Missourian Editor’s Notebook: Fear Redistricting

Originally posted in the eMissourian on May 17, 2019.

The General Assembly, as it winds down with another session this week, may pass legislation calling for another vote on the Clean Missouri amendment. They want to kill the voter-approved Amendment 1 initiative that was approved last November.

Republicans’ main fear is that the nonpartisan redistricting provision might endanger their party’s hold on legislative districts. Republicans are comfortable in the present boundaries, which give their party a majority in the House and Senate.

They want another costly statewide vote on a new plan that would kill the amendment to the constitution, approved by voters with an overwhelming majority that calls for a “nonpartisan” demographer to draw legislative boundaries. Republicans want a “bipartisan” panel to redraw the boundaries, much as to what was done in the past, and which didn’t work in fairness to both parties. It was political, with party deals being made by members of the panel.

An example is Franklin County, which is divided into four House districts, all held by Republicans. To divide Franklin County that way doesn’t make any sense and it’s unfair to voters. It’s confusing!

One of the arguments against the Republicans is that to change or eliminate Clean Missouri is going against the wishes of voters. Some Republicans claim that it really isn’t going against the voters’ wishes since the bill calls for another statewide vote.

That argument is an insult to voters’ intelligence, who approved the Clean Missouri amendment by a 61 to 38 percent margin in November. In Franklin County the margin of passage of Clean Missouri was 54 to 45 percent.

The politicians who are interested in being in safe districts for their own well-being fought Clean Missouri from its inception. Those politicians fear their re-election, and/or the party’s political standing, may be endangered if a nonpartisan demographer draws the legislative boundaries.

The bill that may pass before the session ends Friday was given birth out of fear that the party in the majority in the General Assembly may lose ground under a truly nonpartisan way of drawing the boundaries as called for in Clean Missouri.

About the only way for Missourians to keep Clean Missouri’s provisions, if the bill passes and there is another statewide vote, is to vote to retain the amendment by an even stronger majority.

If an issue is given a strong majority in a statewide election, and the Legislature immediately passes a bill calling for another election to kill what the voters approved, it is insulting to the people of Missouri and goes against all democratic principles.


AP: Bill imposes duties on Missouri redistricting demographer

Originally posted in Associated Press on May 16, 2019.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri lawmakers have approved new requirements for a state demographer responsible for drawing state House and Senate districts under a voter-approved constitutional amendment.

The bill given final approval Thursday by the House would create an online site for the demographer to receive suggested maps and comments from the public. Those materials all would be open to the public.

The legislation also would bar the demographer from receiving gifts and require him or her to file a statement of personal financial interested as other state officials must do.

The measure previously passed the Senate and now goes to Gov. Mike Parson.

Voters last November approved an amendment directing a state demographer to draw state legislative maps after 2020 census with “partisan fairness” and “competitiveness” among the top criteria.


Rolla Daily News: Efforts to change Clean Missouri halted in final week of session

JEFFERSON CITY —Two pieces of legislation that would have changed the Clean Missouri amendment will not make it to Gov. Mike Parson’s desk this year.

Amendment 1, also known as Clean Missouri, won approval from 62 percent of voters in November. Among other changes within the amendment, Clean Missouri overhauls the state’s redistricting process by putting a nonpartisan state demographer in charge of drawing the legislative districts.

A proposal from Rep. Dean Plocher, R-St. Louis, would instead keep the current redistricting process, in which separate House and Senate committees decide how to draw district lines.

Under the proposal, the map-drawing question would be put back on the ballot in the 2020 election. Proponents say citizens did not know what they were voting for last year.

Plocher’s proposal, which won approval in the House last month, must make it out of the Senate Fiscal Oversight committee before it can be discussed on the floor. However, the committee voted against passing the proposal by a 2-2 vote Monday morning.

Sen. Mike Cunningham, R-Rogersville, who chairs the committee, declined to comment Monday afternoon.

Another effort that would have weakened another part of Clean Missouri ran out of steam.

Clean Missouri makes legislative records and proceedings subject to the state’s open records law, known as the Sunshine Law. The amendment, which was added when the House approved the bill in February, would keep lawmakers’ records from being public if they relate to “the deliberative decision-making process” of the legislature. Critics have said the amendment would keep a wide range of records out of public view.

Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, sponsored the original bill, which extends some of the ethics restrictions included in Clean Missouri to local government officials. He conceded early in the week that it was unlikely the Senate will vote on the bill, or the Sunshine Law amendment, before the session concludes Friday.

“The Senate has always had less appetite for ethics bill than the House unfortunately,” Dogan said. “This is especially frustrating because the voters spoke with Clean Missouri and said they wanted to have gifts limits, lobbyists limits and revolving-door limits, and none of those three things applies to local government officials.”

Dogan said he plans to file the same legislation next year without the amendment.


Gerrymandering Plan Defeated for 2019 Session

Jefferson City politicians’ gerrymandering plan (HJR48) was defeated this week in the State Senate after a massive citizen response to defend the fair map requirements in Amendment 1 that passed in a landslide in November.The Clean Missouri coalition released the following statement today regarding the defeat of HJR48 and passage of SB213:

“More than 300,000 Missourians signed petitions to put Amendment 1 on the ballot, and then 1,469,093 voted to put the rules for maps maps and a more ethical  legislature into our state constitution. We’ve tracked more than 10,000 phone calls and messages into the State Capitol about politicians’ attempts to undo their mandate — and we know that’s just a fraction of what citizens have been doing in the past few weeks.

“We are glad to see the HJR48 gerrymandering plan set aside — but we know the lobbyists and politicians who pushed for this outrageous proposal aren’t giving up.

“We also know the massive bipartisan coalition that fought for two years to pass redistricting and ethics reforms aren’t going to give up in their fight for a responsive, accountable, and transparent state government.

“We are pleased to see SB213 sent to Governor Parson, which will establish good rules for the nonpartisan state demographer and empower citizens to be more engaged in the upcoming redistricting process. Voters have demanded an open and fair map creation process, and SB213 is a good next step to implementing what voters have approved.”

If HJR48 had been passed into law:

  • Fair map rules would have been gutted. The clear and transparent criteria in the constitution requiring fair maps and protecting the voting power of communities of color would have been gutted or dramatically weakened.
  • Lobbyists and political appointees would have free reign to gerrymandering maps. A huge ‘compactness’ loophole would have allowed lobbyists and political appointees to split communities and gerrymander maps.
  • Redistricting would happen in secretive back rooms. The redistricting process would have become more secretive, and would have happened in back rooms instead of in public view.
  • The process would have been even more political than it has been in the past. Independence added to process with nonpartisan state demographer role would be gone, and state political parties would be given even more control for future redistricting processes.

HJR48 was forced through the State House despite bipartisan opposition, and championed by Sen. Caleb Rowden in the State Senate. It was defeated this week in the Senate Fiscal Oversight Committee, however.

Rules for fair state legislative maps in our state constitution right now:

  • ensure no party will have an unfair advantage in future state legislative map plans
  • require data used in the crafting of draft maps to be made public
  • protect the voting power of communities of color against vote dilution, and
  • limit the influence of lobbyists and political appointees who have run the process in past redistricting cycles.

The Clean Missouri coalition remains committed to defending fair maps mandate passed by 1.47MM Missourians.


Will Caleb Rowden uphold the people’s vote?

Originally posted in the Columbia Tribune on May 9, 2019.

I voted for and was a canvasser for state Sen. Caleb Rowden. I knocked on doors for him because I believed that he would be an effective state senator who would listen to his constituents and work to make our lives better.

I collected signatures, knocked on doors and eventually voted for Amendment 1 (Clean Missouri) and Proposition B (Raise Up Missouri). I worked to put ethics reform, redistricting reform and a higher minimum wage on the ballot because I want an economy and democracy that work for working people like myself. I talked to Boone County voters just like me — Republicans, Democrats and Independents – because I believe that being paid a living wage and reducing the influence of lobbyists is a bipartisan issue. They agreed, and Amendment 1 and Prop B passed overwhelmingly in Boone County.

I have attempted to meet with Rowden so I could tell him how I feel about these issues. I was told to come to Jefferson City, so I traveled there to try to find him, but was not successful. It is frustrating how difficult it is for us regular folk to get time with our elected officials. That is why Clean Missouri is so important.

I hope Rowden makes the right choice and does not undermine the vote of 1.4 million Missourians who voted for these important issues, including an overwhelming majority of his constituents. I am inclined to vote for Rowden again, only if he respects my vote and my neighbors’ votes on these two critical issues. As the legislative session winds up, I will be watching.

