Missouri Senate passes 6-2 Republican majority congressional map, ending melodrama
In one of the more unprecedented moves in the Missouri Senate’s modern history, a group of senators used a rarely utilized parliamentary motion to end the state’s monthslong stalemate over congressional redistricting and pass a likely 6-2 majority Republican map Thursday.
It was a rebuke to a group of Republican senators who spent months pushing for a map more favorable to their party.
Shortly after the 22-11 vote, Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, moved to adjourn the Senate for the 2022 session, killing any legislation that had not yet passed that chamber. That includes additional limits on abortion, sports betting and any restrictions on transgender children playing sports.
For months, Missouri Republicans had been at loggerheads on how to redraw the state’s eight congressional districts. Most Republicans wanted a map with six Republican districts and two Democratic ones, while a group of GOP legislators who often clash with leadership wanted to go after Democratic U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver’s Kansas City district. Senators who are part of the Conservative Caucus spent countless hours speaking on the floor in support of a 7-1 map.
Late Thursday afternoon, senators used a procedural maneuver to pull from committee a map that the House had passed earlier this week. Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, said it was needed to keep the courts from getting involved in the process.
“The House has more than met us halfway, and I think it’s time to put this constitutional obligation behind us so we can focus on the bills that we were sent here to pass,” Bernskoetter said.
The vote to send the map to Gov. Mike Parson came after several hours of debate.
The map would make the 2nd District, represented by Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, more Republican by adding some of Warren County and all of Franklin County. It also splits Boone County between the 3rd and 4th Districts, and divides Jefferson County between the 3rd and 8th Districts.
And Republican Rep. Dan Shaul’s legislation keeps Cleaver’s district stoutly Democratic. It also makes a number of alterations to U.S. Rep Cori Bush’s district, including taking portions of Richmond Heights and Maplewood, which voted for the St. Louis County Democrat by a wide margin in 2020, and placing them in Wagner’s district.
“Nobody’s walking away happy,” Rowden said of the map. “There’s no scenario where that wasn’t going to be the case.”
Shutting down the Conservative Caucus will almost certainly have ramifications beyond the 2022 session. The Senate has a long tradition of allowing debate for as long as members want, sometimes to kill the legislation and other times to force compromise.
“This is what makes Americans so cynical about our political process, when they have the sense that the fix is in,” said Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis.
Referring to the decision to pull the redistricting bill out of committee, Rowden said, “Clearly it was a conversation that was and is and always will be something all 34 of us are interested in.”
Taking on the Conservative Caucus
By Thursday afternoon, it was evident that some GOP senators were becoming increasingly frustrated with the tactics of the Conservative Caucus. The caucus usually includes Onder and six others.
Sen. Jeanie Riddle, for instance, was audibly frustrated that Sen. Mike Moon sought to attach a ban on transgender women playing men’s sports to a higher education bill. Riddle, R-Mokane, said that move would have killed Sen. Barbara Washington’s legislation honoring the state’s historically Black colleges and universities, and was done to embarrass fellow GOP senators who are engaged in primaries.
“It’s not the proper place for it,” Riddle said.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers struck down Moon’s bid to tie the transgender sports ban to Washington’s bill.
Sen. Holly Rehder’s bill establishing syringe exchange programs was also a victim of the partisan infighting. As debate wound down on Thursday, Rehder, R-Sikeston, made her disgust with the Conservative Caucus clear.
“I pray to God that’s the last of the pontificating we have to hear from the senator from the 2nd,” Rehder said, referring to Onder. “It’s interesting how we have heard for months now about a 7-1 map, but in caucus, there wasn’t any real discussion on a 7-1 map because everyone, including all the senators who want to talk about it on their social media, knew that that wasn’t possible.”
Rowden admitted that the Senate was often “difficult to watch” this session.
“It’s no secret that this place was ugly at times,” he said. “There were days when I frankly went home embarrassed.”
Despite the early end, Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, said the session was productive.
“In spite of the amount of attempted obstruction, we were able to pass a supplemental budget and a balanced budget with a surplus,” he said. "We passed a $500 million tax cut to help working families struggling with inflation. We passed eminent domain reform. We also passed a significant election integrity bill that finally includes photo ID.”
Clock ticking for elections officials
If Parson signs the redistricting bill, Missouri will be one of the last states to finish the process.
But the move could put local officials who run elections under intense time pressure. They’ll have to move scores of voters from their previous congressional district to new ones to ensure that they get to vote in the August primary. Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft argued Thursday against lawmakers passing a map, contending that the time for election officials to effectively perform that task elapsed.
But not passing a map could have presented other complexities for election officials and candidates. A federal judge is considering a lawsuit asking that a three-judge panel redraw the congressional map. Experts assumed that the panel would keep the map similar to one passed in 2011 while adjusting for population.
Ashcroft contended that candidates would run in districts that were established in 2011, even though that map runs afoul of prohibitions against districts having unequal population. He pointed to what’s known as the “Purcell principle,” under which judges tend not to intervene in election-related matters close to when voters go to the polls.
Rowden called Ashcroft's assertion that courts would use the old map "ridiculous," alluding the "one person, one vote" Supreme Court decision about how districts can't have unequal populations.
But Rowden acknowledged that the logistical issues for local elections officials is a "real problem."
"It is a certainly a reality that the clerks are going to have some issues," Rowden said. "And so hopefully they can work through them. We did our level best to get this thing done as quickly as we could. Obviously the House worked hard and moved some mountains to get that emergency clause."
Rowden was referring to a provision in the redistricting bill where the map goes into effect immediately upon Parson's signature. There had been some concern that wouldn't happen, since Republicans do not have enough votes to pass an emergency clause in the House without House Democratic support.
In any case, the map that the Senate pushed through could make the 2nd District out of reach this year for Democrats — especially since Franklin and Warren counties are considered GOP strongholds. Three Democrats, Ben Samuels, Trish Gunby and Ray Reed, are currently running to unseat Wagner.
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