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Lamping's district may be in limbo, but he still has legislative plans

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 15, 2011 - Regardless of where his district ends up, state Sen. John Lamping says he'll represent the people who reside in it.

Lamping, R-Ladue, represents the 24th District that now takes in much of central St. Louis County. But the chief Democratic proposal for redrawing the state's 34 state Senate seats calls for moving the 24th District to southwest Missouri.

The Democratic chairman of the commission drawing up the new boundaries -- Doug Harpool, a Springfield, Mo., lawyer and a former state legislator -- says that fairness means St. Louis County needs to lose representation in the state Senate because the county has lost population and southwest Missouri continues to gain.

Lamping is among the county Republicans who contend that the county's slight loss in numbers doesn't mean it deserves to lose a state Senate seat. "It would do harm to the region,'' said Lamping, adding that the St. Louis area already often feels underrepresented and ignored in Jefferson City.

The commission's vice chairman, Republican John Maupin, shares that view.

The disagreement over the 24th District could well lead the bipartisan commission to fail to agree to a map by this Thursday's constitutional deadline. If so, the matter gets tossed to judges.

(The bipartisan panel charged with drawing up new lines for the 163 state House districts already announced last week that it has given up trying to reach a deal.)

Lamping, who took office just this year, notes that he will hold the 24th District seat -- regardless of where it ends up -- until January 2015.

He's definitely concerned about what happens to his district. But Lamping says he's more interested in advancing his legislative proposals for improving the state.

And as he sees it, he has at least three more legislative sessions to press for their passage.

Trimming Session Tops on His Agenda

Lamping's top priorities include filing a bill to cut by one-third the length of Missouri's legislative sessions -- to 12 weeks a year, from the current 18 weeks.

"There's way too much down time,'' Lamping said. He contends that an overlong session has led to the General Assembly getting bogged down in side issues instead of focusing on what's important -- most notably, crafting the state's budget and proposing ways to improve the state's economy.

His proposal, he says, also would save money for Missouri taxpayers.

Another key issue: reviving the effort to construct a second nuclear plant in the state.

If a special session doesn't take up the issue, Lamping says he plans to push to get a measure on the 2012 ballot that would repeal the state's 1976 law that bars utilities from charging customers for the cost of an improvement -- such as a nuclear plant -- before it is operating.

Lamping believes that the public has not been fully informed of all sides of the debate and that a ballot proposal might be the best way to get the public involved.

Thirdly, Lamping hopes to get involved in efforts to revamp the state's payday loan industry, which has come under fire in some quarters because of the hefty interest rates charged for the loans.

But for a Republican, his most controversial move might be some proposed income tax changes, which would include eliminating state taxes on the first $3,000 in income -- and slightly increasing the state's cigarette tax (now among the nation's lowest) to pay for the difference.

Such a proposal fits in with Lamping's effort to forge a middle ground in an increasingly polarized political environment, including the state Capitol.

Lamping's district -- at least where it is now -- is 60-40 Democrat, by his own calculation. He narrowly won the seat, defeating Democrat Barbara Fraser, during last fall's huge Republican landslide that gave the GOP huge margins in the state House and Senate.

Since taking office, Lamping says he is most proud of his work in favor of a bill aimed at curbing human trafficking, which he says has been a top concern for many constituents.

But these days, Lamping, 49, is dealing with a lot of issues besides redistricting.

He works for a major brokerage firm, which he would prefer not to name, so he obviously has been paying close attention to last week's up-and-down performance of the stock market.

He also is preparing for frequent across-the-state trips to join up with much of his family. His 11-year-old daughter is a competitive gymnast who is moving to suburban Kansas City for training. His wife and two of his children are joining her.

Lamping will remain in Ladue with another child in middle-school. The family also has two children in college.

With all those other professional and personal pressures, Lamping says he isn't consumed by any redistricting drama.

If his district gets moved to southwest Missouri, he said, he'll simply spend the next three years representing two groups of constituents -- those in St. Louis County where he was elected, and those in whatever part of the state where his district ends up.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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