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Deal Reached on Senate Redistricting

Chris Blank, AP
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Photo: KMOX

Photo: KMOX

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A bipartisan state redistricting commission reached a deal over new boundaries for Missouri’s 34 Senate districts after a marathon session that stretched into the early morning hours Thursday.

The proposed new Senate districts were approved by an 8-2 vote with one Republican and one Democrat voting against the plan. The tentative map will now be submitted to the Missouri secretary of state’s office. There will be another 15-day public comment period before the 10-member redistricting commission can file a final map. Approving the final Senate plan requires seven votes.

Redistricting commission members met throughout the day Wednesday — with most of the discussions held behind closed doors. The panel voted to approve its tentative redistricting plan around 12:30 a.m., ending a more than 13-hour meeting. Commissioners have faced a looming deadline to develop the new Senate districts because candidates can start filing Tuesday for this year’s elections. Legislation to delay the filing period has passed the Senate and is pending in the House.

Former Democratic lawmaker Doug Harpool, the chairman of the redistricting commission, said reaching an agreement required compromises across the state. He said it was particularly necessary in St. Louis County, Clay County near Kansas City, the Bootheel and Boone County, which is home to the University of Missouri-Columbia. Harpool said compromise also was necessary to sort out the numbering of the districts, given that half the Senate is up for election every two years.

“There will be people in both parties disappointed, but there is no way to get a map and please everybody,” Harpool said.

Republican Cole County Commissioner Marc Ellinger, vice chairman of the redistricting panel, said the St. Louis metropolitan area had been challenging. He said the commission’s job is to develop a fair plan.

“It’s a compromise. It’s not the best for anybody,” Ellinger said.

The Senate map was posted early Thursday to a state website. Some changes from current districts were apparent. For example, the 25th District in the southeastern corner extends northwest to grab Shannon and Carter counties. It also adds Mississippi County along the Mississippi River.

In central Missouri, the 19th District keeps Boone County while adding western neighbor Cooper County. Randolph County to the north shifts to a northeastern Missouri district. And the 6th District, which includes the Capitol, is reshaped to remain south of the Missouri River.

The proposed map also appears to group at least two senators in the same seat. The state redistricting website includes information about lawmakers’ homes, and the commission plan seems to place Republican Sens. Jane Cunningham and Brian Nieves in the 26th District that covers Franklin County and part of St. Louis County.

Despite the changes, adjustments in some districts appear minimal. No changes were made to the 32nd District, which includes Joplin, or to the 34th District north of Kansas City that covers St. Joseph.

State legislative districts are redrawn each decade based on the most recent census. The number of Senate districts does not change, but the boundaries must be adjusted to account for population shifts, such as growth in southwestern Missouri and the outer St. Louis suburbs and declines in St. Louis County and the city.

The agreement reached Thursday was the second attempt by a bipartisan redistricting commission to draw Senate districts based on the 2010 census.

Last year, a redistricting panel that included some different members from the current commission deadlocked and failed to agree on a new map. A special panel of appellate judges then handled the task. But the Missouri Supreme Court rejected that map in January, and the process started from scratch with the appointment of a new redistricting commission.

The last time new state legislative districts were developed by a bipartisan redistricting commission and not the panel of appellate judges was in 1991 for the Missouri House. The most recent commission to develop Senate districts was in 1971.

Missouri’s redistricting process has encountered complications this year. The state Supreme Court twice has considered lawsuits challenging new congressional districts enacted by the Republican-controlled Legislature, and the high court has scheduled oral arguments for Monday in a lawsuit challenging the new districts for the 163-member Missouri House.
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© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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