Missouri judicial panel considers redistricting plans

Thursday, October 13, 2011 | 10:07 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — A panel of Missouri appeals court judges reviewed maps propped on easels, held up from a table and handed to them Thursday as the commission worked to sort through how to redraw the state's legislative districts.

Lawmakers and others offered their opinions to the six judges, who serve on the state commission now responsible for redistricting. New legislative borders are being developed by the panel of judges because state redistricting commissions with an equal number of Republicans and Democrats deadlocked this summer.

Testifying on Thursday, several people pointed to regional issues such as nearby cities or counties that are aligned and would easily fit within the same district. Some called for protecting districts where most of residents are minorities. Others proposed that competitiveness between Republicans and Democrats be considered.

The judges are expected to complete the map by mid-December for the 163 Missouri House districts and 34 Missouri Senate districts.

Western District Court of Appeals Judge Lisa White Hardwick, the commission chairwoman, said the panel was seeking public comment and was not soliciting feedback for a particular map. She said commission members would decide whether to work off proposals that were submitted or start fresh.

Congressional and state legislative districts are redrawn each decade after the census. Missouri's population has grown by about 7 percent, but the growth has not been equally distributed. The southwest corner of the state and the outer St. Louis suburbs have been among the fastest-growing areas, while St. Louis and St. Louis County have each lost population since 2000.

During the past four decades that Missouri has used its current state legislature redistricting procedures, the judicial commission has drawn the new map for at least one legislative chamber in every cycle. The last time new districts were developed, in 2001, was similar to this year, with the panel of appeals court judges responsible for the House and the Senate.

GOP and Democratic leaders for both redistricting commissions presented proposed maps Thursday to the judicial panel and offered sometimes pointed criticisms of the rival maps. Republicans said they sought to make minimal changes from the current map. The Democratic leader for the Senate redistricting commission said he didn't think small changes would suffice.

Several state lawmakers offered suggestions as well.

Two former lawmakers, Republican Bob Johnson and Democrat Joan Bray, also urged for as many districts as possible to be drawn competitively. They said their proposal would give both parties a shot at winning 45 state House seats and 7 state Senate seats based on previous voting patterns.

Joan Bray, who represented a St. Louis-area district in the House and the Senate, said protecting incumbent lawmakers makes less sense given Missouri's term limits of eight years in each chamber.

"It is important to protect the interests of the people rather than the fleeting career of a legislator," she said.

Serving on the judicial commission are three judges appointed by Democratic governors: Hardwick, Robert G. Dowd Jr. from the Eastern District and Nancy Steffen Rahmeyer from the Southern District. The other three members were appointed by Republican Gov. Matt Blunt: Don E. Burrell Jr. from the Southern District, Roy L. Richter from the Eastern District and James E. Welsh from the Western District.


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