Troy Jones,

Boone Country


Jeff City News Tribune: Lawmakers, leave Clean Missouri alone

Contact your senator here.

Originally posted in the Jeff City News Tribune on April 4, 2019.

Missouri lawmakers still are working feverishly to dismantle changes voters made to the state Constitution to clean up politics in Jefferson City.

The House on Monday sent the Senate a proposed constitutional amendment that would erase parts of Clean Missouri, passed by 62 percent of voters last November. Among other things, Clean Missouri:

• Changed the process used to redraw state House and Senate district boundaries every 10 years, after the federal census is finished. It created the post of “nonpartisan state demographer” — to be chosen by the state auditor from applications — to oversee the redistricting process.

• Reduced the limits on campaign contributions that candidates for state Legislature can accept from individuals or groups.

• Limited the gifts state lawmakers and their employees can accept from paid lobbyists to items that cost $5 or less.

• Prohibited lawmakers and their employees from serving as paid lobbyists for a two-year period after the lawmaker leaves office.

• Prohibited political fundraising on state property by candidates for, or members of, the Legislature.

• Required legislative records and proceedings to be open to the public under the Sunshine Law.

Republicans are the driving force behind the attempt to undo voters’ will. For them, the hardest change to swallow is the first — the change to the House/Senate redistricting process.

Their proposed amendment would change the criteria for drawing new legislative districts. It would eliminate the nonpartisan state demographer’s position created by Amendment 1, as well as the requirement that the demographer draw redistricting maps using mathematical formulas based on partisan fairness and competitiveness.

Missouri Rep. Dean Plocher, R-St. Louis County, sponsored the bill, arguing it more closely follows the state Constitution and federal law than Clean Missouri. But he hasn’t shown that Clean Missouri violated either.

Politicians seem to praise voters as being well-informed (especially when voting for them), but ill-informed if they approve something that’s distasteful to them.

Plocher has said his “bipartisan committee” will be better than “a single bureaucrat whose appointment will be controlled by a partisan elected official” to draw the maps.

“This removes the danger of a single redistricting czar under the sway, if not outright control, of one political party or set of special interest,” he said.

But before Clean Missouri, the Constitution required bipartisan commissions to redraw the state legislative districts, with a fall-back to six appeals court judges if the commissions failed to do their work.

For most of the last three decades, the judges — not the commissions — drew the maps, because the commissions didn’t work.

Lawmakers should respect voters’ will and leave Clean Missouri alone.


National experts condemn House gerrymandering proposal

New House plan would gut constitutional requirements for fairness, transparency and independence in redistricting

JEFFERSON CITY – National experts on nonpartisan redistricting policy joined Missouri citizens in condemning the gerrymandering proposal moving in the Missouri House that would roll back reforms passed overwhelmingly by voters in 2018.

“Missouri politicians should listen to their voters, who supported fair maps by an almost 2-to-1 margin in November,” said Chris Lamar, legal counsel, redistricting, at Campaign Legal Center (CLC). “This stealth gerrymandering plan proposed by self-interested politicians would overturn the will of the people, making it harder to achieve the independent redistricting process voters sought when they passed Amendment 1.”

“HJR 48 is a big step backwards from the fair map reforms overwhelmingly passed by Missouri voters last November,” said Michael Li, Senior Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “In place of the strong community-focused rules approved by voters, it would require splitting apart towns and cities and make partisan fairness subordinate to artificial and abstract notions of compactness. This is the exact opposite of good reform.”

New language for House Joint Resolution 48 was introduced and passed last week in committee without a thorough vetting or review. It would:

  • Overturn the will of 1.4 million Missourians who supported the Clean Missouri Amendment,
  • Allow lobbyists and partisan political appointees to gerrymander maps to advance their own interests,
  • Allow communities to be split up by political appointees in the name of ‘compact’ districts,
  • Eliminate the requirement that data used for map drafting be made open to the public, and
  • Remove the nonpartisan independence added to the state’s map-drawing process.

In November 2018, Missourians overwhelmingly supported a new, fair redistricting process that took away the influence of lobbyists and insiders when crafting new legislative maps. In its place, 1,469,093 voters enacted a new system with checks and balances to create districts where candidates will have to work hard to earn their votes, where lobbyists and political insiders can no longer rig the system, and to ensure that no political party gets an unfair advantage in any new maps.

