Missouri Republicans could solidify power with district redraw

Missouri’s loss of one congressional seat will give the state its smallest delegation since the 1850 census and provide Republicans who control the state Legislature with an opportunity to redraw districts to solidify their party’s power if they so choose.

The U.S. Census Bureau announced Tuesday that Missouri’s delegation will shrink from nine to eight seats as its population grows more slowly than the nation’s as a whole. Missouri’s population grew by 7 percent to just under 6 million people, but entire country’s population grew by 9.7 percent, the bureau said. Every 10 years, the 435 seats in the U.S. House are redistributed among the states based on population.

The loss of the seat means one of Missouri’s federal lawmakers likely will be forced out of a job, and with its voice in Washington reduced, the state is likely to get less federal money for local projects. It also will lose a seat in the Electoral College, reducing its influence in presidential elections.

Missouri’s congressional delegation peaked at 16 after the 1900 census and stayed there until after the 1930 count. The state most recently lost a seat after the 1980 census cut the number of districts from 10 to nine. That consolidation helped cost Republican Wendell Bailey his seat in Congress. He lost in the 1982 election to Democrat Ike Skelton.

Some have speculated the loss of another seat this year could similarly make Democratic U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan a target. Carnahan won re-election to his St. Louis-area seat this year in a tight contest against Republican challenger Ed Martin. Carnahan’s district extends south from St. Louis into Jefferson and Ste. Genevieve counties along the Mississippi River

Political scientist George Connor said he expects state Republicans to be cautious about redrawing districts to force out Missouri’s three Democratic congressmen, but that Carnahan seemed the most vulnerable.

“If they’re going to re-draw the map, and if they’re going to try to target an existing predominantly Democratic seat, it is going to be the Carnahan seat,” said Connor, the head of the political science department at Missouri State University. “This is particularly true because he was pressed pretty hard by Ed Martin.”

Missouri’s other Democratic federal lawmakers are Lacy Clay, whose district includes St. Louis city and St. Louis County, and Emanuel Cleaver, who represents a Kansas City-area district.

Others said regional competition also could be a factor in redistricting, with proposals to consolidate three St. Louis-area congressional districts into two competing against plans to merge the southwestern and western districts of the state’s newest Republican members of Congress.

State Rep. John Diehl, the chairman of the House committee responsible for redistricting, said Tuesday it was too soon to know the how current members of Congress would be affected. No maps have been drawn, and officials still are not certain where the population has changed within Missouri, Diehl said.

“When you push a state as big and diverse as Missouri is from nine seats to eight, that’s probably going to have some affect on every district,” said Diehl, R-Town and Country. “So I’m just not going to comment or speculate as to what might or might not happen because it’s not the responsible thing to do until we get some real information.”

Carnahan said he would work to ensure new congressional districts are fair and allow for strong representation in his region.

“This is just the first step in a long process. My hope is that everyone involved is focused solely on making sure the map is drawn in a way that best serves the people and communities of Missouri,” Carnahan said. “After all, you have to draw the lines according to where the people are.”

The Census Bureau released only state population figures Tuesday. It will release more detailed, local data early next year.

Missouri’s loss of a congressional district follows a national trend of states in the Midwest and the northeast losing seats to those in the south and west. Illinois, Iowa and Michigan also lost congressional seats Tuesday.

The Missouri Legislature will create the new congressional districts as a bill — just like any legislation. Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon could veto an objectionable proposal, which would force lawmakers to decide whether to override with a two-thirds vote. Republicans control more than two-thirds of the Senate and are just shy of that in the House.

Diehl said that means he must get support for a redistricting plan either from the Democratic governor or Democratic House members.

If the Legislature cannot agree on new districts, the courts could draw the new congressional boundaries.

Both the state Republican and Democratic party leaders said Tuesday that it was important for new congressional districts to be drawn fairly.

Redistricting in past years has proven highly contentious for some states as political parties sought electoral advantages. “When one seat is going to be removed that means that everyone in principle is at risk, and the sandbox becomes a lot less friendly,” said Terry Jones, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

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