The Missouri Influencer Series

In their own words: Missouri Influencers on whether redistricting favors a party

The Clean Missouri initiative appears headed to the ballot in Missouri. Ethics reform can’t come a moment too soon.
The Clean Missouri initiative appears headed to the ballot in Missouri. Ethics reform can’t come a moment too soon.

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Missouri Influencer Series

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Clean Missouri, which will appear on the November ballot as Amendment 1, has been pitched as a way to ensure neither political party has an advantage when new redistricting maps are drawn.

But does Missouri’s redistricting system need to be changed to make legislative districts more competitive? And does the current method for drawing districts give either party an unfair advantage?

That’s what The Star’s readers wanted to ask our panel of business leaders, policymakers and community catalysts participating in “The Missouri Influencers” series.

We asked two questions:

1. Do you believe the current system needs to be changed to make legislative districts more competitive?

2. Using the “Your Voice” tool, our readers were most curious about this question: Does the current method for drawing districts give one party or the other an unfair advantage? Please explain your answer.

Overall, 77 percent of our respondents said yes to the first question.

Here’s how they responded to the second question:

Kay Barnes, former mayor of Kansas City, senior director for university engagement at Park University

Yes. Because of the partisan nature of the current selection process, the political party in power has an inappropriate advantage.

Mark Bedell, superintendent of Kansas City Public Schools

Yes. It really depends on where people live. I’ve observed how drawing new districts have resulted in voter suppression for poor families and people of color.

Jean Paul Bradshaw, lawyer and former U.S. attorney

With respect to state legislative districts, the current system gives neither party an advantage. A bipartisan commission, made up of equal numbers of people from each party, is appointed — a different commission for the House and Senate. And unlike some state boards, these aren’t “fake” members of parties.

Each state party committee names a panel from which the governor makes his or her choice. If the Commission cannot reach an agreement, then it goes to a committee made up of members of the Missouri Court of Appeals appointed by the Missouri Supreme Court to draw the map. These commissions work with data provided by the Missouri Office of Administration. Neither party has any advantage in this process.

I served on the last Senate Commission, which was one of the few to reach an agreement without going to the Court. There was a lot of give and take from each side to reach an agreement. The rules provided in the Missouri Constitution for how districts must be drawn will not be changed by “Clean Missouri.”

The idea that the state will find a demographer to administer what is a political process, but who has no political leanings, is ridiculous. This is a solution in search of a problem. Missouri handles redistricting very differently from most other states (it is one of only 11 with a bipartisan commission process). There is no need to fix our process — it is not broken.

Mike Burke, lawyer and former Kansas City Council member

The current system dilutes the political power of urban area and increases rural areas. There should be balance. Kansas City would have more representation under a fair method.

Woody Cozad, lobbyist and former state GOP chairman

No. By law, half the members of a redistricting commission must be Republicans and half must be Democrats. Where’s the partisan advantage in that?

To adopt a plan requires a super-majority so that multiple members of both parties must vote for the plan. If the commission can’t agree on a plan, the courts decide. Most of the judges have been appointed by Democratic governors, giving the Democrats a slight advantage. The only other advantage is the constitutional requirement that there must be African-American controlled, i.e., Democratic controlled districts.

The “Clean Missouri” proposal must, therefore, continue creating non-competitive African-American districts but it will do away with non-competitive Republican controlled districts. It’s a scheme to destroy a fair system and replace it with one harmful to Republicans. If The Star wants its readers to know the truth, it should print a list of the groups that endorse Clean Missouri. All of them are on the left end of the political spectrum.

John Danforth, former U.S. senator

Yes. Under the current system lines are drawn in order to provide safe districts for one party or the other. True political contests do not exist when general election results are foregone conclusions. The real contests occur in primary elections in which the competition favors the candidate who can appear to be the most ideologically extreme.

Jane Dueker, lawyer, radio host and former political adviser

I believe that the current system favors the GOP and helps to maintain their supermajority. I disagree, however, that Amendment 1 would appropriately address the issue.

There is no evidence that Amendment 1 would in fact net more Democratic seats. Moreover, I believe that Amendment 1 would dilute minority and progressive representation, a large portion of which is concentrated in urban and suburban areas.

For example, for seats in the City of St. Louis, in order to find enough Republicans to make those seats competitive you would need to draw long strip districts that reach from the Mississippi River to west St. Louis county or St. Charles; or from the river down to Jefferson County. This would dilute minority representation that has taken decades to build.

Missouri does not need to enshrine the ever-lowering Voting Rights into our Constitution. No other state in the Union has tried this method. Of the nine states that have measures on their ballots, eight of those are moving toward Missouri’s model for redistricting, Missouri would be the only state moving from its model.

The evidence shows that reducing the number of house districts is the proper way to increase competitiveness without discarding the compactness and contiguous requirements and preserving minority representation. Amendment 1 is an experiment that is likely to have many other unintended consequences.

Patrick “Duke” Dujakovich, president of the Greater Kansas City AFL-CIO

The abuse of the current method of drawing lines favors those of n charge however they want to cut. Be it by party or race. There is scientific proof of this courts have allowed the proof to be admitted in cases.

John Fierro, Kansas City Public Schools board member

I support Clean Missouri in advocating for a nonpartisan expert selected to draw fair legislative district maps reviewed by a citizens commission. This would also be an invaluable policy if used at the local, county and school district levels as well. It would provide a universal and consistent policy to contend with the varying processes used at each board of election office in Missouri; there are examples of individuals hired who aren’t always nonpartisan nor un-objective.

