JEFFERSON CITY — Newly proposed state Senate districts endorsed by a bipartisan commission landed with a thud Thursday in the Senate. Lawmakers affected by the map denounced it as an "atrocity" and "travesty."
Frustration over the new Senate boundaries was so intense that several Republican senators blocked a vote on a bill delaying next week's scheduled start of candidacy filing, adding to the legal uncertainties of Missouri's 2012 election cycle. The bill to delay candidacy filing was intended to allow enough time for new districts to be established before people file for office.
Filing starts Tuesday and ends March 27. The newly proposed Senate map — agreed upon early Thursday morning — cannot take effect by next week, because the state constitution first requires a 15-day public comment period.
Opposition was strongest to the proposed Senate districts from St. Louis-area Republicans.
The new Senate districts crafted by the redistricting commission places Republican Senators Jane Cunningham and Brian Nieves into the 26th District that covers Franklin County and part of St. Louis County, and it leaves limited opportunities for Cunningham to find a new Senate district. Cunningham, who faces re-election this year, called the map a "travesty." She said she is not ruling out any option, which could include running in a state Senate primary or seeking statewide or federal office. She also did not reject the possibility of a legal challenge.
Republican Sen. Jim Lembke said the redistricting plan left the St. Louis region with six seats favorable to Democrats and just a single GOP-leaning district. He said the redistricting plan is unacceptable and urged the redistricting commission to reconsider its decision.
The map "is an atrocity for the people that we represent," he said.
Republican Sen. Eric Schmitt also said the proposed map had wrongly stripped the St. Louis area of a district.
A 10-member state redistricting commission reached a deal over new boundaries for Missouri's 34 Senate districts after a 13-hour marathon session that concluded around 12:30 a.m. Thursday. Most of the discussions were held behind closed doors. Ultimately, the commission approved its tentative plan 8-2 with one Republican and one Democrat voting against it. The tentative map will now be submitted to the secretary of state's office and, after the public comment period, must come before the redistricting commission for final approval, which requires seven votes.
Keeping the current candidate filing period could increase chances for a lawsuit. State legislative districts are redrawn each decade based on the most recent census. The number of Senate districts does not change, but the boundaries must be adjusted to account for population shifts, such as growth in southwestern Missouri and the outer St. Louis suburbs and declines in St. Louis County and the city.
Lawmakers adjourned for the weekend. The sponsor of the candidate filing measure Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, said he agreed to delay action on the bill Thursday because more time is needed. Parson said it still is possible to delay candidate filing by passing a bill Monday, but without changes to the proposed Senate districts, "it's going to be a tough scenario on that."
The Senate map released Thursday was the second attempt by a bipartisan redistricting commission to draw districts following the 2010 census.
Last year, a redistricting panel deadlocked and failed to agree on a new map. A special panel of appellate judges then handled the task. But the Missouri Supreme Court rejected the map in January, and the process restarted from scratch.
The Senate districts are not the only legislative districts in flux. The Supreme Court twice has considered lawsuits challenging new congressional districts enacted by the Republican-controlled legislature, and the high court has scheduled arguments Monday in a lawsuit challenging the new districts for the 163-member Missouri House.
Speaking before criticism blew in from the legislature, members of the redistricting commission said their plan required significant compromise.
Former Democratic lawmaker Doug Harpool, the chairman of the redistricting commission, said compromise was particularly necessary in St. Louis County, Clay County near Kansas City, the Bootheel and Boone County, which is home to MU.
"There will be people in both parties disappointed, but there is no way to get a map and please everybody," Harpool said.
Republican Cole County Commissioner Marc Ellinger, vice chairman of the redistricting panel, said the St. Louis metropolitan area had been challenging. He said the commission's job is to develop a fair plan.
"It's a compromise. It's not the best for anybody," Ellinger said.