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Government, Politics & Issues

Missouri House and Senate redistricting maps remain unsettled

Appellate judges will draw new lines for Missouri's 34 state Senate districts. They could end up doing the House map too if commissioners don't come up with a plan by late January.
Nat Thomas | St. Louis Public Radio
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Appellate judges will draw new lines for Missouri's 34 state Senate districts. They could end up doing the House map too if commissioners don't come up with a plan by late January.

On the final day to make a decision, House and Senate redistricting commissions faced a choice: Approve two maps — one Democratic and one Republican — or hand responsibility for drawing state legislative lines to a panel of appellate judges.

The House commission chose the first option while the Senate went with the second.

Because the Senate commission ended up deadlocking, lawmakers may have to more seriously consider moving the state’s candidate filing back. And even though the House commission move buys more time, there’s no guarantee that judges won’t end up drawing the map. On the Senate side, judges will now draw the lines.

The constitutional deadline for the House and Senate commissions to come up with a tentative map was Dec. 23. The panels, which are split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, had significant differences to iron out — particularly in suburban parts of the state which tend to be more competitive.

The House commission unanimously decided to send one Republican plan and one Democratic plan to Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s office. Commissioner James Thomas III noted that roughly 112 out of 163 districts were identical on the maps. Commissioners have until late January to vote on a final map. If they don’t come to an agreement, the Missouri Supreme Court appoints six appellate judges to finish the job.

“And the areas of disagreement … are in Boone County, Greene County, Jackson County and part of St. Louis County,” Thomas said Dec. 23. “So we got to 112 out of 163 as of today that we’re in agreement on.”

Democrats on the Senate commissions sought to submit two maps as well. But Republicans rejected that option, contending that it ran afoul of Missouri’s constitution.

“We have plain and unambiguous language that tells us to submit a plan and a map,” said Lowell Pearson, a Republican Senate commissioner. “No one could plausibly argue that submitting two or 10 or 50 maps is implicitly necessary to carry out the expressed duties of this commission. So in my judgment, the directive is clear that we file one map.”

Democratic commissioners contended a two map solution was the only option to keep hope alive for compromise.

“We agree on submitting two maps or we’re done,” said Democratic Senate commissioner Susan Montee, who contended that federal legal precedent would allow for two maps to be submitted in a tentative plan.

Before voting, Republican House commissioner Jerry Hunter said the reasoning behind going the two map route was to buy more negotiation time.

“That we shouldn’t just throw up our hands,” Hunter said. “The argument that some commissioners are making is putting forward two maps will give us additional time to an agreement on a map.”

One of the people who disagrees with the idea that commissioners can submit two maps is Ashcroft, who said he felt the constitution’s language was unambiguous.

“The plain language of the constitution is a plan and a map,” Ashcroft said. “I’m not trying to be a judge. But I think you ought to just follow the plain reading of the constitution.”

Pearson said the danger of submitting two maps to Ashcroft’s office is that if the commission eventually came to a compromise in January the final result could be invalidated in a lawsuit.

But Hunter said if his commission can come to an agreement, filing a lawsuit wouldn’t benefit either political party. That’s because the constitution requires 14 out of 20 members to agree on a final map, which would mean that both Republicans and Democrats would have to concur with the final outcome.

“I certainly understand the meaning of the phrase ‘tentative plan’ and the word ‘map,’” Hunter said. “But I think a significant number of the House commissioners felt that based on the amount of work that’s already been put in, it didn’t make sense just to adjourn the commission — and basically put the commission out of business and throw the whole ball to the judges.”

The House commission is slated to meet on Monday. The Supreme Court won’t be able to select the six appellate judges who will draw the Senate map until after Jan. 24.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

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