One speaker put it succinctly: Nothing is more political than redistricting, even though laws strive to keep the politics out of the process.
The House Apportionment Commission, which is meeting to redraw boundaries for the Missouri House of Representatives districts, took public comments at the University of Missouri, St. Louis Wednesday.
Chairman Joe Maxwell told the audience that two commission members--Trent Skaggs and Marlene Davis--submitted a proposed redistricting map, called Skaggs-Davis No. 1, during an April 28 meeting in Jefferson City.
Several state representatives--especially from the city of St. Louis--praised the map as a good starting point for the commission, including Rep. Tishaura Jones, D-District 63 and Rep. Mike Colona, D-District 67.
Sylvester Taylor, D-District 80, of Black Jack, said he was happy with the Skaggs-Davis map. His district would become more compact and contiguous by losing part of Berkeley and Kinloch, but picking up parts of Florissant and Ferguson.
“I’m probably one of the few people who are happy with the map,” Taylor said.
Spaghetti noodle districts
However, several state representatives and citizens from St. Louis County thought the map lacked continuity in their areas--one of the Missouri’s constitutional guidelines for the commission.
“It seems that the Skaggs-Davis map has become THE map,” said Chris Howard, a Ballwin resident. He said no map should have been drawn until after discussing issues with constituents, such as at the public hearing. He said it’s already being viewed “as a starting point” simply because it exists.
Davis said, "The map is not the map of the commission, although there was a lot of input sought and a lot of throught was put into it."
Dean Plocher of Des Peres also did not like how the map treats St. Louis County because the districts are not compact or contiguous.
“It prejudices those of us in St. Louis County,” he said.
“The district I live in (according to the Skaggs-Davis map) goes from Manchester to Rock Hill Drive, a 45-minute drive in rush hour traffic,” Plocher said. “It looks like a spaghetti noodle all stretched out.”
Rep. Eileen McGeoghegan, D-District 77, of St. Ann, said the Skaggs-Davis map starts her district in North County and ends up in West County, crossing over into Maryland Heights.
“We just kind of follow the river,” she said.
Meanwhile, the proposal splits the City of St. Ann in half. An easy tradeoff would be to keep St. Ann in one district, McGeoghegan said.
Commissioner Thomas Wilson said McGeoghegan’s district now is compact and contiguous--but the replacement Skaggs-Davis district is not.
“Several people from Maryland Heights are not very happy with this,” Wilsdon said.
Rep. Cloria Brown, R-District 85, of South St. Louis County, said the Skaggs-Davis map divides too many communities in her district, including Lemay and Affton. She suggested simply moving her district’s western border, since it is up against the Mississippi River to the east.
Other representatives wanted simple adjustments. Rep. Chuck Gatschenberger, D-District 13, wanted some adjustments to include a relatively new community in his district along with some areas that he expects will see a resurgence in building once the economy strengthens.
Speakers from a group called Let Missourians Decide urged commissioners to consider political competitiveness in the districts by taking party voting records into account when apportioning the districts.
Bob Johnson, a Lee’s Summit City Council member and president of Let Missourians Decide asked the commission to consider district competitiveness during the process.
“During last year’s election cycle, there were 95 (state) House members were elected either without opposition in November or with two-thirds of the vote. That, by definition, is probably not very competitive,” Johnson said.
After the meeting, Commissioner Cheryl Hibbeler of O'Fallon said the commission is mandated by the state Constitution to consider the three Cs: compact, contiguous, and communities of interest--which mainly include ethnicity and race.
Commissioners also are allowed to consider voting records, but it's not a mandate, she said.
He said the group’s goal is to create competitive districts through redistricting, and that the group would submit a map that would help achieve that goal. They strive to create districts where possible would provide a 45 percent to 55 percent party split within the district.
Another of the group’s representatives said focusing on creating competitive districts would encourage more people to vote and run for office.
Can’t stay put
“Staying the same is not an option for us,” Maxwell said. “About 40 percent of the state’s population shifted.”
The commission has until Aug. 18 to submit a map to the governor. The commission then has until Sept. 18 to approve the map by a supermajority. In that case, the map will take effect.
If it fails to do so, the Missouri court system then will be responsible for redistricting.