JEFFERSON CITY — Both the Missouri Senate and House approved a redistricting plan that would eliminate the St. Louis congressional district held by Democratic U.S Rep. Russ Carnahan.
The Senate Redistricting Committee unanimously passed its proposal April 4, followed by the House's 106-53 floor vote April 6. The House was just two votes away from a two-thirds majority needed to supersede a veto by the governor should he choose to do so once the maps are finalized.
The Senate and House committees have each created maps that combine two St. Louis congressional districts into one.
In addition to dissolving Carnahan's district, each map alters the state's district layout by splitting Jefferson County between three congressional districts and by creating a large 6th District that expands across much of the northern part of the state and dips into Jackson County, dividing the county between two districts.
The number of congressional districts among states is based on the population, and it has been frozen at 435 seats for a century. Data from the 2010 census revealed that Missouri's population didn't grow as quickly as other states', so state legislators need to eliminate one of Missouri's nine congressional districts. The goal is to form eight districts with an equal population in each.
The proposal on the table would place Columbia and Boone County in the 4th District, which is represented by Vicky Hartzler, R-Harrisonville. Hartzler defeated longtime 4th District Democratic Rep. Ike Skelton in the November 2010 election.
As proposed, the 4th District would include all or parts of 24 counties, extending into south-central Missouri and all the way to Missouri's western border. Columbia and Boone County have been part of the 9th District, which also includes St. Charles County and the rural counties of northeast Missouri.
The 9th District seat, held by Republican Blaine Luetkemeyer, would become the 3rd District in the new plan and would cede much of its northern territory to the new 6th District.
House Redistricting Committee Chairman Rep. John Diehl, R-St. Louis County, said even though not everyone was happy with the result of the House vote, the redistricting process was fair and the map was the best proposal for the new districts.
"Even with the challenge we faced, we committed to all to complete this process in a fair, open and transparent matter that ensured adequate representation for all Missourians," Diehl said. "The map may not completely satisfy everyone, but it is complete and contiguous."
Senate Redistricting Committee Chairman Sen. Scott Rupp, R-Wentzville, said one of the biggest challenges is trying to come up with an equal population in each district.
"Every single district had to gain population due to the loss of the congressional seat," Rupp said. "Now some districts had to gain far more population; for example, the city of St. Louis in the 1st District had to gain 161,000 people."
According to the Senate committee's proposal, each new district will have a population of about 748,600.
"Our committee's attempt was to make (the districts) equal in population and also to try and make them as contiguous and compact as possible and take into consideration the existing district lines," Rupp said.
Rupp said the committee tried to keep the proposed districts demographically and geographically similar to the current ones, but population shifts were the main influences while creating the map.
"We have found some counties that grew extremely large and some that have lost population, so that did kind of guide the thinking of how to draw these congressional lines," Rupp said.
The House plan will now go to the Senate.Together, both the Senate and the House must submit a finalized district map by the end of the legislative session.
How redrawing the districts works
In order to properly redraw the state's districts, Missouri legislators take part in a two-tiered process: analyzing 2010 census data and applying the required changes at both the congressional and state levels.
Lawmakers in both the House and Senate, with Republican leadership, are responsible for submitting redrawn district maps by May 13.
Diehl and Rupp chair the redistricting committees in their respective chambers and agreed to work together to operate efficiently under what Diehl has called a "time crunch."
Before creating drafts of altered district boundaries, Diehl and Rupp held public hearings across the state to gather citizen opinion on the matter. They held hearings in Poplar Bluff, Springfield, St. Louis County, Kansas City, Mexico and Blue Springs.
In a combined effort, the House and Senate committees are using software that collects census information to break down the population data by county, street and city block to obtain a better view of how Missouri's population is spread across the state, Rupp said.
The committees will submit their plans for maps in the form of legislation that must go through the General Assembly like an ordinary bill before the session ends on May 13. If the bill does not pass by the end of the session, the legislators will have to go into a special session to complete the plan in time for the 2012 election.
While the General Assembly is responsible for forming the new boundaries at the congressional level, bipartisan commissions are responsible for reapportionment on the state level for both House and Senate representation.
Both Republican and Democratic state committees submitted a list of nominees to the governor, who then chose 10 for the Senate commission and 18 for the House commission. Each has an equal ratio of Democrats to Republicans.
Notable figures on the House commissions include former Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell and former ambassador to Luxembourg Ann Wagner. In the Senate commission are former assistant attorney general John Borbonus and Springfield lawyer Joe Passanise.
Each commission has until September to submit new district maps to the Missouri secretary of state. Otherwise the courts will decide new district lines. The task also can be given over to a commission of appellate court judges if one or both commissions fail to agree on how the state-level districts should be redrawn.
Keeping it fair
Six Republicans and three Democrats hold Missouri's nine congressional seats now. Although both committee chairmen are Republicans, the process has included people from both parties.
Rep. Ron Casey, D-Crystal City, is a member of the House redistricting committee. He said early in the process that he has faith in the group's efforts.
"Chairman Diehl cautioned us from the very beginning to keep an open mind," Casey said. "I'm very pleased with the committee. I think it's going to be a fair and honest hearing, and I have no heartburn at all concerning the process so far."
Each time districts are redrawn on both levels, constituents express concerns about the imminent changes. Casey said some constituents have urged the commission to keep representation area-appropriate.
"They say that congresspeople do best at dealing with what is their known quality," Casey said. "If they're a rural community they want to be left rural. They don't want a congressman who is urban representing the rural districts. They really want their own."
Because of term limits, Casey has never been involved in redistricting before, but he said he has felt the results of the process on the state level.
"The counties want to be left together. (For example), our county executive for Jefferson County, Ken Waller, asked that Jefferson County not be divided so that when he goes to the bargaining table with the federal authorities he can represent to his congressmen the entire county," Casey said. "I know that's not going to hold true because we have to match it by population numbers."
Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, vice chair of the House redistricting committee, addressed the controversial nature of redrawing boundaries.
"It's certainly problematic when you have nine congressional districts shrinking to eight," Cox said. "Obviously there's going to be at least one, if not more, incumbent members of Congress that are shoved into some of the same districts, and that by nature will be controversial."
Casey, however, said he has been impressed with Diehl's fairness.
"There has been nothing said that would lead me to believe that the table has been tilted one way or another, and I'm very appreciative of that," he said. "I believe all cards are on the table, and they're laying face down, and as we (continue to) rearrange them and turn them over I'm (continually) impressed with the process."
Rupp said he intends to keep partisan politics out of the process and focus on representation for constituents.
"We're walking into this without any predetermined outcome," he said. "We're just going to draw the map that represents 'one person, one vote' in Congress and in a fair and equitable manner and make them as contiguous and compact as possible and see how they come out."