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By Matt Evans
State Capitol Bureau
JEFFERSON CITY – The Missouri Legislature finally has new district maps beginning in 2012.
The saga of the redistricting Missouri’s House and Senate began when the federal census data was released almost a year ago. Missouri’s constitution requires legislative districts be redrawn to reflect the population shifts.
Under the constitution, two bi-partisan commissions are named by the governor to draw the new districts — one for the state Senate the other for the House. The governor picks each party’s representatives from nominations by the two major political parties.
The Senate Redistrict Commission has ten members – five Democrats and five Republicans. The House Commission has 18 members – nine Democrats and nine Republicans.
Both commissions failed to agree. Just has happened after the 2000 census, both commissions deadlocked on straight party-line votes.
Missouri’s Constitution provides that if a commission cannot agree, the task is turned over to a panel of six appellate judges selected by the Missouri Supreme Court.
Like a decade ago, the judges selected to draw the new maps refused to make their efforts public.
They met behind closed doors to decide the fate of the new Senate and House districts at sessions there not publicly announced. Critics say that’s a blatant disregard for Missouri’s Open Meetings and Record Laws which requires most state boards and commissions to post meetings and leave them open to the public. Earlier this year, a reporter at Missouri Digital News had the door slammed in her face when she discovered one of these meetings and started asking questions.
“It is just an amazing disregard for the law,” said Rep. Chris Kelley, D-Columbia, in a Columbia Tribune article.
On Nov. 30, the panel released the new maps that shook up the House and Senate seats. The new maps created 55 seats where no incumbent resides and 26 House districts where two or more incumbents reside. Nearly every House district number was changed. Some lawmakers said changing all the district numbers created unnecessary printing and production costs.
“If you look at the overall change, it’ll cost hundreds of thousand of dollars. There’s no way around it because everything is going to have to be redone,” said Mike Thomson, R-Maryville.
Thomson also said some of the changes were senseless.
“One thing I didn’t understand. I was district four. They changed my district to one and made one four. I don’t know why they couldn’t have just left that, but that’s the way it is,” said Thomson.
Besides hiding their work from the public, the judges have come under fire for resubmitting the Senate version of the new maps.
The original maps were released by the judges on Nov. 30.
But less than two weeks later, on Dec. 9, they issued a new Senate map.
In a press release, the judges said the new map was designed to subdue concerns over small counties being split in to multiple Senate districts. A Senate district should have around 176,145 people and the Missouri Constitution prohibits counties with a smaller population of being split among different districts. Although the new map corrected three county splits, it also made a new one. It splits Lafayette County, with a population of about 33,381, nearly in half. When asked about the process and the decisions the panel of judges made, chair of the commission, Judge Lisa White Hardwick of the Western District Court of Appeals redirected most questions to the commissions legal council.
“We followed the law to the best of our ability,” said Judge Hardwick.
If the new maps stand, they will go into effect for next year’s general election.