KC Democrats back Missouri map that spares Cleaver as fight with conservatives looms

·3 min read
Missouri House of Representatives

A bipartisan group of Missouri state senators advanced a congressional map to the Senate floor Tuesday that preserves Kansas City’s safe Democratic seat, as conservative activists pressed lawmakers to gerrymander the district for the GOP instead.

Kansas City Democrats Barbara Washington and Greg Razer joined seven Republicans in supporting the map, which is expected to retain the current six Republican and two Democratic seats. Opposing it were Democrats who want a “5-3” map with an additional Democratic seat, and hard-line Republican senators in the self-styled Conservative Caucus who are calling for a “7-1” map.

The latter proposals would carve up parts of Kansas City’s current 5th District and move them into more rural, Republican districts, likely pushing out nine-term incumbent Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Democrat. The state’s other Democratic district, represented by Rep. Cori Bush in St. Louis, is exempt from such drastic changes because it is a majority-minority district protected by the federal Voting Rights Act.

The rushed vote, by the Senate Redistricting Committee, taken over the objections of the Conservative Caucus members and activists testifying against the 6-2 map, sets up what is sure to be an acrimonious debate on the Senate floor over the future of Missouri’s congressional representation for the next 10 years.

The 5th Congressional District currently includes much of Jackson County and rural areas east of the Kansas City metro. The proposed map that the Senate redistricting committee approved Tuesday on a 9-5 vote would shed most of the outlying areas and bring all of Lee’s Summit into the district.

Republican legislative leaders have so far resisted pressure to draw Cleaver out.

Proposed 7-1 maps threaten to violate constitutional requirements for “compact and contiguous” districts, Rep. Dan Shaul, chair of the House redistricting committee and proponent of the 6-2 plan, said.

“We wanted to make sure the map ... would minimize our court exposure and also make sure we were able to survive the courts if we needed to,” Shaul, an Imperial Republican said. “The purpose of this map is to draw the best possible map for Missouri regardless of the candidates.”

Sen. Bob Onder, a Lake St. Louis Republican and member of the Conservative Caucus, dismissed concerns of litigation, citing blue states that have shored up congressional seats for Democrats. In Illinois, lawmakers drew new districts that add a Democratic seat and remove two Republican seats. Onder pointed out that Missouri’s constitution does not have a provision against partisan gerrymandering.

“Anyone can file a lawsuit,” he said.

The debate echoed the clash between hardliners and the rest of the Republican caucus that played out in a special legislative session last summer over the renewal of a key hospital tax that funds the state’s Medicaid program.

In that fight, anti-abortion activists and and hard-right senators pushed for the tax renewal to be tied to coverage restrictions on certain forms of birth control or services from Planned Parenthood, regardless of likely penalties from the federal government.

The activists on Tuesday similarly asked lawmakers to draw a map to send an additional Republican to Congress to fight what they called imminent threats by Democrats to repeal a law blocking public funds from covering abortions.

“If we have to go back and look at a 6-2, let it be after we fight a court battle and stand up for the values that we as Missourians believe in,” said Missouri Right to Life director Susan Klein.

Sen. Brian Williams, a University City Democrat, expressed frustration that the redistricting process had been “hijacked.”

“What are we talking about?” he said. “Last time we went through this we almost derailed several billions of dollars that have historically come to the state ... I don’t want this process to be tainted by partisan policy positions.”

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