New state Senate districts approved

A Missouri bipartisan commission passed new Senate boundaries Monday, approving adjustments from its earlier proposal that are designed to smooth population differences among the districts.

Doug Harpool, the chairman of the Senate redistricting commission, said the changes should not affect significantly the partisan characteristics of each of the 34 Senate districts. The changes tweaked boundaries for several districts in the St. Louis-area and Jackson County and adjusted a Springfield district. The final map also put St. Clair County into a different western Missouri Senate seat and moved Chariton County in central Missouri from a west-central district to one that stretches to the northeastern corner.

The new districts received final approval on a unanimous 10-0 vote. Much of the discussion Monday was held behind closed doors as officials discussed legal issues surrounding the map with Missouri Solicitor General James Layton. Republican and Democratic commission members then broke off before reconvening for a final vote.

Some of the strongest objections over the Senate map have focused on St. Louis. The map gives Democrats an advantage in the 1st District in St. Louis County, which currently is held by Republican Sen. Jim Lembke. It also creates a new east-central Senate district and places Republican Sens. Jane Cunningham and Brian Nieves into the 26th District covering Franklin County and part of St. Louis County.

The new seat will be District 10 and a little changed seat in Jackson County becomes District 7. Numbering is important for Senate districts because odd numbered districts — such as the 7th District — appear on the ballot this year while even numbered districts, such as the 10th District, next will stand for election in 2014. The changes could give Democrats and Kansas City an extra senator for two years.

In addition, a recently filed federal lawsuit claims the map violates federal equal protection rights and favors urban voters at the expense of rural residents. The lawsuit was filed last week by a pair of law firms whose attorneys include former U.S. Attorney Todd Graves, a Republican, and former Missouri House Speaker and U.S. Attorney Catherine Hanaway, a Republican. An attorney representing the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit said Monday the presumption is the case would continue but he first wants to examine the final map to determine whether the population issues are addressed.

Harpool, a former Democratic lawmaker, said the commission wants a map that stands up to any challenges. He said further reductions in the population differences would have required crossing county lines, which the panel did not want to do. The Missouri Constitution calls for counties generally to be kept within one district.

“We want a legal map. We want to get this issue behind the people of the state,” Harpool said.

The commission said the population difference between the most heavily populated district and most sparsely populated district was about 9.6 percent under the original proposal and about 8.5 percent under the final plan. The least populated district is in Jackson County, and the most heavily populated seat includes Joplin. According to a partisan analysis based upon election results from the past two elections, the GOP has an edge in 21 districts while Democrats have an advantage in 13.

Commission member Jean Paul Bradshaw, a Republican former U.S. attorney, said redistricting is a bipartisan effort that will not make everyone happy.

“Democrats gave up some things they didn’t want to give up. We gave up some things we didn’t want to give up, and you get to an agreement,” he said.

This was the second attempt to draw new Senate boundaries based upon results from the 2010 census. A different bipartisan panel failed to agree on a map, so a special panel of appellate judges handled the task. The Missouri Supreme Court in January rejected that map, which required the process to start over.

Missouri candidates started filing about two weeks ago for this year’s elections. The filing period continues through March 27.

Republican Steve Ehlmann, who voted against the tentative plan, backed the final map even though he said he was not happy. Ehlmann, who is from St. Charles County, said he had to compare the commission’s districts to those a federal judge possibly could draw.

“It’s the devil you know versus the devil you don’t,” Ehlmann said. “There’s some devils in this map as far as I’m concerned, but I know what they are and I have to measure those against the devils in a court-generated map, which I don’t.”

The new map can be viewed in detail online at bit.ly/m6JnrH.

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