"When politicians don't have to worry about the voters back home that impacts their behavior."
Those were the words of Sean Soendker-Nicholson, the director of the organization "No On 3." On Oct. 14, Soendker-Nicholson and state Sen. Dan Hegeman debated the merits of Amendment 3 in an online forum hosted by Drury University in Springfield. Soendker-Nicholson repeatedly touted the "fairness" of the so-called Clean Missouri Amendment, passed in 2018.
I think his statement about voters was true. Politicians who don't have to answer to their constituents can be affected by that disconnect. If you don't have to live close to your constituents, shop in their stores, go to church with them or just look them in the eye, it can change the way you make decisions. And often not for the better.
However, Soendker-Nicholson's own words reveal the truth about Clean Missouri. In that same debate, he quoted from a study by the Princeton Gerrymandering Project that believes Clean Missouri as it stands will result in only 20 percent of districts being competitive. They try to spin this as a positive. They also try to make you believe that districts will be drawn in such a way that does not cut up our cities, counties and communities.
But the truth is Clean Missouri was designed to do these very things. It explicitly states partisan political concerns must outweigh all other factors. And that means it will outweigh the age-old guiding principle of districts that they keep communities together as much as possible.
We have always kept communities, towns, cities and counties together as much as possible because we rightly assume someone from that community is best suited to represent it. How can someone from inner-city St. Louis or Kansas City understand the needs and attitudes of people from a farm community? How can someone from that same farm community represent the issues and concerns of people in the inner city?
The short answer is they can't. And if Clean Missouri stands, at least 80 percent of politicians won't have to. Those numbers are directly from the lips of the person being paid by outstate interests to try keep Clean Missouri on the books.
No other state in the union uses a system like Clean Missouri and for good reason. Elected officials should be answerable to the people they serve. Everyone should have to live and work with the people that they are elected to represent, be accountable to them and share their values as much as practicable.
The system of redistricting we have now was passed in a conglomeration of a ballot issue. It is confusing, dense and was arguably intended to be that way. But one thing is explicitly clear. Clean Missouri puts partisan political ends above all other considerations. This is wrong, and I believe we have to change it. We have to put people first.
State Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, represents Missouri's 6th District and shares his perspective on statehouse issues twice a month.