Amendment 1 endorsements in 2018 included:

  • Action St. Louis
  • A. Philip Randolph Institute – St. Louis Chapter
  • Campaign Legal Center
  • Coalition of Black Trade Unionists
  • Common Cause
  • Communities Creating Opportunity
  • The League of Women Voters
  • Metropolitan Congregations United
  • Missouri AFL-CIO
  • Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys
  • Missouri Faith Voices
  • Missouri Jobs With Justice
  • Missouri NEA
  • MORE2
  • Organization for Black Struggle
  • NAACP Missouri State Conference
  • Service Employees International Union

Amendment 1 was also endorsed by Rev. Starsky Wilson, Rev. Dr. Rodney E. Williams, Rev. Dr. Cassandra Gould, Pastor Michael Brooks, Rev. Tex Sample, St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones, the St. Louis American and Kansas City Call.


Citizens condemn politicians’ stealth gerrymandering proposal

A New House plan would gut constitutional requirements for fairness, transparency and independence in redistricting.

JEFFERSON CITY – Good government groups joined Missourians from both parties today in condemning a stealth gerrymandering proposal that would roll back redistricting reforms passed overwhelmingly by Missouri voters in 2018.

A new Committee Substitute for House Joint Resolutions 48, 46 and 47 was introduced and passed this week in the House General Laws Committee without a thorough vetting or review. It would:

  • Overturn the will of 1.4 million Missourians, who supported the Clean Missouri Amendment.
  • Allow lobbyists and partisan political appointees to gerrymander maps to advance their own interests.
  • Allow communities to be split up by political appointees in the name of ‘compact’ districts.
  • Eliminate the requirement that data used for map drafting be made open to the public.
  • Remove the nonpartisan independence added to the state’s map-drawing process.

“Legislators should respect the people of Missouri who voted overwhelmingly to clean up Missouri politics,” says Nancy Miller, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Metro St. Louis. “This new proposal is designed by politicians to eliminate the rules voters just added to the state constitution to require fair legislative district maps.”

“Missourians just passed a new law to stop gerrymandering in November, by an almost two to one margin,” said Bob Johnson, a Lee’s Summit Republican who previously served in the General Assembly. “Their mandate from more than 1.4 million Missourians was clear: fair and competitive maps.”

“We can’t let a few politicians and lobbyists overturn the will of the people,” said Rod Chapel, president of the Missouri State Conference of the NAACP. “Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and Missourians from all walks of life supported Amendment 1 because it got us started cleaning up Missouri politics, and gives everyday citizens more of a voice in our state government.”

In November 2018, Missourians overwhelmingly supported a new, fair redistricting process that took away the influence of lobbyists and insiders when crafting new legislative maps. In its place, 1,469,093 voters enacted a new system with checks and balances to create districts where candidates will have to work hard to earn their votes, where lobbyists and political insiders can no longer rig the system, and to ensure that no political party gets an unfair advantage in any new maps.


Effort to scale back or eliminate Clean Missouri faces opposition

Originally posted in the Missourian on April 4, 2019.

A House committee debated three resolutions Tuesday that would repeal part — or all — of the Clean Missouri.

Critics said lawmakers should give the recently approved constitutional amendment a chance and questioned whether they were showing distrust in the will of the people.

Amendment 1, the Clean Missouri initiative passed by voters in November, was promoted as a way to strengthen transparency within Missouri government. The amendment includes rules on a “cooling off” period between when lawmaker can leave the General Assembly and become a lobbyist, restricts lobbyist expenditures to $5 or less and employs a nonpartisan demographer for redistricting to replace a previous bipartisan committee, among other measures.

House Joint Resolution 46 would strengthen certain elements — extending the lobbying cooling off period and banning all gifts from lobbyists — but it would eliminate the state demographer’s involvement in redistricting and reinstate what its sponsor described as a bipartisan process.

HJR 47 creates a list of priorities for redistricting. The bill makes equal population, compactness and contiguity the top priorities when creating new districts. In contrast, Amendment 1 also prioritized partisan fairness and competitiveness.

Multiple members of the General Laws Committee questioned the intentions behind the resolutions and said they created a sense that lawmakers know better than their constituents.

