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New Senate districts called ‘atrocity’

Newly proposed state Senate districts endorsed by a bipartisan commission landed with a thud Thursday in Senate, where lawmakers affected by the map denounced it as an “atrocity” and “travesty.”

Frustration over the new Senate boundaries was so intense that several Republican senators blocked a vote on a bill delaying next week’s scheduled start of candidacy filling, adding to the legal uncertainties of Missouri’s 2012 election cycle.

The newly proposed Senate map — agreed upon early Thursday morning — cannot take effect by next week, because the state constitution first requires a 15-day public comment period.

Opposition was strongest to the proposed Senate districts from St. Louis-area Republicans.

The new Senate districts crafted by the redistricting commission places Republican Sens. Jane Cunningham and Brian Nieves into the 26th District that covers Franklin County and part of St. Louis County, and it leaves limited opportunities for Cunningham to find a new Senate district. Cunningham, who faces re-election this year, called the map a “travesty.” She said she is not ruling out any option, which could include running in a state Senate primary or seeking statewide or federal office. She also did not reject the possibility of a legal challenge.

Republican Sen. Jim Lembke said the redistricting plan left the St. Louis region with six seats favorable to Democrats and just a single GOP-leaning district. He said the redistricting plan is unacceptable and urged the redistricting commission to reconsider its decision.

The map “is an atrocity for the people that we represent,” he said.

Republican Sen. Eric Schmitt also said the proposed map had wrongly stripped the St. Louis area of a district.

A 10-member state redistricting commission reached a deal over new boundaries for Missouri’s 34 Senate districts after a 13-hour marathon session that concluded around 12:30 a.m. Thursday. Most of the discussions were held behind closed doors.

Ultimately, the commission approved its tentative plan 8-2 with one Republican and one Democrat voting against it. The tentative map now will be submitted to the secretary of state’s office and, after the public comment period, must come before the redistricting commission for final approval, which requires seven votes.

Speaking before criticism blew in from the Legislature, members of the redistricting commission said their plan had required significant compromise.

Former Democratic lawmaker Doug Harpool, the chairman of the redistricting commission, said that was particularly necessary in St. Louis County, Clay County near Kansas City, the Bootheel and Boone County, which is home to the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Republican Cole County Commissioner Marc Ellinger, vice chairman of the redistricting panel, said the St. Louis metropolitan area had been challenging. He said the commission’s job is to develop a fair plan.

“It’s a compromise. It’s not the best for anybody,” Ellinger said.

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