Lawmakers override Nixon's veto of redistricting plan

Kansas City Star, The (MO) - Thursday, May 5, 2011
Author: JASON NOBLE, The Star’s Jefferson City correspondent
JEFFERSON CITY | After three months of cartographic confusion and power politics, Missouri lawmakers have redrawn the state’s congressional map. 

The state House and Senate voted Wednesday to override the veto handed down last weekend by Gov. Jay Nixon, passing into law a map that divides the state into eight new congressional districts. 

Sen. Scott Rupp, a Wentzville Republican and the Senate redistricting committee chairman, said the map includes districts that are compact, contiguous and representative of the state’s varied communities of interest. 

“All those things happening together is a difficult task, and we got it done by our constitutional deadline,” Rupp said. “All those things factored together make it a very good map.” 

Lawmakers are charged with redrawing the congressional map every 10 years to address the population changes reflected by the federal census. The process is always sharply political, but was even more fraught this year after the state lost a congressional seat due to slow population growth. 

The final map is widely seen as cementing in place six safely Republican districts covering the state’s rural and suburban areas, and two safely Democratic districts centered on the urban cores of Kansas City and St. Louis. 

Its creation took place largely behind closed doors over three months with substantial influence from the state’s congressional incumbents. If lawmakers had not overridden Nixon’s veto, the map likely would have been drawn by a federal court. 

Republicans praised the final map as equitable and argued that any map drawn by lawmakers was preferable to one drawn by the courts. 

“This bipartisan vote sends a clear message that Missouri’s representation in Congress should be determined by the duly-elected representatives of the people rather than unaccountable judges,” state Republican Party Chairman David Cole said in a statement. 

Democrats, however, criticized it as slanted in favor of Republicans, who hold six of the nine congressional seats and substantial majorities in the General Assembly. 

“This partisan map is not reflective of the Missouri electorate,” state Democratic Executive Director Matt Teter said in a statement. “We believe Missourians would be better served if the non-partisan courts, who are motivated by fairness, not partisanship, determined the new Congressional lines.” 

After the votes Wednesday, Nixon reiterated his objections to the map, but was resigned to its passage into law. 

“I do not believe this map reflects a fair representation of the interests for all regions of our state,” the Democratic governor said. 

The state’s nine current U.S. representatives will remain in office through early 2013, and voters will elect representatives according to the new map in 2012. 

The 5th Congressional District, currently held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, now includes the portion of Kansas City within Jackson County; parts of Independence, Lee’s Summit, Blue Springs and rural southeastern Jackson County; North Kansas City, Gladstone and Claycomo in Clay County; and all of rural Ray, Lafayette and Saline counties to the east of the metro area. 

The 6th Congressional District includes the areas of Clay and Jackson counties not located in the 5th, as well as more than 30 rural counties stretching from the Nebraska border to the Illinois border. 

Cass County, which previously was split between the 4th and 5th districts, is now entirely in Republican Vicky Hartzler’s 4th Congressional District. 

Overriding a governor’s veto required two-thirds majority votes in both chambers, and the House vote was the most dramatic. 

Republicans hold 105 of the chamber’s 163 seats — four short of the 109 needed to overcome a veto. Three Democrats, however, voted with the Republicans throughout the redistricting process, and their votes were all but assured. 

That left the majority caucus — and congressional incumbents who favored the map — needing one last Democrat to secure the map’s passage into law. When the time came, that final Democratic vote came from Kansas City Rep. Leonard “Jonas” Hughes IV. 

Hughes cast the deciding vote, despite an intense lobbying effort on the House floor by fellow Democrats, and even though he repeatedly criticized the map in earlier public statements. 

Afterward, with tears streaming down his face, he retreated to the members-only lounge behind the chamber. When asked why he voted against his governor and party, he said: “Because my congressman asked me to” — referring to Cleaver. 

Later, he elaborated by saying he preferred to see the map drawn by lawmakers. 

“I spoke with different people at all levels, and it just came down to that they wanted a map that was drawn by the people’s representatives rather than the courts,” he said. 

The final vote in the House was 109-44 in favor of the map. 

Kansas City Democrat Michael Brown also voted for the override. As with Hughes, he said he voted to protect Cleaver, but he also suggested he expected something in return for his vote. 

When asked if there were offers made by the Republican majority, he said, “Yes, of course,” but when pressed, he said he didn’t remember specifics. But then he noted two projects in his district, including the Bannister Mall site, which he hoped to see redeveloped in the near future. 

“I’m going to need help when those developments come through,” Brown said. “They’re going to need tax credits and all the incentives. In order to be successful with those developments, I’m going to need folks who vote for that and support me. So maybe I’m positioning myself that way.” 

St. Louis Democrats Jamilah Nasheed and Penny Hubbard joined Brown and Hughes in supporting the map. 

House Speaker Steven Tilley, a Perryville Republican, acknowledged that his caucus sought votes from Democrats, but dismissed the notion that any deal making had taken place. 

Yet rumors swirled this week that House Republicans were pushing a handful of Democrats hard to secure the votes for an override. 

On Tuesday, St. Louis County freshman Rep. Eileen McGeoghegan told reporters that Republicans had offered her an office on the third floor of the Capitol and “rock-star status” if she voted for the map. She declined the offer and voted no on Wednesday. 

The vote was less riveting in the Senate. Republicans hold a veto-proof majority in the upper chamber, and easily overrode the veto Wednesday afternoon on a 28-6 vote. Even Kansas City-area Democrats Jolie Justus, Kiki Curls and Victor Callahan voted against the governor’s veto. 

Although the map has passed through the legislative process and is now law, it still could be challenged in court. At least one person in the Kansas City area is considering his options. 

Jacob Turk, a Republican who has challenged Cleaver since 2006, said he believed the new 5th District and the map as a whole could be challenged. The map doesn’t reflect the most compact, contiguous or like-interested districts possible, he said, but rather those who are friendliest to congressional incumbents. 

“We the people are supposed to select our representatives,” Turk said. “We’re not supposed to have representatives selecting their voters, but that’s what happened here.”