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Both sides agree: redistricting shouldn't be political

Special session expected after census data released by Jonathan Jain, [email protected] | July 8, 2021 at 3:40 a.m. | Updated July 8, 2021 at 10:15 a.m.
2020 photo: Missouri State Capitol dome

The Missouri Legislature will decide congressional redistricting in a special session later this year.

Representatives of both parties hope it will be fair, but Democrats concede they don't have much power in the process.

Committees in the House and Senate draw the district maps for Missouri's eight congressional seats every 10 years. Like a normal bill, the final map must be approved by both chambers before the governor can sign it into effect for the 2022 midterm elections.

"We only do this every 10 years, so our institutional knowledge of redistricting - there really is none," said state Rep. Dan Shaul, R-Imperial, the chairman of the House redistricting committee.

While there are mostly Republicans on his committee, Shaul said there is an emphasis to be as nonpartisan and non-confrontational as possible. Through conversations with the Democratic members of the redistricting committee, Shaul said each side understands the other's wants and it should be a smooth process.

State Rep. Jerome Barnes, D-Raytown, is the ranking minority member on the committee, which is made up of eight Republicans and three Democrats. This redistricting process will be unique because Republicans have the Governor's Office and a supermajority in both chambers of the Legislature.

Barnes said the redistricting process shouldn't be political, but it is hard for Republicans not to make it political when they have such a large advantage. He acknowledged the majority party has the power because more Republicans were elected to the Legislature. Although he said they don't have to listen to him, he thinks Democrats will be able to give some input and not only play defense.

"It all depends on the members on this committee," Barnes said. "I know all of them, and they are not that type to just run flat over you without hearing you through."

Barnes said the members of the committee aren't too extreme, and they understand the responsibility that comes with redistricting.

"It's going to shape Missouri over the next 10 years," Barnes said.

The congressional seats in Missouri are held by six Republicans and two Democrats. Barnes said his goal is to give representation to Democrats in Missouri.

"I know that the Republican Party would probably love to have it 8-0 here in the state of Missouri; that's just the way things go," Barnes said. "The population just doesn't dictate that."

Shaul said the census data will drive the redistricting process.

"It's going to be as pure as can be, and I think everything's on the table," Shaul said. "I think 6-2 is certainly a possibility; 7-1 and 5-3 are also possibilities."

Barnes warned of consequences for Republicans if a 7-1 map is drawn. He said that would weaken other districts currently held by Republicans, and those seats could be in contention.

"If they go to that extreme over there to the right - and I don't think we have those type of people in there - it'll be 7-1, but I don't think that's going to happen," Barnes said.

Regardless of how the seats end up, both sides expressed a desire to keep the process fair and clean.

"Our goal is going to be to make sure that everyone is represented fairly and proportionately in the state of Missouri," Shaul said.

Barnes agreed.

"We have an opportunity here to do the right thing for the state of Missouri," Barnes said. "I'm a positive-thinking person, and I think that's what we're going to do. I wouldn't bet all my life savings on it, but I'm thinking positive."

The earliest Missouri will get the census data is Sept. 30. After that, a special session will be called to pass a congressional district map.

"Being in a special session, we will be basically in our own vacuum," Shaul said. "Historically, redistricting has been done during the legislative session when there can be other bargaining chips put out there. We don't have anything else to work with except for what is in the best interest of the state of Missouri and the map."

"Being in this vacuum, I think we're going to have one of the most pure redistricting events that has taken place in recent history in the state of Missouri," Shaul said.

As Democrats begin their uphill climb with the redistricting process, Barnes maintains a cautious optimism.

"Hopefully, we can move the state forward and not drive it off a cliff," Barnes said.

Print Headline: Both sides agree: redistricting shouldn’t be political


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