As the state undergoes its House redistricting process, Mid-Missouri communities are hoping they don't become divided.
Pleas to adhere future state House districts to Boone County lines made up a bulk of the public redistricting hearing Thursday in Jefferson City.
After lively public hearings in Springfield, Kansas City and St. Louis last month, the House Independent Bipartisan Citizens Commission hosted its fourth public hearing in the Capital City.
None of the public testimony, however, discussed Jefferson City's state House district, and none of the individuals providing testimony were from Jefferson City.
Instead, the hearing was mostly centered around redistricting within Boone County as all but two of the eight individuals to testify asked for fair districts that keep representation within county lines.
"We know each other, we take walks together, we share the same information on our neighborhood Facebook pages but we're not represented in the state uniformly," Boone County resident Barbara Hoppe said about her neighbors across the street.
Hoppe, president of the Columbia, Boone County League of Women Voters, wasn't alone.
An effort to keep neighborhoods and communities within the same state House district characterized most of Thursday's testimonies, which included two additional testimonies from the League of Women Voters asking for fair districts to be created using complete census data.
Mike Campbell, a lifelong Boone County resident, told the commission the county is a distinct community with Columbia acting as a central hub for smaller towns in the area.
"When they go to Columbia, they reflect the character of their small town, and then when they go back to their small town they reflect the character of Columbia, and that's something that I think is very unique to Boone County," Campbell said. "It's something that we should expect in our state representatives."
Campbell asked the commission to draw district lines to stay within county lines so state lawmakers representing Boone County would have to be from Boone County.
Boone County is divided into five House districts, only two of which are fully within the county. House districts 50, 47 and 44 spill into surrounding counties.
House district 50, for example, incorporates southern Boone County and parts of Cole, Cooper and Moniteau counties, including California, Missouri. The entire region is represented by state Rep. Sara Walsh, a Republican residing in Ashland.
If the district were to be shored up to Boone County lines, parts of Cole, Cooper and Moniteau counties would see the effects.
According to the 2020 census data, Boone County's population grew 13 percent during the last 10 years, from 162,642 in 2010 to 183,610 in 2020.
Campbell said that population growth should be enough for five House districts to be entirely within Boone County.
"I'd recommend to the committee that we have Boone County representatives represent Boone County," Campbell said.
Kory Kaufman, another Boone County resident, held similar views.
While communities within the county are different in many ways, Kaufman said they often align in values and what they find important.
"Currently right now, we have three of those five districts that extend outside of Boone County, and I don't believe that they fairly represent what Boone County all has in common," he said.
If House district lines were to stay within Boone County, members of the commission said it would still be required to split communities within the county into four or five districts.
"With a population of just over 126,000 in Columbia, someone's neighbor is going to not be in the same district," commission member Pat Thomas said. "It's just a matter of where those census block lines fall."
Although receptive to the idea, Thomas said keeping neighborhoods and communities together is not a top priority within the redistricting criteria laid out in the Constitution.
She said the top priority is keeping district populations within acceptable deviation.
The commission often asked the individuals providing testimony if they had suggestions for how to split the districts within Boone County.
The answer was almost always to keep districts contiguous, base them on population growth and stay within the county borders.
Outside of Boone County, one individual asked the commission to redistrict Phelps County, which is currently divided into House Districts 62, 120, 121 and 142, into one district.
Additionally, Nancy Copenhaber, a former state representative from Moberly, asked the commission to restore Randolph County to one House district. Like Phelps, Randolph County is divided into four districts and the city of Moberly is split into two.
The House Independent Bipartisan Citizens Commission has two more public hearings scheduled in locations around the state. It's next hearing is Monday in Cape Girardeau, and the final hearing is Wednesday in Kirksville.
The House commission, as well as its counterpart for the state Senate, has until Dec. 23 to draw new maps and reapportion the chamber. If the maps are agreed to, the commissions must have plans finalized by Jan. 23, 2022.
In the event the commission can't agree on a map, as has happened in both commissions several times in the past five redistricting processes, the responsibility of creating a map is shifted to a six-member commission of appellate judges.