This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 16, 2011 - With the special session just weeks away, the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus says it has been talking with Gov. Jay Nixon's office and Republican leaders about the impact of the economic development proposals on tap.
In particular, the caucus is concerned about the effects on low-income minorities -- such as the economic package's plans to reduce state tax credits for low-income housing, phase out tax breaks for food pantries and neighborhood preservation, and eliminate the tax credit for low-income elderly who rent their homes.
"Negotiations are still going on,'' said state Rep. Steve Webb, D-Florissant and the caucus' spokesman.
Webb added that the caucus hasn't taken a position on one potential special-session issue -- local control of the St. Louis police department -- because the caucus doesn't have a unified stance on the issue.
The caucus is made up of three state senators and 14 members of the state House, all Democrats. Virtually all are from the St. Louis or Kansas City areas.
Their votes may or may not be needed by Republican legislative leaders, who have huge majorities in both chambers. But during the last session, there was an effort -- particularly by state House Speaker Steve Tilley, R-Perryville -- to bring African-American legislators into the fold, when possible.
In return, Tilley got four African-American Democrats to vote with the GOP and override Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of the congressional redistricting map that eliminated the district of U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis. (Tilley generally has needed three or four Democratic votes for any veto override.)
Now, the caucus is seeing that some defecting members -- notably Reps. Jamilah Nasheed and Penny Hubbard -- were targeted under the legislative redistricting maps designed by special commissions. The two were tossed into the same district.
Those maps are now moot since the House panel has punted the map-drawing job to the courts. But caucus members remain on the bubble.
That's because some of the state's largest population losses were in African-American areas -- meaning that the caucus members could still take the hit, even with judges drawing the new boundary lines.
Nasheed said she plans to send the judges her proposed map that kept all caucus incumbents intact.
Said Webb: "We don't want to lose a seat in redistricting. We don't want to see incumbents paired together. We also don't want our districts to be changed dramatically."
Such concerns offer a backdrop as to how the caucus is approaching the special session and the legislative veto session that will accompany it. It also explains why talks continue with Nixon and Republican legislative leaders.