate received 86 votes, just four more than enough for passage.
“We are going to have to count some votes carefully,” he said.
He said he had some issues but didn’t want to decide Thursday whether he would accept it, Shaul said.
“Compact and contiguous doesn’t seem to have been as high a priority with their map,” he said.
The split of Boone County means two already-filed congressional candidates, state Rep. Sara Walsh and former Boone County Clerk Taylor Burks, would no longer live in the 4th District they aspire to represent.
Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, a Columbia Republican who had also considered the race, said the residence of candidates played no role in designing the maps. He accepted a split in his home county, rapidly growing with more than 180,000 people, for the first time in the state’s history as an example to the Senate, he said.
“The blessings and curses of being in this position is that sometimes you’ve got to put your money where your mouth is in order to get something done,” Rowden said.
The split also made the map possible, he said. Putting all of Jefferson County, with its 200,000 people, in the 8th District meant that the deficit in the 3d District had to be made up somewhere.
“It is absolutely a map that a lot of people don’t love,” Rowden said, “which was the only way this thing was going to get done.”
This article by Rudi Keller is published by permission of The Missouri Independent.