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Congressional Redistricting Could Be 'Held Hostage' In Missouri's 2022 Legislative Session

The timeline for state legislative redistricting in Missouri is in flux because of a delay of critical data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Public Radio
The timeline for state legislative redistricting in Missouri is in flux because of a delay of critical data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Some lawmakers fear that members of both parties could use agenda items as leverage to affect what the congressional map looks like.

Missouri GOP lawmakers say they weren’t surprised that Gov. Mike Parson pulled the plug on a special session on congressional redistricting, pointing to both a truncated timeline and the Republican chief executive’s reluctance to bring lawmakers back to Jefferson City without consensus.

But even if Parson’s comments from last week weren’t shocking, the impact of the move is still the same: Having the highly political process take place during a regular session could enable lawmakers from both parties to hold legislation hostage in order to change the composition of the map.

That was something that state Rep. Dan Shaul, the chairman of the House Committee on Redistricting, was seeking to avoid.

“One of the challenges we’re going to have is remaining focused on something that’s very important to the people of Missouri — that’s redistricting,” said Shaul, R-Jefferson County. “We’ll have several other things distracting us at the same time.”

Missouri Governor Mike Parson addresses senators and an audience gathered in the view gallery during his State of the State address on Wednesday, January 27, 2021, in the Senate Chambers of the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City.
Special to St. Louis Public Radio

Parson has generally been gun-shy about calling special sessions unless lawmakers work out the details before they come back to Jefferson City. But he had previously said he would make an exception for congressional redistricting, a process that’s been pushed back because of delays in the U.S. Census.

Last week at the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia, Parson told reporters he wasn’t going to call a special session for congressional redistricting. The Associated Press reported that Parson said, "I don’t anticipate a special session at all for the remainder of the year unless we had to do that.”

Parson spokeswoman Kelli Jones said that lawmakers can meet and work during the interim, and that the bill sponsor could prefile a map.

“Consistent with previous requests and calls for extraordinary sessions, our office looks to see if there is a plan in place for a bill (map) to pass prior to a call,” Jones said. “We will continue to remain flexible throughout this process as the next few months go by.”

Shaul said the redistricting committee will continue to hold hearings and examine data that could contribute toward drawing a map.

Earlier this year on St. Louis Public Radio’sPolitically Speaking podcast, Shaul said he preferred to have a special session on redistricting so that lawmakers wouldn’t have anything else on the agenda to use as leverage to change the outcome. Some of the major initiatives that lawmakers could hold up in exchange for a more favorable map include appropriations authority to follow through on Medicaid expansion and spending proposals for billions in federal coronavirus funding.

But Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said getting redistricting done in November or December would have been difficult — especially since lawmakers would have likely been unavailable because of the holiday season. He also said the concept of holding up other legislation to affect redistricting “goes both ways.”

“As a member of leadership, you always like having as many things to leverage as you can,” Rowden said. “So that kind of works in your favor. But it also works against you, which I totally understand.”

Pressure from all over

There are a number of reasons lawmakers might tie up bills in order to get their way on redistricting:

  • Some lawmakers from St. Charles County have publicly stated they want the fast-growing area to be put in one congressional district — most likely the 2nd, which is held by Rep. Ann Wagner. That could chafe against some Republicans who want to incorporate more of Jefferson County into the district.
  • Democrats in the Senate could use the filibuster on a host of bills as a way to prevent Republicans from making the 2nd District, which is basically split evenly between the two parties, into a solidly GOP area. They could also prevent any effort to transform the 5th District that’s held by Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Kansas City, into a Republican stronghold. (Though many Republicans want to keep the 5th Democratic-leaning to prevent surrounding districts from being competitive.)
  • Because U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt isn’t running for re-election, at least two members of Missouri’s congressional delegation are vacating their seats in order to run for the Senate. That means House and Senate Republicans who want to run for Congress could try to change the map to help themselves or hurt their potential rivals.

Scott Rupp, a former Republican state senator who served as the chairman of a redistricting committee in 2011, said the Missouri Senate was different in the early 2010s compared to now. But he noted that some lawmakers have been fairly adept this year at holding up major bills in order to get their way.

“I totally could see this being held hostage,” said Rupp, who is now a member of the Missouri Public Service Commission. “It does give the minority party something to hold up — and to hold two weeks of precious time and use the clock and be able to gum the system. And then you throw in a couple of Republicans who are unhappy there? Yeah, we could be in for some interesting theatrics in the Senate.”

Rowden, who is considering running for the open 4th Congressional District seat, said the fact that Missouri isn’t losing a position gives lawmakers a general sense of “what the world looks like politically.”

“I think we’re in a good place to build some consensus both with folks who are making the decisions on the legislative level, as well as the congressional delegation,” Rowden said. “And I think we’ll end up where we need to be.”

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum 
Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Since entering the world of professional journalism in 2006, Jason Rosenbaum dove head first into the world of politics, policy and even rock and roll music. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Rosenbaum spent more than four years in the Missouri State Capitol writing for the Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri Lawyers Media and the St. Louis Beacon. Since moving to St. Louis in 2010, Rosenbaum's work appeared in Missouri Lawyers Media, the St. Louis Business Journal and the Riverfront Times' music section. He also served on staff at the St. Louis Beacon as a politics reporter. Rosenbaum lives in Richmond Heights with with his wife Lauren and their two sons.
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