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State’s Legislative Districts Finalized

A panel of state appellate judges finalized new state legislative districts on November 30, producing House districts that group 40 percent of eligible returning incumbent state representatives with fellow incumbents and creating a Senate plan that seems to repeatedly violate the Missouri Constitution’s prohibition against splitting counties among Senate districts. The new legislative districts will be used for the next 10 years starting with the 2012 elections and ending with the 2020 elections.

In an effort to take at least some of the politics out of the process of drawing the 163 new House districts, the Appellate Apportionment Commission - which consists of six members of the Missouri Court of Appeals selected by the state Supreme Court - didn’t take into account the addresses of the 138 incumbents who under term limits are eligible to run again in 2012. As a result, 55 incumbents – 32 Republicans and 23 Democrats – are grouped with at least one other incumbent in a total of 26 districts.

So, paired legislators of the same party have a decision to make. Stay in a primary with a fellow legislator, run in a different district (the plan yielded 55 open seats in which no eligible returning incumbents reside), run for another office or retire. In one instance, where three Republicans were grouped together, one has already decided to run for state- wide office in a bid for State Treasurer.

In creating the 34 new Senate districts, the commission apparently ignored a state constitutional provision that generally prohibits Senate districts from being split among counties. The lone exception to the county-splitting rule, which doesn’t apply to House redistricting, is when a county has sufficient population to entitle it to multiple Senate districts. In those cases, as many complete Senate districts as possible are supposed to be drawn wholly within that county, with any excess population split off into one – and only one – district with neighboring counties.

In Jackson County, districts cross county lines four times, three more times than constitutionally allowed. In Greene County, one district is wholly located therein, but the rest of the county is split between two neighboring districts. Johnson County, which isn’t a multi-district county and under the constitution shouldn’t be divided under any circumstances, is instead split between two districts.

What is still left to be seen is the competitiveness of the new districts. More districts closer to a 50/50 Democrat/ Republican split will encourage more responsive and locally- engaged Missouri politicians. But the political performance of each of these districts will not be calculated accurately for several more weeks.

The appellate commission took over the redistricting process in September after a pair of partisan commissions, one
each for the Senate and House of Representatives, evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans failed to reach agreements. After holding a single public hearing to gather testimony, the appellate commission conducted all of its deliberations in secret.

The advocacy staff of the Missouri Credit Union Association is currently assessing the impact of the new lines on our credit union friends in Jefferson City. Click here to view maps of the new state House and Senate districts.