House approves plan for new congressional districts

By Matthew Patane

JEFFERSON CITY – With the first chamber vote involving a redistricting plan, Missouri’s representatives voted mostly along party lines and with limited debate Wednesday to pass a map that eliminates a St. Louis congressional district held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan.

The Republican-led effort in the House resulted in a 106-53 vote approving the proposal, just two votes away from a two-thirds majority needed to supersede a veto by the Governor should he choose to do so once the maps are finalized.

Democratic Floor Leader Rep. Mike Talboy, D-Jackson County, said that despite Carnahan being “targeted” through the elimination of his district, Democrats could not fight a majority vote by Republicans. Instead, Talboy said, they would have to wait until the Senate finished with its proposal to see the final district layout.

“Obviously when you have one of your congressional delegation with a bullseye on their back, it’s not something that you just want to sit down and take,” Talboy said. “If the majority has their votes the majority has their votes and we’re not going to be able to stop that, but the process is not even halfway done at this point.”

Four Democrats joined Republicans in passing the map, even though it dissolves a district held by a member of their own party.

During the House session, Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis County, one of the four Democrats supporting the plan, said the loss of a district was not a surprise.

“At the end of the day we all knew that we were going to lose a congressional seat, so the question on everyone’s head was ‘who’s it going to be,'” Nasheed said.

When asked later why she supported the Republican plan over a member of her own party, Nasheed said she could not “fight for a man that doesn’t fight for himself.”

House Redistricting Committee Chairman Rep. John Diehl, R-St. Louis County, said that even though not everyone was happy with the result, the redistricting process was fair and the map was the best proposal for the new districts.

“Even with the challenge we faced, we committed to all to complete this process in a fair, open and transparent matter that ensured adequate representation for all Missourians,” Diehl said. “The map may not completely satisfy everyone, but it is complete and contiguous.”

In addition to dissolving Carnahan’s district, the map alters the state’s district layout by splitting Jefferson County between three congressional districts and by creating a large sixth district that expands across much of the northern part of the state and dips into Jackson County, dividing the county between two districts.

In a rare move, the House endorsed the plan after giving it first-round approval earlier in the day, causing some Democrats, such as Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis City, to question the integrity of the process. Colona said he was disappointed with the map and that the House could be accused of following “party politics” because of how quickly it was proceeding.

Before its initial approval of the new districts, the House dismissed three amendments proposed by Democrats.

Colona submitted one of the amendments to keep three congressional seats in the St. Louis area and said that as the “economic power of the state,” the St. Louis region deserved three representatives.

“In order to protect the interests, not just of the St. Louis metropolitan economic engine, but really the economic clout of the great state of Missouri, the metropolitan area should have three people in its congressional delegation,” Colona said.

The General Assembly is required to lower the number of Missouri’s congressional districts from nine to eight and submit finalized proposals by the end of the legislative session due to population changes cited by the 2010 census. The House plan will now go to the Senate, which is preparing for its own discussion over a similar map.