JEFFERSON CITY — With the process that will determine the shape of Missouri’s congressional districts for the next decade underway, state House members heard testimony Thursday from witnesses hoping to have a say in the upcoming map-drawing.
The House Special Committee on Redistricting heard from constituents of Missouri’s 4th Congressional District, which currently includes Columbia near its northeast corner and stretches to Barton County in the southwest part of the state. Republican Vicky Hartzler has represented the district in Congress since 2011.
Of the three witnesses who spoke before the committee, two advocated for a more compact mid-Missouri district centered around the crossroads of Interstate 70 and Highway 63 and the educational and medical centers in the region.
The notion of compactness is significant to the redistricting process: the Missouri Constitution requires that districts be compact, contiguous and roughly equal in population. Minor variances are permissible in the name of keeping populations with shared policy interests, or “communities of interest,” in the same district.
Marilyn McLeod, a member of the League of Women Voters of Missouri, a nonpartisan voting rights advocacy organization, voiced her concerns about the wide-ranging character of the 4th District.
“The current configuration does not share a lot of common features,” McLeod said. “Ideally, a new District 4 should meld together the common interests of the heart of Missouri.”
She also urged lawmakers to avoid partisan and racial gerrymandering in the redistricting process.
Nancy Copenhaver of Randolph County, in the northernmost portion of the district, echoed McLeod’s arguments.
A former Democratic state House representative, Copenhaver argued that rural Randolph County would ideally be moved into the 6th District, which currently encompasses the state’s largely rural northern region.
The third witness, Rep. Sara Walsh, R-Ashland, did not explicitly argue for specific boundaries for the 4th District but highlighted its rural and agricultural aspects.
“It’s full of agriculture, history, patriotism, warmth and charm,” Walsh said, before listing features such as the Hartsburg Pumpkin Festival and the Warm Springs Ranch in Boonville, which breeds the Budweiser Clydesdales.
Thursday’s hearing was part of a longer process in which the committee hears testimony from each of the state’s eight congressional districts. The testimony is meant to better inform the committee about the makeup of each district before it draws new boundaries.
The hearing was also not the first time the committee has heard from witnesses voicing concerns about grouping communities of interest in the same district.
On Tuesday, when the committee heard testimony for the 5th District, which includes Kansas City, Rep. Dan Stacy, R-Blue Springs, relayed his constituents’ concerns about the irregular border between the 5th and 6th Districts where they converge near Kansas City.
He said the placement of Blue Springs, a Kansas City suburb, and a large “spur” of Jackson County in the more rural 6th District, rather than in the 5th along with Kansas City, has “yielded great confusion and distrust in the drawing of the district lines” among his constituents.
“It has been claimed by many citizens in my area that this is a classic example of gerrymandering,” Stacy said and asked the committee to consider those concerns while determining the new boundaries.
“I would remind the committee that the courts did approve (the existing boundaries),” said Rep. Dan Shaul, R-Imperial, who chairs the committee. “So even though it may appear one way or the other, in the eyes of the courts, they approved these maps in 2010 as being compliant with the rules set forth.”
The map-drawing process itself will not take place until the fall because of a delay in the release of 2020 Census data.
The decennial congressional redistricting process is separate from the process for drawing new state House and Senate district boundaries, which cannot begin until the new Census data is released.