No matter how loudly Missouri voters profess that they knew exactly what they were doing when they overwhelmingly approved the Clean Missouri political-reform referendum less than two years ago, GOP legislators are determined to second-guess them and return this question to the 2020 ballot. The state Senate on Monday approved a proposed ballot measure to reverse part of Clean Missouri, sending it to the House for likely approval.
Their rationale — that district compactness is more important than a balance of political-party representation — is transparently self-serving. They know that if voting districts are compactly drawn up by parties, the ruling party is guaranteed to remain dominant. Clean Missouri was designed to serve voters. The proposed new referendum is designed to serve incumbent politicians.
Voters should be livid at this legislative attempt to circumvent their will.
The Clean Missouri initiative that two-thirds of voters approved in 2018 changed state law to clean up politics, with campaign contribution limits, caps on lobbyist gifts and a waiting period to prevent revolving-door lobbying by ex-lawmakers. But arguably the most important change was to take the redistricting process out of the hands of the politicians.
Congressional and state legislative boundaries are redrawn every 10 years, based on census data. The previous redistricting process technically gave both parties a seat at the table. But because the Republican Party holds an overwhelming majority in Missouri — and because individual Democrats are likely to want to protect their individual seats rather than face viable challenges — the result was to divide the state into safe, noncompetitive districts that protect and entrench incumbents of both parties, while guaranteeing a perpetual GOP majority.
Clean Missouri took that process largely out of the hands of the parties and put a nonpartisan demographer in charge. It also set new criteria for drawing the boundaries, prioritizing partisan fairness and competitiveness, two areas that politicians of either party aren’t necessarily interested in promoting.
The proposed new GOP ballot measure — aptly dubbed “Dirty Missouri” by opponents — would de-emphasize fairness in favor of district “compactness,” which tends to make them less competitive.
Make no mistake: This is an incumbent-protection measure, pure and simple. Given how often Missouri voters have approved ballot initiatives opposed by the ruling GOP — on wages, labor rights, marijuana and more — it’s not hard to figure out why those lawmakers don’t want to face truly competitive reelection races.
Whatever your thoughts on redistricting, this new measure is an insult to the voters of Missouri, who have already spoken loudly on this issue and are now seeing that decision second-guessed by legislators who are loathe to give up their safe district lines. If this measure ends up on the November ballot, voters should underline their previous decision — and punish those who refused to accept that decision the first time.
Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.