Ellinger pushes Mid-Missouri’s redistricting interests

Cole County Presiding Commissioner Marc Ellinger wasn’t surprised “at all” last week, when the House Redistricting Committee on Tuesday skipped over his proposed map in favor of one proposed by Chairman John Diehl, R-Town and Country.

The Diehl plan was approved by the full House on Wednesday and sent to the Senate.

“We saw the way the House handled the bill, that the fix was in ... it moves forward because the leadership wants it to move forward,” Ellinger said Friday.

“And I don’t think that anybody from this part of the state can look at the map that was approved by the House and say it’s a rational, reasonable or logical map.”

As lawmakers redraw the state’s congressional district lines, to reflect the population changes over the last decade and the loss of one district because Missouri’s population didn’t grow as much as other states, Ellinger’s focused on getting lawmakers to create a Mid-Missouri-based district.

“The interests that we have, obviously, are condensed and confined,” he explained. “People drive to Columbia (and) the Lake of the Ozarks from Cole County, and vice-versa, (and) it’s not considered a long drive. ...

“It’s considered staying local, and that’s the community of interest that the federal law says you’re supposed to take into account.”

Ellinger repeated Friday what he’s said several times: “If there’s not a central Missouri district, it certainly calls into question whether they are legal as they are drawn ... and I think that’s a matter that would end up in the courts.”

He agreed there are those in the Kansas City and St. Louis areas who also may have a legal complaint.

Ellinger is a Republican, lawyer and CPA.

He recently has worked with Rex Sinquefield, a retired multi-millionaire who has been active in some statewide issues, including some controversial ones.

But none of his legal work has any connection with his interest in the redistricting issue, Ellinger said.

He’s in this fight because he’s the presiding commissioner, “trying to do what is best for Cole County. I think that’s the role, and the obligation, of the presiding commissioner.

“And I think, frankly, it’s the role and obligation of our state representatives and the state senator.”

Mid-Missouri Republicans Jay Barnes and Mike Bernskoetter, Jefferson City; Jeanie Riddle, Mokane; Caleb Jones, California; Rodney Schad, Versailles; and Tom Loehner, Koeltztown, all were among the 106 representatives voting for the House-passed plan, while the region’s lone Democrat — Chris Kelly, Columbia — was among the 53 lawmakers voting against it.

The full Senate has yet to take a vote.

“I don’t think they want to put a map on the floor that’s going to get a guaranteed filibuster,” Ellinger said.

Although he’s representing Mid-Missouri’s interests, he has not — yet — met with Boone County, Columbia or other regional officials.

“That is something I’m going to do,” Ellinger said, “but, the way this thing played out in the cards, as you well know, it was very fast and very quick — and sometimes it’s more valuable to be nimble than it is to build a huge coalition.”

Still, he agreed, Mid-Missouri businesses and other groups — especially in Jefferson City, Columbia and the Lake of the Ozarks areas — already have been working together on a number of different issues and projects, showing that “we have a community of interest here.”

He added: “I think we as residents of the central part of the state have acknowledged that this is what’s best for all of us, to work together for a number of reasons.

“And congressional representation is just one of them.”

Boone and Cole counties have not been in the same congressional district since 1981 — the last time the state lost a congressional district.

Ellinger said the region wasn’t hurt by that separation, but “while we were split, neither one of us was a suburb of St. Louis City,” and both Columbia and Jefferson City were “anchor cities” in their separate, mainly rural, districts.

“I firmly believe — and I think it’s hard to dispute — that had we been in a district where we were a small community with a dominant St. Louis majority in the district, we would have been hurt, for sure,” Ellinger explained. “And we can’t allow that to happen as we go forward because ... we’re going to end up getting the short end of the stick.”

Because, he said, a St. Louis area-based member of Congress will be “geared, dominated and controlled by the issues of suburban St. Louis — and we’re not suburban St. Louis.”

Ellinger hopes the Legislature “will come together” on “something that works for everybody. If not — if we can’t get a map out of the Legislature — the next best option is the only option.

“Which is allowing the courts to draw it.”

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