5 questions Missouri’s congressional redistricting will settle in 2022
Missouri Democrats face a grim reality when they return to Jefferson City in January: Republicans could craft a congressional map that gives them a shot to win seven out of Missouri’s eight congressional seats.
But just because Republicans could try such a maneuver doesn’t mean that they will. It’s why some GOP lawmakers are openly saying that Democrats will end up with districts in Kansas City and St. Louis that they could easily win — the same setup that they’ve had for the past 10 years.
“Sure there will be some pressure to try to make it 8-0, 7-1 or whatever you want to come up with,” said state Rep. Jason Chipman, R-Steelville. “But I don’t see it being any different than 6-2.”
In fact, the biggest conflicts in this once-every-10-years redistricting cycle may not be between Republicans and Democrats, but between Republicans and Republicans. That includes how to alter the 2nd Congressional District, a suburban St. Louis outpost that’s become the most competitive terrain in the state.
U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, was able to navigate the substantial political change in the 2nd District over the past decade. The St. Louis, St. Charles and Jefferson counties-based seat started off as a solidly Republican district but is now split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats.
That parity will come to an end after 2022. Because Democratic Rep. Cori Bush’s 1st District must expand into very Democratic parts of St. Louis County, the 2nd District will need to make up the difference in collar counties. And because places like St. Charles, Franklin and Jefferson counties are all solidly Republican areas, Democrats will have a much tougher time competing in the 2nd District over the next decade.
How the district is going to change isn’t clear. Some Republicans, like Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, want to place most or all of St. Charles County in the 2nd District — especially since the fast-growing county is becoming one of the biggest Republican strongholds in Missouri.
“And that makes sense, because being part of the largest stronghold in the state, you want St. Charles to have that voice if you’re a Republican,” Eigel said last year.
But that massive reconfiguration faces a lot of obstacles. A lot of Republicans may want to add more of Jefferson and Franklin county terrain to the 2nd District, as opposed to most or all of St. Charles County. And GOP leaders may not be chomping at the bit to accede to Eigel’s wishes, especially since he’s been somewhat of a thorn in the side of Republican leadership.
One of the most talked about questions in Missouri politics right now is whether Republicans will transform U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver’s 5th District from reliable Democratic turf to a safe Republican seat.
In an interview with St. Louis Public Radio, Cleaver, D-Kansas City, acknowledged that such a scenario is on his radar — and a realistic concern given how some Republicans want revenge for how Democrats treated the party in states like New Mexico, Illinois and Maryland.
“Even though somebody might win politically? Man, that is just a dynamite powder laying on a political table representing our future,” Cleaver said.
But plenty of GOP elected officials and staffers contend that lawmakers will leave Cleaver alone. There are a number of reasons for this, but the primary one is fear that taking portions of Kansas City and putting them into nearby districts will backfire later in the decade. That’s especially possible if some Kansas City suburbs that are now Republican become more Democratic over time.
“I have spoken with some Republicans who have said to me that they disagree strongly with those who are flirting with carving up the 5th District and giving pieces of it to at least two other districts,” Cleaver said. “Some of the people who have said that me are people I actually trust. But I know that there are those, based on what I’ve been hearing from Democrats in Jefferson City, who are more concerned with the survival of their power than the survival of democracy.”
It’s possible that Republicans could make his district Democratic leaning, but easier for Republicans to compete in during wave election years. “And you know, since Republicans get to decide, maybe make Emanuel Cleaver’s seat a little more difficult,” said state Rep. Mike O’Donnell, R-St. Louis County. “But don’t get greedy.”
Asked if he would still run for re-election if his district becomes less Democratic, Cleaver replied: “My plan now is to file for re-election.”
“I’m expecting a fair district,” Cleaver said. “Obviously, I’ll have to spend a lot of time with experts interpreting what a new district means demographically. And then if I have to, make another decision. Right now I’m planning on running. I’m planning on filing in February.”
Once state Auditor Nicole Galloway lost the governor’s race last year, Missouri was set to enter an unprecedented phase when Democrats didn’t control a branch of the General Assembly or the governorship during a redistricting cycle.
But Democrats, especially in the Missouri Senate, were given much more leverage when Gov. Mike Parson chose not to call a special session on congressional redistricting.
Since lawmakers will draw the map in regular session, Senate Democrats have lots of opportunities to hold up important bills to prevent the worst case scenarios — like the seven to one map.
“Our job is about as laser-focused as you can get,” said Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence. “We need to at the very least maintain the two seats. And I think we will be able to have the opportunity to make friends across the aisle who are interested in that, as well as their seat being where they want it to be.”
One other complicating factor in redrawing the state’s districts is that two current members of Missouri’s U.S. House delegation, Reps. Vicky Hartzler and Billy Long, are running for the U.S. Senate. And a number of sitting state lawmakers are vying to succeed them — which could complicate how the 4th or 7th Districts change through the redistricting process.
For instance: Some Republicans have toyed with the idea of adding some of Cass County into Cleaver’s district, which would go hand-in-hand with the idea of making the 5th District more GOP-leaning. But that proposal hasn’t been well received by Sen. Rick Brattin, a Harrisonville Republican who announced his bid to succeed Hartzler.
“I’m going to fight for keeping [Cass County] in the 4th. This is her [Hartzler’s] home county. And I think removing her from that would be just poor form,” Brattin said during an interview earlier this year with the Eagle 93.9 in Columbia.
And this dynamic may not be limited to GOP-leaning seats. Some potential challengers to Bush, D-St. Louis County, like Sens. Steve Roberts and Brian Williams, may want to change the 1st District in a way that could make it more difficult for the incumbent St. Louis County Democrat to prevail out of a primary. Whether that gambit is actually successful, though, remains to be determined, especially since Bush will be almost guaranteed to win another term if she can get a majority of the Black vote in the 1st District Democratic primary.
Once Missouri Republicans decide on their course of action, there won’t be much suspense over the vote on the map. The GOP has more than enough lawmakers in each chamber to send a redistricting plan to Parson.
But the state could face a major complication if two-thirds of lawmakers don’t agree to let the map go into effect right away. That’s the threshold required to adopt what’s known as an emergency clause.
If 12 Missouri senators decide to vote against the emergency clause, then the legislation containing the map won’t become effective until Aug. 28. And that could throw the Aug. 2 primary into chaos, since people can’t run in districts that don’t exist.
Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft said that there are two ways to prevent that scenario from occurring. Lawmakers could pass an emergency clause or Parson could call a special session that runs concurrent with the regular session that would end 90 days before the Aug. 2 primary. Either one of those options would save the state a lot of uncertainty.
“We will have the congressional elections,” Ashcroft said. “The people will vote. But it would be a lot simpler if we could have an emergency clause and get that taken care of right away.”
Whether a doomsday scenario actually comes to pass is questionable, as it depends on a myriad of factors and complicated legislative coalitions. But the fact that it’s even a possibility, Rizzo said, is part of a recurring trend where Missouri Republicans appear comfortable with brinkmanship.
“It could be apocalyptic,” Rizzo said. “Just like last year not funding our hospitals would have been apocalyptic. Just like not expanding Medicaid like the people voted for would have been apocalyptic. And the Republican majority in Jefferson City seems to get pretty chummy with apocalyptic scenarios.”
Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum
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