WHAT OTHERS SAY: Once again, case to fix Missouri's redistricting process is made

Monday, February 27, 2012 | 10:41 a.m. CST

Tuesday might be one of the zaniest days on Missouri's political calendar in a very long time.

That's the day that you or your neighbors can head to the James C. Kirkpatrick Information Center in Jefferson City, plop down $50, $100 or $200, and file your intention to seek a public office.

Filing Day generally is filled with emotion and patriotism. Fathers watch their sons follow in their footsteps, husbands proudly stand by as their wives enter the public arena, ordinary folks rub elbows with governors and senators, who for one day, at least, stand in the same line.

But this year, if you plan to seek office, there's a problem.

Missouri's elected officials and political operatives have so massively messed up the decennial redistricting process in which political boundaries are redrawn to fit population shifts that nobody knows which seat to file for.

The congressional map is awaiting a ruling by the Missouri Supreme Court on the question of whether some of its clearly gerrymandered lines fit a constitutional definition of "compactness." The state House map is also in court. The state Senate map, having already been tossed out as unconstitutional, has been redrawn. The new map might face yet another challenge.

The problem with all of these maps is the same. In Missouri, in Illinois and in nearly every state in the nation except Iowa, the redistricting process is run by incumbent elected officials with the sole purpose of drawing political boundaries that protect "their" seats.

That's why when the state's reapportionment committee released new maps this week that put Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, in a different district, and turned the swing district of Sen. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay, into one that leans Democratic, the two senators became overwrought.

Their issue wasn't that the boundaries didn't represent the community. Their issue was that the boundaries took away what they both saw as their entitlement.

Here's a fact: The seats do not belong to the politicians. They belong to the people. And the people need to take back their process.

Only Iowa produces maps that are based on communities of interest, not politics. That is the system that should be adopted in any state that wants to reduce divisiveness in politics and produce a system that doesn't protect incumbency at all costs. The Iowa system, built into its state constitution, does not allow politicians to arbitrarily draw crooked lines to keep them in power.

The proof of Missouri's broken system is in the politics of the state. Look at the House and Senate, and it would appear the Show-Me State is deeply red, with overwhelming Republican control of both state chambers. But our statewide officials are mostly Democrats. And our two U.S. senators are, by today's standards, relative moderates.

The National Journal published this week a ranking of all U.S. senators based on their 2011 votes, in terms of both liberal and conservative ideology. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, was right down the middle, ranking 50 out of 100 on the liberal scale and 51 on the conservative scale. Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican, wasn't significantly different, ranking 40 on the conservative scale and 61 on the liberal scale.

Missouri's statewide electorate is fairly balanced. Its elected delegations should be, too.

A reformed redistricting process would make this more likely.

Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.

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