Missouri House Democrats expect to exert newfound leverage on redistricting
For years, Democrats in the Missouri House have struggled to find tangible ways to influence the trajectory of major legislation in a GOP-dominated chamber.
But thanks to a raft of vacancies, House Democrats find themselves with leverage to influence congressional redistricting and, possibly, other major agenda items.
“I would say that we’re excited to have this opportunity,” said House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield.
Right before the start of 2022, state Rep. Dan Shaul, R-Jefferson County, produced a draft congressional map that would have six Republican districts and two Democratic ones. Some conservative Republicans have harshly criticized that approach, contending that the GOP-controlled General Assembly should go for a 7-to-1 map that transforms Congressman Emanuel Cleaver’s heavily Democratic Kansas City-based district into reliably GOP turf.
But Democrats have leverage to prevent that from happening, primarily because of the six vacancies in GOP-leaning state House districts. These openings dropped Republicans below the 109-vote supermajority threshold. If the House doesn’t get at least 109 votes to put the map into effect right away under an emergency clause, the new congressional districts won’t become effective until after the Aug. 2 primary. That would throw the entire primary season into chaos, since candidates can’t run in congressional districts that don’t exist.
“I believe we should have a 5 and 3 map that really represents the state of Missouri,” said state Rep. Jerome Barnes, D-Raytown. “However, a 6-2 leaning is not a bad map. But a 7-1 would not be representative of the state of Missouri.”
It’s theoretically possible for Republicans to maneuver out of the issue if Gov. Mike Parson calls a special session concurrent with the regular session that focuses on redistricting. That was suggested on Monday by Missouri Right to Life Executive Director Susan Klein, whose organization supports a 7-to-1 map as a way to further the anti-abortion rights movement.
But Parson has previously expressed reluctance to call a special session that doesn’t have consensus. Shaul said on Monday, “The timeline for a special session to be productive I believe has pretty well come and gone.” And several GOP members of the committee questioned how a 7-to-1 map would get past the emergency clause issue — or survive a court challenge.
“Because I think in just about every scenario I’ve tried to play out in my mind, of a 7 and 1 map, it seems to me that we lose and we could be in a worse situation for the cause,” said Rep. Ben Baker, R-Neosho.
Quade submitted an alternative proposal last week to redraw district maps. While it’s unlikely that all of it will pass, it’s not out of the question that some of it may be incorporated into the final product since Democratic votes are needed to obtain the emergency clause.
Compared with Shaul's proposal, Quade's would:
- Make Ann Wagner’s 2nd District more competitive.
- Place Jefferson County in the 8th District that Jason Smith represents. Shaul’s map puts Jefferson County in Blaine Luetkemeyer’s 3rd District. Currently, Jefferson County is split among three congressional districts.
- Put Smith’s home in Dent County in the 4th District, which will be an open seat in 2022.
- Stretch the 1st District that Cori Bush represents across northwest St. Louis County into parts of St. Charles County. Shaul’s map primarily adds territory in the inner ring suburbs of St. Louis, most notably Webster Groves.
“What the Republicans are suggesting is not the only option,” Quade said, who added that several Democratic lawmakers on a House redistricting committee provided their input for the map she submitted. “We wanted to push the state closer to having fair representation. And we wanted to present that there’s multiple options on the table.”
Some of what Quade is proposing is likely to have GOP opposition.
And some Democrats have expressed opposition to bringing the 1st District into St. Charles County, contending that it may make it easier to defeat Bush in a Democratic primary. When asked about that criticism, Quade said she and her team “did our best to try to not make it about who the candidates are.”
Even if House Democrats don’t change the map to their liking, Quade said her caucus could exert leverage on other bills in exchange for voting for it to go into effect immediately. That could include efforts to make it harder for the Missouri Constitution to be amended or how to spend billions in federal coronavirus relief funds.
“There’s going to be a lot of opportunities for us this year to utilize this leverage that we have,” Quade said.
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