From its early days of gathering signatures in the beginning of 2018 to the final week of the 2019 legislative session, Clean Missouri has been at the center of public, legislative and judicial debate.
And that’s not going to change as lawmakers begin the 2020 legislative session on Wednesday.
The Clean Missouri initiative petition passed with 62% of the vote in November 2018 and changed the Missouri constitution to:
- Limit lobbyist gifts to lawmakers to $5 or less.
- Require state legislators to wait two years after leaving office before they can become a lobbyist.
- Tighten limits on campaign contributions legislators can accept.
- Require state legislators to abide by Missouri’s open-records law.
- Drastically change the process and criteria for drawing state legislative districts and create a “nonpartisan state demographer” position to carry out the task.
When the amendment passed, however, legislators were not done with the debate.
In March 2019, some lawmakers proposed resolutions to alter or repeal the portion that most troubles some of them: the redistricting changes.
Clean Missouri changesPrior to the passing of Clean Missouri, legislative district maps were to be drawn by separate House and Senate independent citizens commissions appointed by the governor.
In the Senate, the Republican and Democratic parties would each nominate 10 people to serve on the commission. Then, the governor would select five of each party’s nominees for the Senate commission.
Similarly, House Republicans and Democrats would nominate two people for each of Missouri’s eight congressional districts, and the governor would select one of the two for a 16-person House commission.
These commissions only had to consider equal population, whether the land is contiguous and compactness when drawing the districts.
“That was a process that had not only individuals from across party lines but from all three branches of government trying to draw the fairest districts possible,” Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, said.
Amendment 1 designated a “nonpartisan state demographer” to take on the task. In the new system, the partisan-appointed state auditor is to present a list of qualified applicants to the Senate majority and minority leaders for approval. If they agree, the demographer will be selected through a random lottery.
When creating the map, this chosen person then has to consider six criteria:
Districts should still be equal in population..
Districts should not marginalize minority communities in the political process.
The overall map of districts should promote “partisan fairness and competitiveness.”
Districts should be contiguous.
Districts should follow political subdivisions as much as possible (county lines, city lines, etc.).
Districts should be “compact in form.”
Some Clean Missouri opponents take issue with language in the amendment that requires the demographer to consider “partisan fairness and competitiveness” before contiguity and compactness.
Eigel said he believes the changes would create a redistricting process that would be influenced by partisan politics.
“The Clean Missouri initiative that was passed by the people last year probably suffered from one of the most dishonest public political campaigns that I’ve ever seen in my time in politics,” Eigel said. “This was sold to the public as an ethics bill to try to clean up and provide accountability but was actually a cover that was designed to hijack our redistricting process and move us from a system that had wide input from multiple sources ... to a process that’s primarily controlled by one partisan-elected statewide position.”
Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, said the push by Republicans to repeal Clean Missouri is a gerrymandering attempt that would put them “in a position to redraw maps that benefit the majority party,” or the Republican party.
“What it comes down to is the majority party is afraid of losing power within the redistricting process,” Kendrick said.
“The Clean Missouri process allows for more fair and impartial redistricting to happen ... it’s better for the democracy.”
2019 proposalsIn the 2019 legislative session, six resolutions were presented to either change or repeal the amendment’s redistricting changes:
- (Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan).
- (Rep. Phil Christofanelli, R-St. Peters).
- (Rep. Curtis Trent, R-Springfield).
- (Rep. Jeff Pogue, R-Salem).
- (Rep. Dean Plocher, R-St. Louis).
Each resolution would have amended the constitution and sent the issue back to the voters, which is required when changing the constitution.
HJR 48 was combined with other legislation and made it the furthest, passing through the House in late April. The resolution would have replaced the “nonpartisan state demographer” with the original House and Senate commissions, reversing the changes made through Amendment 1.
In order to be sent back to the voters in future elections, the resolution would need to be passed by the Senate as well. This, however, did not happen before the 2019 session concluded.
Most Democratic legislators support the Clean Missouri redistricting changes. Marc Powers, spokesperson for the House Democrats, said only one Democrat — Rep. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis — voted for HJR 48 when it passed through the House in 2019.
Kendrick said he finds efforts to push for majority control “extremely frustrating.”
“It doesn’t lead to good outcomes,” Kendrick said. “And in fact, it has led to more partisan divide and a greater divide in communities.”
What about 2020?
The issue will continue to be a focus of the 2020 legislative session.
“I expect the Republicans will be interested in pushing something, a joint resolution to put the question back before the people and dress language up that makes it look like it would be a bipartisan commission,” Kendrick said.
And Republican legislators have, in fact, begun to bring back the issue. Beginning in early December, legislators began filing proposals for potential discussion in the next legislative session. Four legislators have filed resolutions that would accomplish similar things to those proposed in the 2019 regular session.
“We’re trying to go through this process to identify a better method and a better process to put in front of the Missouri people,” Eigel said.
Trent prefiled HJR 76, which includes the same alterations as HJR 48, which was passed by the House in 2019.
Eigel prefiled SJR 54 with only slight changes from the SJR 23 he proposed in 2019. Eigel’s resolution would remove the “nonpartisan state demographer” position and put control over the redistricting process back in the hands of the House and Senate commissions.
Eigel also suggests the “partisan fairness and competitiveness” consideration should be considered the last priority, below priorities like equal population of districts, contiguity and preserving the community interest.
“Partisan fairness — not only is that very possibly a subjective term, but I don’t like the idea of creating districts based on party affiliation,” Eigel said. “I think that’s a bad way to go and that will actually lead to gerrymandering.”
Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, and Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina, prefiled SJR 38 and SJR 49, respectively. Both resolutions, like Eigel’s, would leave the redistricting responsibility to the commissions. (Hegeman is the uncle of reporter Lillie Hegeman).
Hegeman’s and O’Laughlin’s resolutions, however, have a few distinctions from Eigel’s.
Although the “partisan fairness and competitiveness” criteria is still the bottom priority, SJRs 38 and 49 both give higher precedence to the criteria of ensuring that districts are not marginalizing minority communities in the political process and drawing the districts in a way that would follow political divisions as closely as possible. Both Hegeman and O’Laughlin suggest that following such divisions would help preserve communities.
SJRs 38 and 49 would add a new limitation on the process of challenging the redistricting plan. “Only an eligible Missouri voter who sustains an individual injury by virtue of residing in a district that exhibits the alleged violation and whose injury is remedied by a differently drawn district, shall have standing,” according to the resolutions. Any action would need to be filed in Cole County Circuit Court.
None of these resolutions are guaranteed to make it to a floor vote in the upcoming session, but Democrats plan to defend the amendment if it is discussed.
“I’m sure for the Republicans, they’re going to try to push this issue to try to repeal the Clean Missouri ballot initiative,” Rep. Martha Stevens, D-Columbia, said. “But, I know that the Democratic caucus will fight very hard to ensure that the voice of the voters is upheld.”
If these resolutions pass both the House and the Senate, the issue will come to another public vote.
Further discussionEigel said he thinks there will not only be continued discussion of the Clean Missouri initiative, but there will also be further discussion about the initiative petition process in general. There have been complaints from all sides that the process can be dominated by special interest groups with large funding.
Supervising editor is Mark Horvit.