“I would say that those of us that represent districts that are 50-50ish, we’re not scared of running in a district put together by a demographer,” said Rep. Tracy McCreery, D-Jefferson City. “So I’m trying to understand why there’s such fear from those that are trying to undo the will of the voters to run in truly competitive districts?”

HJR 47’s sponsor, Rep. Curtis Trent, R-Springfield, said he wanted to give voters more choice about Clean Missouri.

“What I can tell you is the voters were faced with a binary choice in the previous election.” Trent said.

Both HJR 46 and 47 would make voters decide on multiple aspects of transparency at once, a concern many had about Amendment 1 in the first place. This issue was contentious enough that lawmakers went to the Cole County Circuit Court, where it was ruled unconstitutional. The Missouri Western District Court of Appeals reversed the decision and ruled the ballot initiative was constitutional.

The committee also discussed HJR 57, which would repeal Clean Missouri completely.

Rep. Jeff Pogue, R-Salem, said he wanted people to consider some of the “unintended consequences” of Clean Missouri. He did not elaborate.

Wes Korfe, on behalf of the Sierra Club in St. Louis, opposed all three resolutions. He said he has knocked on doors, collected signatures supporting Amendment 1 and spoke with people in the community who “resoundingly” do not want legislators drawing their own districts.

“So far none of these (resolutions) being heard in this hearing or today address that concern, and that’s a problem because no matter how strong your code of ethics there’s always going to be an incentive to draw districts that favor yourselves,” Korfe said.

Clark Brown, with the Service Employees International Union, also opposes the resolutions.

“(SEIU) thinks this legislation is unnecessary. We think it’s overriding and not listening to voters. Frankly, this is a position to say, ‘We know better than what voters made a decision on,’” Brown said.

Brown says the previous districting process had been “wild.”

“Mostly because we see your maps on the walls — this is crazy. I see salamander shaped districts, and this system is not right.”

Nimrod Chapel president of the Missouri State Conference of the NAACP, said lawmakers shouldn’t “undo the will of the people.”

“The people read it. Okay? They picked what they wanted, and they voted for it,” he said.

Rather than relying on Clean Missouri, Pogue advocated for lawmakers to be transparent about their donors.

“I heard a commentator say ‘maybe politicians should be like NASCAR drivers, you know, they have all their sponsors on their sleeve,’” Pogue said.

All three proposals would require voter approval before taking effect.

Jacob Cavaiani of KOMU contributed to this report.

Supervising editor is Mark Horvit, horvitm@missouri.edu.


Keep Missouri clean: Don’t tamper with Amendment 1

Originally posted in the Marshfield Mail on March 30, 2019.

A landslide. That’s the only way to describe the outcome of the Clean Missouri ballot issue in November. It won 82 of the 116 counties in the state, including a majority of heavily Republican counties. It’s clear that the people of Missouri believe our state government needs to be more transparent, and that fairness and competition should be the foundation of our elections.

Now some lawmakers, including Governor Parson, are taking steps to overturn what the voters have said they want. Keep in mind: Amendment 1 is a change to our state’s Constitution, not merely a change to state law. A Constitutional amendment has never been reversed in our state.

Politicians seem to be disregarding the will of the people not on ideological grounds, but simply because Amendment 1 requires them to put ethics first, and to support a new way of drawing district maps that ensures fair and competitive races. About 90 percent of races under the current district maps have not been competitive.

Amendment 1 came to voters as a citizen-driven initiative because lawmakers were unwilling to make these changes themselves. Again and again, they voted down proposals to limit the influence of lobbyists were voted down. Over and over, incumbents and their parties depended on closed-door meetings to draw district maps. After the 2010 census, politicians, lobbyists and judges were the ones to draw the current maps. These maps protect incumbents and their parties.

Amendment 1 changes this. It prioritizes transparency and repairs the process of drawing election maps.

For decades, the League of Women Voters has fought for fair district maps and equal voting rights for all. We studied Clean Missouri’s proposal before it was put on the ballot. We supported Amendment 1 because it strengthens Missouri’s elected government. Like President Woodrow Wilson, we believe, “The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people.”Now we are adding our voice to the many who are asking lawmakers to remember: You are not self-employed. We sent you to Jefferson City. Please respect us.