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Government, Politics & Issues

City's state Senate districts to get new, old look

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 25, 2011 - Commissioners charged with drawing new boundary lines for Missouri's 34 state Senate districts unveiled this afternoon a revised map that does away with an earlier controversial plan to redraw the 4th and 5th districts in St. Louis so that their boundaries split the city into a northern, predominantly African-American district and a southern, predominantly white district.

The two new districts are patterned somewhat after the two current districts, which split the city into eastern and western halfs. But the proposed new districts still would have a north-south focus.

Both proposed districts keep the residences of the current state senators, Democrats Robin Wright-Jones and Joe Keaveny, in their current 5th and 4th districts, respectively.

But both senators told commissioners at today's hearing at the University of Missouri-St. Louis that they still had concerns.

Doug Harpool, a Springfield, Mo., lawyer and chairman of the Senate panel, said he authored the change as part of broader boundary revisions he plans to propose. Harpool, who also had crafted the original map, said he made changes after hearing concerns from the senators and city residents that his initial map would reinforce racial tensions.

Today's hearings on redistricting were the last of four that the commissions have held around the state. The state Senate panel held a public hearing this afternoon. The state House held its hearing this morning, also at UMSL.

Several area Republican members of the state Senate appeared this afternoon before the Senate panel to argue on behalf of retaining the 24th District, represented by fellow Republican John Lamping of Ladue. Harpool's proposed map would move Lamping's district to southwest Missouri.

Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, contended that the St. Louis region's economic clout warranted it retaining the eight and a half districts that it has now. "We have to keep this region strong, economically strong," she said.

But Harpool replied that the population shifts in the state mandate that the St. Louis region lose a Senate seat, or at least half of one. "How can we tell southwest Missouri 'you've grown but don't get another district?' " Harpool asked.

State Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Washington, presented three alternate maps for his district. A tentative map has had Nieves' district expanding more into St. Louis County. He is proposing that his district take in more rural territory.

Harpool asked Nieves if he had talked with the rural senators whose districts would be affected by his alternate proposals. Nieves said he had not.

State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, also sided with her GOP colleagues in preserving the 24th District. A proposed map puts Lamping in the same district with Chappelle-Nadal.

At Harpool's suggestion, the region's bipartisan bloc of nine senators with at least part of their districts in St. Louis or St. Louis County were encouraged to get together and draw their own alternative map. Harpool said after the hearing that the alternative would be reviewed by the commission -- but he wasn't guaranteeing the commission would support it.

Harpool added that the St. Louis region was the only part of the state where proposed boundary changes for the state Senate seats have prompted opposition among the senators and their allies. The other three hearings were uneventful, he said.

Commission vice chairman John Maupin, a Republican from St. Louis County, said he opposed moving the 24th District to southwest Missouri and that he would work with fellow Republicans to come up with an alternative.

Elbert Walton, a former state legislator from north St. Louis county, testified in favor of new boundary lines that guarantee at least two area Senate seats will continue to be held by minorities. He said that would mean such districts would need minority populations in the 60 percent range.

House Hearing Focuses on One Map

The state House panel met this morning. Among other things, some of those testifying complained that the current House maps were too politically polarized, favoring one party or the other.

Former legislator Bob Johnson, who heads a group called Let Voters Decide, told the panel that 98 of the current members of the state House were elected last fall without opposition.

The House panel heard from at least a dozen state House members, most of whom objected to a preliminary map, dubbed the Skaggs-Davis map, which pits at least 45 members of the state House against each other.

The Skaggs-Davis map was drawn up by two Democratic commissioners: Marlene Davis and Trent Skaggs. Davis emphasized at the House hearing that the map was simply a proposal, not a commission-sanctioned map. But several legislators complained, as Republican Dean Plocher asserted, that the Davis-Skaggs map has become the basic point of discussion -- instead of the current boundary lines.

Chairman Joe Maxwell, a former lieutenant governor, told the audience that all proposed maps are to be submitted to the commission by July 6. A working session will be held later in the month in Jefferson City.

The House and Senate commissions have equal numbers of Republican and Democratic members; the panels were set up by Gov. Jay Nixon, as required by the state constitution.

The panels have until Aug. 18 to come up with a tentative map. For the House commission, Maxwell believes such a map will need the support of 10 of the House panel's 18 commissioners. Final approval will require the support of 13 commissioners. Maxwell and Wagner said they were committed to obtaining the necessary bipartisan support.

The 10-member Senate panel needs seven commissioners to favor the same map. Harpool and Maupin said they also are optimistic that an agreement must be reached.

If one or both of the panels meet the Aug. 18 deadline for tentative approval of a map, each panel will hold another public hearing before taking a final vote.

Both panels must disband by Sept. 18, regardless of whether they have reached agreements on new maps.

If an inadequate number of commissioners on either panel fail to agree on new boundaries, the map-drawing job will shift to judges.

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