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House District 49 candidates debate redistricting reform

House District 49 candidates debate redistricting reform

October 28th, 2018 by Seth Wolfmeyer in Local News

Candidates for the House District 49 are split over the proposed ethics reform amendment to the state's Constitution — Amendment 1, also known as Clean Missouri — disagreeing on what the proposal's changes to how legislative districts are drawn would mean for Missouri.

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"I think Clean Missouri is a disaster zone initiative," said Travis Fitzwater, the Republican incumbent. "I think when you have Planned Parenthood and you have the Sierra Club and all these radical leftist organizations supporting it, not because they want ethics reform but because they want redistricting reform so that you can't have a supermajority of Republicans in the state of Missouri, I think that's a problem."

Lisa Buhr, the Democrat challenging Fitzwater for the seat in the Nov. 6 general election, said the state's current legislative map is proof reform is needed.

"Have you looked at a map of Missouri's House districts? Come on, I mean, they're cut by streak, streak, streak," Buhr said. " Parts of this district includes Cole County over by the (Capital Mall) — one precinct. Why? Can you tell me why — other than to keep a supermajority?"

Currently, House and Senate districts are redrawn by committees appointed by the governor with an equal number of representatives from the two largest parties. Clean Missouri would significantly change the process, making the state auditor give three "non-partisan state demographer" candidates to Senate majority and minority leaders for selection.

Buhr said a "bipartisan, non-political" entity would be able to create fairer districts than the current system, adding: "I think if you can't win in a fairly drawn district, you shouldn't be running."

Fitzwater said the changes would not create a fair system, instead providing a boon to Democrats and hurting Republicans.

"If it didn't have the redistricting piece, I'd probably support Clean Missouri," Fitzwater said. "But the redistricting piece is pretty egregious, and that's the part you really can't stomach when you look at Clean Missouri."

Fitzwater and Buhr support the other portions of Clean Missouri, including a ban on lobbyist gifts over $5 and a "revolving door" ban that would prevent legislators from becoming a paid lobbyist for two years after leaving office. Currently, legislators must wait six months before they can become a paid lobbyist.

"I've voted multiple times in my legislative career for a ban on lobbyist gifts; I think that's a decent change in ethics," Fitzwater said. " We now have a 'revolving door' law already on the books that basically prevents a legislator from becoming a lobbyist upon quitting the Legislature; they have to wait about a year or they have to skip a session. I voted for that bill; I thought that was an important reform."

Buhr supports both reforms and stresses transparency, but said lobbyists serve a purpose in being knowledgeable in an area of policy. She has taken gifts while working as a legislative assistant, Buhr added, usually food.

"If your representative can be bought with a dinner or a ham sandwich, you need to look at who your representative, you know, who they are and what they're really representing," Buhr said. "Not really so much the fact that they took the ham sandwich."

Buhr has accepted $293.68 in 2018 as a legislative assistant for state Rep. Greg Razer, according to the Missouri Ethics Commission. All but one gift, an office picture, was listed under meals, food and beverage.

Fitzwater has accepted $1,214.47 from lobbyists in 2018. All but four gifts were for food, with three listed with the MEC as golf and one for mileage reimbursement. Fitzwater was also a registered lobbyist for the Missouri Pharmacy Association from 2007-12.

Both candidates said transparency in campaign contributions and preventing the negative effects of dark money are important for Missouri.

Fitzwater said ensuring donations to political candidates are searchable helps Missourians "decide where they're at on a politician."

"We need to figure out where the loopholes are," Buhr said of dark money. "We need to figure out how they're getting away with it and fix it."