Politics

Redistricting underway for Missouri legislature. What changes could Kansas City see?


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The Missouri State Capitol building in Jefferson City. State lawmakers’ districts are being redrawn this year using population changes tallied in the 2020 Census.

rsugg@kcstar.com

Fewer than 20% of Americans can name their state legislators, according to a 2018 survey by Johns Hopkins University.

It’s likely that even fewer know when their state legislative district lines are being redrawn, which is happening right now based on the results of the 2020 Census.

Growth in the Northland and population loss on Kansas City’s East Side are among the factors likely to drive boundary changes in the region during the once-a-decade redistricting process.

How districts are drawn is more than an arcane mapmaking exercise. Redistricting determines an area’s representation in the state legislature, where the House and Senate take up everything from taxes and police reform to school choice and social safety net programs. It determines how a $35 billion annual state budget will be spent.

Two bipartisan commissions, appointed by Republican Gov. Mike Parson, have begun work to redraw the next decade’s district lines for the Missouri General Assembly’s 34 state Senate seats and 163 House seats. Commission members have until Dec. 23 to produce their first maps.

In public hearings over the past month, the two panels heard residents express interest in keeping important jurisdictions such as school systems and towns together in the same districts. They said a single representative could better advocate for that community’s interests at the state level.

How neighborhoods and counties are combined also determines the district’s electorate, and the balance of power in the legislature.

BEHIND OUR REPORTING

The Bigger Picture

Congressional and state legislative district lines are redrawn every ten years based on the latest Census. The 435 seats in the U.S. House are apportioned so that districts in each state are of roughly equal population. While some states will gain or lose seats, Missouri will retain its eight congressional districts, currently held by six Republicans and two Democrats.

The party in power generally controls how district lines are redrawn . In Missouri that means Republican Gov. Mike Parson and the GOP supermajority in the General Assembly. The process invariably includes at least an attempt by the party in charge to “gerrymander,”or redraw maps to its political advantage.

In 2022, the GOP could redraw the 5th Congressional District, a “safe” Democratic seat held by Rep. Emanuel Cleaver since 2005. The 5th takes in all of Kansas City south of the Missouri River, a corner of Clay County and a chunk of rural western Missouri. Republicans could decide to make the 5th less of a sure bet for Cleaver by shifting some urban voters into other more rural districts. The opposite could happen in St. Louis, where the GOP might pack more more suburban Democrats into Rep. Cori Bush’s deep-blue St. Louis district, possibly giving the adjacent Republican, Rep. Ann Wagner, an easier race than she had in 2020.

State legislative lines will be drawn by two bipartisan commissions, one for the House, one for the Senate, appointed by Parson. Maps need 70% approval to be adopted. Congressional districts will be drawn by the Legislature, subject to Parson’s veto.

Solutions

Many states are working to make redistricting more fair and transparent Twenty-one now have some form of non-partisan or bi-partisan commissions. California uses an independent commission of citizen volunteers to draw legislative and Congressional lines.

Missouri appeared to be on the way to change in 2018, when voters approved the Clean Missouri ballot initiative. Under Clean Missouri, a non-partisan state demographer would have craft legislative maps, to be reviewed by a citizens commission. Two years later, voters approved a Republican-drafted amendment on the statewide ballot to rollback the changes.

This is the first redrawing of lines since advocates attempted to implement a new redistricting process. It took responsibility for the maps largely out of the hands of gubernatorial commissions and gave it to a nonpartisan demographer. The new maps were expected to emphasize creation of competitive districts in a state where Republicans hold a supermajority in the legislature.

Voters passed a constitutional amendment making those changes in 2018. But they undid them two years later in another ballot measure backed by Republican lawmakers. It returned the process largely to what it was before, with an emphasis on compact districts that keep “communities of interest” together.

Changes to district lines are expected to be more dramatic in the eastern half of the state. Population declines in St. Louis and the Bootheel region and growth in one suburban county should be enough to produce a new state Senate district.

