Originally posted in the Joplin Globe on October 25, 2018
It has been a hard fight to get before Missouri voters Amendment 1 — a multi-faceted proposal that, if approved, will change the rules that govern lobbying, campaign donations, open records and redistricting.
Specifically, it will require lawmakers and staff members to wait two years after the conclusion of their last legislative session before they can become paid lobbyists. Missouri’s prohibition is currently too short at just six months. This is an improvement.
It also would prohibit lawmakers and their staffs from accepting gifts from paid lobbyists in excess of $5. This is long needed, and frankly, it won’t come from lawmakers.
Amendment 1 also requires that all legislative records, including legislative proceedings, be considered public records — again, a gimme that is much needed, and one we will never see happen through legislative action.
The amendment also includes restrictions on campaign contributions for lawmakers — $2,500 for state Senate candidates, $2,000 for state House candidates. This is not much different from the $2,600 cap we have now.
More uncertain for us is the redistricting component to Amendment 1. Missouri’s legislative districts are redrawn every 10 years after the U.S. census. We agree with the goals of proponents, who want a more transparent, nonpartisan mechanism that results in more competitive districts. That would be good for democracy statewide. Currently, about 90 percent of Missouri’s districts are not competitive, meaning they are either safe Democratic or safe Republican seats. This undermines lawmaker accountability to voters.
While most of Southwest Missouri would remain dominated by Republican districts, this is not just about us. This is also about preventing what proponents call “vote dilution” from gerrymandering. Will this new plan get us there? Candidly, we’re not sure, but we know the current mechanism isn’t working.
Under the current system, new district maps are drawn by two bipartisan commissions, one from the House and one for the Senate. Each commission’s legislative district plan has to be approved by 70 percent of its members. If the maps fail to get 70 percent, the Missouri Supreme Court appoints a commission of six state appellate judges to draw up new maps. Missouri’s legislative districts were last redrawn in 2011, and it required the use of the court-appointed judges. It is naive to think we won’t be heading back to the judges after the 2020 census.
Amendment 1 creates the position of a “nonpartisan” state demographer who will be responsible for drawing up legislative redistricting maps and presenting them to House and Senate apportionment commissions. The proposal also outlines criteria the demographer must use when redistricting. The state auditor would compile the list of candidates for the position, and no person who served in a partisan, elected position during the four-year period before the selection for the demographer could apply, and anyone who takes the job would be prohibited from serving as a legislator for four years afterward.
Whether this new method will do any better removing partisanship from redistricting remains to be seen, but on balance, we’re willing to give Amendment 1 a shot. We recommend a “yes” on Nov. 6.