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Missouri losing congressional seat

Missouri losing congressional seat

December 21st, 2010 in News

For the first time since 1860 - when the U.S. House had only 234 members, not today's 435 - Missouri will have fewer than nine congressional districts.

The U.S. Census Bureau said Tuesday the state's population grew by 7 percent over the 2000 census results, to 5,988,927 people.

But the nation as a whole grew by 9.7 percent, so the state will lose one of its current nine congressional districts when voters elect representatives to the U.S. House in 2012.

The U.S. Constitution created the census as a means to determine how the seats in the U.S. House should be divided among the states.

The number has been set at 435 since 1911.

By the end of the 2011 General Assembly session in May, Missouri lawmakers must redraw the state's congressional district boundaries to reflect the reduction.

"You hear on the radio all kinds of speculation on what's going to happen and what's not going to happen, on who's out and who's in," state Rep. John Diehl, R-Town and Country, said at a Capitol news conference late Tuesday morning.

"I want to make a pretty clear statement that all that is, is speculation."

Incoming House Speaker Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, has named Diehl chairman of the House's Special Standing Committee on Redistricting.

"There have been absolutely no determinations made," Diehl said. "There have been no maps drawn - and this committee still has a lot of work to do in front of us."

Even though he won't be speaker officially until the Missouri House elects him on Jan. 5, Tilley already has named all 12 members of the redistricting committee - four Democrats and eight Republicans, including Mid-Missouri's Tom Loehner, R-Koeltztown.

Diehl promised the committee's process would be bipartisan, "open and transparent," seeking comments from the general public as well as the members of Congress affected by the changes.

State Sen. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter - the Republicans' nominee for the Senate president pro tem's job when the session begins in two weeks - has asked Sen. Scott Rupp, R-Wentzville, to continue as chairman of the Senate's redistricting committee.

"We (also) are committed to a redistricting process that is open and transparent, and that ensures all citizens are appropriately and fairly represented," Rupp said in a news release.

Missouri still will have nine districts for the next two years, with six Republicans and three Democrats in those seats.

Rep.-elect Vicky Hartzler, R-Harrisonville - who defeated veteran Democrat Ike Skelton in last month's elections - said Tuesday: "We expect the Missouri Legislature to work hard and give thorough consideration to the task of redrawing the state's congressional districts to ensure the citizens of the Fourth District and the rest of the state are fairly represented on Capitol Hill."

Some experts think her district could be targeted for elimination, since five of the nine current districts border it.

Others think U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis, is the most vulnerable, since that city has been losing population for years, and some question whether the St. Louis area should keep its three current districts.

Political scientist George Connor told The Associated Press he expects state Republicans to be cautious about redrawing districts to force out Missouri's three Democratic congressmen, but Carnahan seemed most vulnerable.

"If they're going to try to target an existing predominantly Democratic seat, it is going to be the Carnahan seat," said Connor, the head of the political science department at Missouri State University.

Still others note that Missouri's greatest population loss over the past few decades has been across northern Missouri, suggesting the 6th and 9th Districts be merged into one.

They're now held by GOP U.S. Reps. Sam Graves, Tarkio, and Blaine Luetkemeyer, St. Elizabeth.

But Diehl said again, no decisions have been made.

"As we go through the next weeks and months, there are going to be a lot of nervous people," he said, "and nervous people tend to speculate."

Diehl noted the process is handled like any other bill, requiring both House and Senate to agree on one map.

"The governor has to sign it," Diehl noted. "And if he vetoes the bill, we would have to override that veto."

If lawmakers can't agree on a map or they can't override a veto, the job would be transferred to federal judges.

All Missouri House and Senate districts also must be redrawn, but that work is done by two special commissions that will be named early next year.

And none of the work can be finished until the Census Bureau provides complete details of where people live in every city and county - and that information isn't expected until February or March.