Population growth in mid-Missouri’s Boone County, home to liberal-leaning Columbia, could give it a Senate seat of its own, which Democrats would likely be able to win. The existing district, represented by Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, has for the past decade been buoyed by Republican votes in neighboring Cooper County.

The Missouri constitution requires legislative seats, representing about 181,000 people per Senate district and about 37,000 per House district, to be fully contained within counties when possible.

While all four Kansas City counties — Jackson, Clay, Platte and Cass — saw population increases, none were enough to gain a full Senate seat.

In the Northland, it will mean shrinking two existing Senate districts that cover parts of Kansas City, to account for growth. Platte County saw the state’s biggest population bump over the past decade with more than 17,000 new residents, a 19% increase. Neighboring Clay County grew by more than 31,000 residents, a 14% spike.

State Senate districts 34 and 17, represented by Parkville Republican Tony Luetkemeyer and Kansas City Democrat Lauren Arthur respectively, need to shed population, some of which will likely be picked up by the rural Republican 12th district to the north.

Luetkemeyer acknowledged there would be “some changes to the Senate districts in the Northland.”

“That’s a sign of the growth we’re seeing north of the river due to economic opportunities, good schools and the safety of our communities,” he said in a statement. “Those are all really good things.”

Democrats are eyeing the region for future elections. In a forum last week for Democratic U.S. Senate candidates, former state senator Scott Sifton described Arthur’s district, which she flipped in 2018, as one of the “persuadable suburban battlegrounds” where Democrats should focus attention to win back parts of the electorate.

Some asked the commissions to keep the urban and suburban parts of Platte County paired in a Senate district with St. Joseph in neighboring Buchanan County. While Luetkemeyer currently represents both counties, his district needs to shrink to account for growth. A new district that still includes St. Joseph would have lines cutting through both Platte and Buchanan’s rural areas–which some commissioners suggested was impossible because the state constitution emphasizes keeping counties and other political subdivisions intact.

But at a public hearing in Kansas City last month, Riverside resident Karen Wright argued St. Joseph had more in common with the Northland than rural Platte and Buchanan counties, citing the smaller city’s similar diversity and businesses.

“Platte County has grown 20%, and at this point we need to ask a question: Which part is the least similar to the other?” she said.

Others are hoping growth in Kansas City’s Latino population will prompt commissioners to draw a majority-Latino House district encompassing the historic Northeast region. Those neighborhoods are currently split up among three House districts, primarily one represented by Democrat Ingrid Burnett that extends east toward Independence.

.Independence Rep. Robert Sauls and Kansas City Rep. Ashley Aune are both Hispanic, but neither represent the city’s more heavily Latino urban core neighborhoods, said advocate Manny Abarca, a Kansas City Public Schools board member, U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver staffer and state Democratic Party secretary.

“We all go to the same fiestas. We all go to the same schools … so it only makes sense that those folks still continue to maintain some level of geographic representation through the state legislature,” Abarca said. “Those populations have more in common than Sugar Creek and Independence in this current moment and culture.”

Elsewhere in the city, Westside districts and southeast Jackson County suburbs have gained population, while the East Side saw losses.

The East Side’s 9th Senate district, represented by Kansas City Democrat Barbara Washington, needs to gain about 10,000 residents, which could cause it to be extended into the 8th district, represented by Lee’s Summit Republican Mike Cierpiot.

The commissioners are operating on a delayed scheduled following the late release of Census data this year.

They are comprised of 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats. A map needs at least 14 votes for approval. If the commissions deadlock, as has historically been the case, a panel of judges will be appointed to draw the districts by late April, which could prevent candidates from filing for office in time. The window for candidates to file for next year’s primaries is Feb. 22 through March 29.

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Jeanne Kuang covers Missouri government and politics for The Kansas City Star. She previously covered local and state government at The (Wilmington, Delaware) News Journal and reported on criminal justice issues in Illinois. She graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.





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