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State Senate candidates divided over Clean Missouri

State Senate candidates divided over Clean Missouri

Bernskoetter, Wilson troubled by redistricting plan; Thompson calls it a good 'first step'

October 28th, 2018 by Bob Watson in Local News

Missouri lawmakers for years have talked a lot about ethics and ethics reform as they relate to politics and the state government — but their proposals have failed to win support in both chambers, so they haven't become law.

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Supporters of Amendment 1, the Clean Missouri proposal on the Nov. 6 ballot, say passing it would make the changes lawmakers have failed to achieve.

State Rep. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, and one of three people on the Nov. 6 election ballot in the race for the state Senate's 6th District seat — said he likes parts of the proposal.

"But the main thing that the Clean Missouri thing does is the change in redistricting," he said, "and I think most people want their state rep (and senator) to be somebody they know and somebody they get along with well."

The other two candidates on the ballot in the 6th District race are Democrat Nicole Thompson and Libertarian Steven Wilson.

Thompson supports the proposed amendment.

"I do think that is a good, solid first step to ending a lot of our (campaign) finance issues and gerrymandering in our state," she said, "and making sure that the government has a fair and open process when it comes to creating and passing legislation."

But Wilson thinks the proposed amendment isn't practical.

"They want to give a third-party player the authority to come up with a (legislative) district that is more fair," he told the News Tribune. "Who watches the watcher? Who is this third-party player? Who do they work for?"

The proposed amendment would have the state auditor choose an independent "state demographer" to redraw the state House and Senate districts every 10 years.

The demographer still would have to create districts that are "compact and contiguous," the amendment's supporters have said — and the proposal seeks to achieve more balance among political parties by requiring the new districts to be "designed in a manner that achieves both partisan fairness and, secondarily, competitiveness" based on recent election results.

Today, redrawing districts based on new population numbers is done by two bipartisan committees — and the proposed amendment keeps those committees to review the state demographer's work.

Bernskoetter said: "I don't think people are going to like the idea of having — it's been referred to as 'spaghetti-like,' where you could go all the way from Boone County to Osage County, to make a district 50/50. At least, the way it is presently, either we have to have bipartisan support for redrawing the districts — or it's non-partisan and the judges do it. If you go to this Clean Missouri thing, it's going to be completely partisan — whoever the auditor is is basically in charge of redrawing the districts."

Wilson said he's concerned the auditor's selection of the state demographer could make districts more partisan.

"The only answer that I give people is, if you want to get rid of gerrymandering, you're going to have to change the political system" away from our current winner-take-all method, Wilson said.

Thompson said she wasn't concerned about the state demographer's work because "it's a non-partisan position."

Although he opposes Clean Missouri's redistricting language, Bernskoetter supports capping the donations any one person can give a single candidate — the proposed amendment sets that cap at $2,500 for state Senate candidates, per election, (currently $2,600) and $2,000 for state representative candidates (also currently $2,600).

He also supports preventing lawmakers from leaving their elected posts and, immediately, becoming lobbyists. The proposed amendment sets a two-year waiting period for lawmakers and their staff members between working in the Legislature and being hired to lobby the Legislature.

If Missouri voters reject the proposed amendment, he said, the Legislature will "still continue to have those conversations and, hopefully, we'll come up with something that both bodies will agree on, and the governor will sign."

Thompson likes all of Clean Missouri's proposed amendment, and said: "I think the lobbyists' gifts (limits) is a huge part of that amendment, as well as the open records requirements."

Courts have ruled the Legislature can make its own rules under the state Constitution, so some of the Sunshine Law's requirements for government agencies like city councils, county commissions and school boards don't apply to the Legislature — and the proposed amendment would change that.

Wilson said, even if voters pass it, "Clean Missouri won't get through the Supreme Court because they've already made a ruling that financing a campaign is freedom of speech."

Wilson also said Clean Missouri shouldn't be needed, "if the voter is actually identifying with people of integrity" and paying "attention to who you're voting for."

Bernskoetter, Thompson and Wilson are seeking to succeed now-Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe in the seven-county district that serves Cole, Moniteau, Morgan, Miller, Maries, Osage and Gasconade counties.