The Redistricting Blues
If someone had told me a week ago that I would be in Jefferson City listening to Senate floor debate on a Saturday morning, I wouldn’t have believed it. And yet, there I was this past weekend, the first time the Senate has met on a Saturday in the past 25 years. Normally, the Senate adjourns on Thursday afternoon, and legislators head home to their districts. There is nothing normal about last week, however.
The Senate is in the midst of a contentious debate over redistricting. Every 10 years, following the release of U.S. Census data, congressional district boundaries are redrawn to reflect changing populations. If the topic of congressional district boundaries sounds boring to you, you’re not alone. It’s hardly exciting stuff. But this presumably mundane task has led to a protracted filibuster and a seemingly insurmountable impasse in negotiations.
A little background might help. On Jan. 19, the House of Representatives narrowly passed House Bill 2117, a redistricting plan that assigned every address in the state of Missouri to one of eight congressional districts. When the bill came before the Senate, several members voiced their displeasure with the proposed map. They claimed the 6-to-2 partisan balance of our current congressional delegation (six Republican and two Democrat) should be changed. They called for a map that would result in a 7-1 delegation. To achieve this result, they proposed dividing the Kansas City metropolitan area into three different districts. I can only assume they believed that by splitting the district, they hoped to unseat a nine-term congressman in a coming election. Meanwhile, at least one senator expressed concerns that the House redistricting plan placed Missouri’s two major military installations into different congressional districts, thus weakening our state’s influence on military budgets.
A small group of senators dug in their heels and using a variety of procedural maneuvers have blocked progress on the House bill. These tactics resulted in Monday afternoon’s session dragging on for 31 hours. In the days that followed, we’ve made little progress on the floor, though senators have been huddled in offices trying to find a compromise. Few of the discussions at this point are about 7-1 versus 6-2 districts. It’s come down to disputes about boundary lines in specific districts. I suppose that’s some kind of progress.
Let me be clear about one thing. For most residents of my state Senate district, congressional redistricting will bring no change to which district they belong to. Seven of the eight counties I represent will continue to be part of Missouri’s 8th Congressional District under every draft redistricting plan I’ve seen. Nothing is final yet, but this seems to be the likely outcome.
I wish I had more definitive news to report, but at this point, I have no idea how this ends. I hope we can reach a compromise and adopt a redistricting plan that everyone can accept. But even if an agreement is possible, any changes we make will send the bill back to the House of Representatives. There’s no guarantee they will sign off on a revised bill. Frankly, I have been discouraged by the lack of progress. There are many other issues the Senate needs to address, but all those will have to wait until we can work this out. Stay tuned. I hope to have better news soon.
It is my honor to serve the residents of Douglas, Howell, Oregon, Ozark, Ripley, Texas, Webster and Wright counties in the Missouri Senate, and it’s always a pleasure to hear from friends and family back home. If I can help you in any way, please call my Capitol Office at 573-751-1882, or my District Office at 417-596-9011. You can also visit my webpage at www.senate.mo.gov/mem33, on Facebook: @SenatorKarlaEslinger, or follow me on Twitter: @seneslingermo.