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Missouri’s waylaid congressional redistricting saga hits another roadblock

This Missouri State Capitol on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021, in Jefferson City, Missouri.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
This Missouri State Capitol in December 2021.

Updated at 10 p.m. on Wednesday with information about the redistricting hearing being postponed.

Missouri’s beleaguered congressional redistricting process is facing yet another delay.

Senators were supposed to hold a hearing on a map the Missouri House passed on Monday. But that meeting got postponed until Thursday afternoon after the Senate spent most of Wednesday dealing with contentious items.

They include a proposal from Sen. Sandy Crawford, R-Buffalo, that would make it more difficult for constitutional amendments to make it into the Missouri Constitution. The proposal would make organizers of constitutional ballot items get more signatures — and require at least a two-thirds majority for implementation instead of a simple majority.

“I think setting a little bit higher bar for [constitutional amendments] is important,” Crawford said during debate over the proposal.

Bringing up Crawford’s measure, which requires voter approval to go into effect, stimulated opposition from Democrats — who contend that initiative petitions can be an avenue for the people to enact policy around a hostile legislature.

“We’ve got the general public who feels that something needs to change, but there just isn’t the political will to do that,” said Sen. Steve Roberts, D-St. Louis.

Crawford chose to shelve her ballot item before a vote could be taken on it.

The delay of the hearing is another blow to hopes that the legislature will redraw Missouri’s congressional districts.

The monthslong impasse is multifaceted, but much of the dispute involves how to overhaul the 2nd Congressional District — currently the state’s only swing district. Other conflicts concern how to divide St. Charles County and whether to keep Jefferson County whole or split it between two districts.

The map that the House passed earlier this week contains six likely Republican districts and two Democratic ones. And, most notably, it seeks to make the 2nd Congressional District more Republican by adding parts of Warren County and all of Franklin County. Some Republicans have wanted to transform Democratic U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver’s 5th District in Kansas City from a Democratic stronghold to a solid GOP outpost — but that idea fizzled amid bipartisan opposition.

Looming in the background is a federal lawsuit that 2nd Congressional District candidate Paul Berry III filed. The GOP candidate contends that holding an election based on a map created in 2011 is unconstitutional, because it violates prohibitions against having congressional districts with unequal populations.

Plaintiffs in two state lawsuits that are being pushed by Republican and Democratic interests are seeking to intervene in that case.

U.S. District Judge John Ross denied Berry’s request for a temporary restraining order earlier this week, writing the “balance of equities and public interest … strongly favor this Court affording Missouri’s legislative and judicial bodies every opportunity to legally apportion the congressional districts based on the 2020 Census.”

But Ross did grant a request to convene a three-judge federal panel that could draw Missouri’s map if lawmakers fail to pass one by Friday. Travis Crum of Washington University School of Law has said that panel will likely create a “least changed” map that makes minor adjustments based on population.

If lawmakers fail to pass a map by Friday, the three-judge panel would have to work quickly to create a map so that elections officials could meet deadlines — including one in June to mail out military ballots.

Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, said that he wants the issue of the maps to be resolved — but the clock keeps ticking toward Friday evening adjournment.

"Hopefully we get a chance to discuss it again, but we are running out of time," Hegeman said.

This is a developing story that will be updated.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.