Gwendolyn Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City

Yes, the current method gives one party an advantage over the other depending on a variety of factors. For example, if the bipartisan commission cannot agree on how the districts are drawn, the decision moves to the court. The Missouri judiciary is dominated by Republican judges. Consequently, Republicans have enjoyed a significant advantage with respect to redistricting. The Republican party has been very effective at drawing districts to protect incumbents and to marginalize minority populations.

It is not necessarily a bad thing to draw lines to protect incumbents, but it is a problem when lines are drawn in such a way as to obviate the ability of minority populations to elect the representative of their choice. A nonpartisan demographer will be a vast improvement in the current system, and our best opportunity to create more competitive districts.

Jason Grill, media, public affairs and crisis communications consultant

Politics needs to be taken out of the redistricting process. Redistricting must become independent of partisanship. Missouri should be a leader in this pursuit and continue to evolve and improve upon its current State Legislature Bipartisan Commission as redistricting is right around the corner.

John Hancock, consultant and former chair of the Missouri Republican Party

Our current method, which involves a bipartisan commission appointed by the governor from lists submitted by each political party, provides the maximum bipartisan input. If this commission cannot come to agreement on district lines, then a panel of appellate judges draws the lines. Clean Missouri provides a partisan advantage for Democrats — and that conclusion is self-evident.

James Harris, political strategist

No, the current system requires substantial bipartisan agreement, or the courts are empowered to draw maps. Clean Missouri is not about eliminating partisanship, its aim is to bake partisanship into the Constitution and force gerrymandered redistricting that will give Democrats an advantage.

Deb Hermann, CEO of Northland Neighborhoods Inc. and former Kansas City Council member

The current system no longer has any credibility with the voter. Decisions are made by a political commission and the legislature. Strong incumbents protect their offices. In recent years, redistributing has ended up in court, with those decisions overturned.

Bob Holden, former governor

Yes. It helps the party in power or the individuals on the committee that are the most effective.

Gregg Keller, principal of Atlas Strategy Group

Of course redistricting gives one party an unfair advantage: It gives the advantage to the party that the people of Missouri prefer at any given time, as evidenced by their votes.

But Missouri Democrats are currently (deservedly) out of favor with voters, as evidenced by Republican super-majorities in the Missouri House and Senate and the fact that the GOP holds all statewide constitutional offices, save one.

Lo and behold: The Democrats get their largest national donor (George Soros) to bankroll an amendment written by Democrat lawyers to take redistricting out of the hands of the people and put it in the hands of Democrats’ only current statewide elected official. This is a cynical political power grab by Democrats, which only the most cynical among us wouldn’t concede.

Crosby Kemper III, director of the Kansas City Public Library, co-founder of the Show-Me Institute

Redistricting always favors incumbents.

Quinton Lucas, Kansas City Council member

It would be nice to avoid the gerrymandering battles and build districts based on cohesive similarities in communities.

Chris Maples, interim chancellor at Missouri University of Science and Technology

Redistricting traditionally has favored the party in power to redraw districts to favor that particular party.

Dan Mehan, president and CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry

No it does not as evidenced by the ebb and flow of power between the parties over time. There are plenty of checks and balances on the system; the new proposal would completely politicize it and disenfranchise districts.

Jay Nixon, former governor

It has become increasingly partisan, and districts designed for political expediency make for fewer contested races. Both parties play in that process.

Leland Shurin, lawyer and chairman of the Kansas City Police Board

Yes, the party in power can (and does) control the process and the drawing of districts. Doing such is based on politics, not on the right of each citizen to vote for a candidate that reflects the citizen’s choice of representative.

Ryan Silvey, Missouri Public Service commissioner and former state senator

I don’t believe the current system gives an advantage to either party, but I do believe it’s broken. When working properly, the bipartisan commission reaches consensus on a map. However, for several decades, they have not been able to reach consensus and the maps were ultimately drawn by the courts.

While I don’t believe the courts give a partisan advantage, I also don’t believe they are the most qualified body to do it. I would like to see Missouri move toward an Iowa model where the districts are drawn by nonpartisan demographers and do not take political affiliation into consideration at all.

Jeff Simon, managing partner, Husch Blackwell

It gives the party in control of the state legislature a distinct advantage when redistricting occurs every 10 years. This is a root cause of the hyper-partisanship that is undermining our democracy and needs honest attention.

Mike Talboy, director of government affairs for Burns & McDonnell and former state legislator

Yes. It gives the party in power a ton of leverage in the congressional maps directly. They also have leverage in the state maps as we have seen, the judiciary is dependent on the legislature for its budget and how the Chief selects the committees can be used to tilt towards getting a goal result. This is not a constant but are issues that do present themselves at times. There are federal guidelines in the Voting Rights Act that will impact and guide maps at the federal and state level. And as we have seen in several states, there have been efforts to circumvent several provisions and they have resulted in maps being struck down.

Overall, redistricting issues are not a Red or Blue issue, it is a process intended to aide those in power, not just in Missouri but across the country. There are a few states that have established very thoughtful processes for both state and federal redistricting. Those should be the norm rather than exceptions.

Scott Wagner, Kansas City mayor pro tem

The answer depends on who is in power when it occurs. Essentially when the result is creating “safe districts” for incumbents or parties the result is allowing one party to have an unfair advantage.

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