JEFFERSON CITY — Missourians are once again being asked to vote on a redistricting plan and ethics reform.
After months of debate, lawmakers agreed to put what Republicans are calling “Cleaner Missouri” and some Democrats call “Dirty Missouri” on the ballot in November.
House members voted 98-56 in favor of the measure, with some Republicans — including two from Boone County — siding with the opposition.
Senate Joint Resolution 38, sponsored by Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, would undo changes made to the state’s redistricting process that were approved by voters in the 2018 election for what was known as the Clean Missouri amendment. It would also eliminate lobbyist gifts and further limit campaign contributions.
Statewide in 2018, 62% of Missourians who voted cast their ballots in support of Clean Missouri.
Supporters of the new ballot measure argued that the original constitutional amendment was not transparent enough to voters and that they did not understand how they were changing the redistricting process. They say the new process is not nonpartisan and that Clean Missouri changed the emphasis on drawing districts that are compact and instead prioritizes partisan fairness.
Some Democrats argued that supporters of going back to voters did so out of fear of losing some of their seats in the legislature.
Rep. Dean Plocher, R-St. Louis, called Clean Missouri the “epitome of gerrymandering,” by putting the power to pick the state demographer in the hands of a partisan auditor, who is currently a Democrat. Plocher also criticized the lack of criteria in Amendment 1 outlining the requirements for a state demographer.
A key source of criticism directed at the new resolution is the change it makes from districts drawn on the basis of total population, which is how districts are drawn at the federal level and throughout Missouri’s history, to districts drawn on the basis of “one person, one vote.” Critics fear this could mean that some people wouldn’t be counted when considering population size for each district, cutting out children and those who are not citizens. That could have a disproportionate impact on city districts that tend to vote Democrat, they say.
Although the measure was passed, it wasn’t strictly along party lines.
Most of the Boone County delegation voted against putting the measure on the ballot.
Reps. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia; Martha Stevens, D-Columbia; Chuck Basye, R-Rocheport; and Cheri Toalson Reisch, R-Hallsville, all voted in opposition to the resolution. Rep. Sara Walsh, R-Ashland, voted in favor.
Basye, who has previously publicly been in support of redoing Clean Missouri, said he has spent his whole political career in the type of competitive district the original Clean Missouri aims to create. He said he thought the new system would actually hurt Democrats.
“It would be relatively amusing to watch Democrats compete in a 50-50 district,” he said.
Toalson Reisch echoed Basye’s thoughts.
She said implementing the existing Clean Missouri redistricting rules would be “an interesting experiment” that will potentially balance out Boone County’s districts between Democratic and Republican voters.
In Boone County, she said, “We have two democrat seats, held by Kip Kendrick and Martha Stevens, which are fully Democrat seats. So, you know, why not make those more even 50-50 districts, you know? Might turn all of Boone County to Republican.”
Stevens tweeted her opposition to the House’s decision.
“It is truly a disgrace that #MoLeg voted today to undo the will of the voters to reinstate gerrymandering,” Stevens tweeted after the vote. “But I trust voters & I am confident that voters will reject #SJR38.”
Walsh, the only Boone County representative who supported the resolution, tweeted: “Communities matter. Contiguous districts matter. Compact districts matter. Rural and urban Missourians, your voice matters. I was proud to vote yes on SJR 38 today so you get to decide on this clarifying language on the ballot in November to ensure we do not have gerrymandered districts.”
Outside of Boone County, a few other lawmakers also did not join with their party’s stance. Rep. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, said she would be supporting the measure as an advocate for black voices.
“I’m standing up because sometimes as an African American you don’t know who your friends are going to be,” she said. “I stand here as a black woman first and Democrat second.”
Her concern is that by changing priorities for how districts are drawn, it could dilute black representation.
During the debate, Rep. Curtis Trent, R-Springfield, offered an amendment that would have required people voting in elections for the Missouri General Assembly to be citizens of the United States and a resident of Missouri.
Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, called the amendment “nonsense” and offered his own amendment to Trent’s that would remove Trent’s language related to citizenship, arguing that lawmakers have an obligation to represent every person in a district and not just the people who voted for them.
After more than an hour of debate, Trent withdrew his amendment. Any changes made to the resolution during Wednesday’s debate would have required that the legislation go back to the Senate, which could have killed the entire resolution.