Missouri Republicans will push ahead on a ballot item changing how state House and Senate districts are drawn — an effort that Senate Democrats stalled at least temporarily Thursday.
It’s a legislative battle in which the Republicans can still prevail because they have the numbers to break a filibuster. But it’s a whole other question whether voters will find favor with the proposal, especially because it does away with a state legislative redistricting plan Missourians overwhelmingly ratified in 2018.
The Senate debated Sen. Dan Hegeman’s ballot measure throughout Wednesday night and early Thursday morning. Missouri Democrats filibustered on the measure until the Senate adjourned just a couple of hours before dawn.
Hegeman’s proposal would shift power to draw House and Senate maps from a demographer, as called for in the 2018 ballot item known as Clean Missouri, to bipartisan commissions or appellate judges. It would prioritize compactness, as opposed to language aimed at stoking competitiveness and partisan fairness.
During an appearance Thursday on St. Louis Public Radio’s Politically Speaking, Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, said his caucus is still intent on bringing Hegeman’s measure back to the floor. Like his colleagues, Schatz contends Clean Missouri is aimed at enhancing Democratic prospects at legislative seats in a state that’s becoming more Republican.
“I think there was a healthy amount of debate,” Schatz said. “One of the No. 1 priorities for our Republican caucus is this particular issue.”
While Missouri senators often use the filibuster to stall or force changes to legislation, Republicans have been using what’s known as the “previous question” in recent years to force votes. Asked whether that maneuver would be used in this case, Schatz replied: “We want to do everything we can to avoid that.”
“We know the ramifications of having the majority,” Schatz said. “And I think to whom much is given, much is expected. And I believe that we are very aware of that. We work very closely with the minority leadership to make sure we can get a resolution without having to take those measures, which would create an environment where it becomes hostile and difficult to work in.
“We want to respect the minority, but also know that we have obviously been given a supermajority in the House and the Senate,” he added. “And we’re going to have a lengthy discussion, and ultimately we believe we can prevail on this issue with some compromise in the process.”
Sen. Lauren Arthur was one of the Democrats who spoke at length to prevent passage of Hegeman’s bill. The Kansas City Democrat said her caucus would continue to oppose the measure, especially since more than 60% of Missouri voters backed Clean Missouri in 2018.
She also said Republicans “still need to answer a lot of questions about what they’re trying to accomplish and why.” One example Arthur said her caucus has serious questions about is whether language in Hegeman’s bill wouldn’t count children or green-card holders when state legislative maps are drawn — which some Clean Missouri proponents contend could help Republicans.
“Republicans are trying to present Clean Missouri as an attempt by Democrats or other interests to create unfair maps that benefit Democrats,” Arthur said. “The reality is Missouri is a red state. And I think even with different maps, Republicans would hold majorities in the Senate and in the House. What we’re trying to do is course correct and create districts that allow for competitive elections, so that a primary is not the decisive election when it comes to who gets to go represent constituents in Jefferson City.”
Arthur said there’s nothing that Republicans could change about Hegeman’s resolution that would make Senate Democrats support it. But she added that before the Senate votes, her colleagues want to make sure “the final language and its consequences are clear.”
“That’s why we didn’t allow the bill to come up for a vote last night — there was still so much uncertainty,” Arthur said. “And if the sponsors or supporters can’t answer simple questions about it, then it’s not ready for the vote of the people.”
If the Senate and House send Hegeman’s measure to the ballot, Schatz said Gov. Mike Parson will have the opportunity to decide on whether to place it on the August or November ballot.
Schatz's episode of Politically Speaking will be posted on Monday.
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