Senate Republicans were nearly unanimous in their support for a ballot measure that could do away with a state legislative redistricting system that voters approved in 2018.
Lincoln Hough of Springfield was the lone Republican to vote against the measure last week. He said it’s premature to seek a repeal of the Clean Missouri system before state legislative redistricting happens next year.
“I did not see the necessity to do this right now,” Hough said. “I would have been more comfortable having let the process play out, let this demographer come into play, draw these maps.”
The system Hough is referring to gives a demographer most of the power to draw House and Senate maps. Sen. Dan Hegeman’s ballot item does away with the demographer and gives the power to either bipartisan commissions or appellate judges. It also makes compactness a higher priority than a formula aimed at stoking competitiveness and partisan fairness.
Republicans have contended that the Clean Missouri redistricting system isn’t really about creating “fairer” districts, but rather making the playing field more favorable for Democrats in a state that’s becoming more Republican. Democrats have seen Hegeman’s ballot item as a means to overturn the will of the people.
To be sure, Hough is not necessarily enamored with Clean Missouri. He would have preferred a greater emphasis on compactness. Because the competitiveness and partisan fairness standards are a higher priority in Clean Missouri, that could result in the creation of narrower districts that connect Democratc strongholds like St. Louis and Kansas City with more Republican suburbs.
But for Hough, that’s not a good enough reason to vote for a do-over.
“My opinion about this is we’re changing something now that hasn’t happened yet,” Hough said. “This consideration that districts are going to be changed and voters are going to be disenfranchised if we don’t do something? There hasn’t even been a demographer appointed yet or hired yet. And so, we haven’t seen what this new map would look like.”
Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden said Thursday that he respects Hough’s position against voting for the ballot item. But the Columbia Republican added he doesn’t think “that chancing it for a 10-year period is in the best interest of the state.”
“Given that if we don't do it this year, then we have to live with that reality — and it's a reality that I think is damaging for the state,” Rowden said.
Hough represents Missouri’s 30th District, which contains the city of Springfield. It’s a reasonably competitive district and has a fairly large number of Democratic voters, compared to other parts of southwest Missouri.
In some respects, though, Hough’s situation showcases the limitations of Clean Missouri’s ability to create a lot of competitive districts in rural parts of the state. Because the areas around the district are overwhelmingly Republican, connecting those areas with Democratic parts of Springfield wouldn’t accomplish that much.
“There’s no way that community could be carved up and become less Republican. Because any direction you go, you’re pulling more Republican voters,” Hough said. “The only way you make that into a more Democratic district is going up to Kansas City. Which you know, some of these fictitious maps that have kind of bounced around show those types of districts. And I just believe that if something like that were to have actually happened or were to happen, the voters would say, ‘Wait a minute, this is not what we bargained for — let’s fix this.’”
Hough also pointed out that Clean Missouri contains a safety valve of sorts in the event of that aforementioned scenario: 10-person House and Senate commissions made up of five Democrats and five Republicans. These commissions can overrule the demographer under certain circumstances with seven votes.
And that’s not an entirely implausible scenario — especially if the demographer substantially reduces the percentage of black residents in certain districts. A number of prominent black political leaders, including Congressman Lacy Clay of University City, opposed Clean Missouri in 2018 because of fears it would lead to diminished African American clout in Jefferson City.
“There were protections built into this in the event that something was, you maybe say the word egregious, in that fashion that disenfranchised a portion of voters or a community specifically,” Hough said.
In any case, Hough’s opposition to Hegeman’s measure wasn’t particularly critical — since it easily passed out of the Senate. And Hough said he hasn’t faced any blowback for his vote.
The House will likely back the ballot item, meaning that voters will have the final say later this year.
“I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens if this thing does end up on the November ballot and what the voters do with it,” Hough said.
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