By Matthew Patane
State Capitol Bureau, Missouri Digital News
JEFFERSON CITY – The months-long political process of redrawing Missouri’s congressional districts is finally over after legislators in the Missouri General Assembly voted to override the governor’s veto of the redistricting proposal Wednesday.
In the House, four black Democrats, two from St. Louis and two from Kansas City, joined every Republican in approving the override in a 109-44 vote that then sent the bill to the Senate. House Republicans needed to pick up at least four Democrats to reach the two-thirds majority they needed to override Nixon’s veto.
Rep. Michael Brown, D-Kansas City, who voted with the Republicans, said he was concerned with the response from his party but said he voted to override the veto to protect his congressman — black Democratic U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver.
“From the western side of the state, my congressman was signaling that this might be a map that he could work with and that if it went to the courts he may not get the kind of map that was suitable for him,” Brown said.
Democratic Floor Leader Rep. Mike Talboy, D-Jackson County, said the map was designed by Republicans to target Carnahan and blamed the result on a “partisan redistricting process.”
“You have folks who got calls because in the end people needed to defend their own districts and make sure those things are taken care of,” Talboy said. “The question becomes, and this is why people are upset, are you going to vote as a Democrat to keep Democrats in Congress or are you going to vote to let somebody be eliminated and have less Democrats in the state and have a 6-2 map.”
Rep. Tishaura Jones, D-St. Louis City, said she voted against the override to defend Carnahan and keep his seat from getting eliminated.
“I’m one of few African-Americans in this assembly that is represented by Carnahan … so I’m here to stand up for my congressman who is getting drawn out of this map,” Jones said. “I think that Missouri is a state where people should have a fighting chance, and this map does not give my congressman a fighting chance.”
Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, said the four Democratic votes, all of which came from black members of the caucus, should come as a sign that black Democrats deserve more recognition from their party. Nasheed’s district is represented by the other black Democratic U.S. representative, Lacy Clay.
“For years, African-Americans have been taken for granted within the Democratic party, and at some point African-Americans should understand that their vote counts and they deserve more from the Democratic party,” Nasheed said. “At the end of the day we are in lock-step with them, we vote 99.9 percent Democrat, but there is no return on the vote.”
Both Brown and Nasheed said that their caucus did not have enough members to afford kicking out any member. Brown also said the Democratic party might have to adjust to more conservative members, just as Republicans had to deal with the emergence of the tea party.
Talboy said the party is going to discuss how the four defecting Democrats voted and the potential consequences of their actions. One of these consequences could result Democratic members being forced out of their caucus.
“If anything is decided one way or the other, if we think it needs to be discussed outside the family, then we will do so at that time, but for now all of those discussions will stay inside of the family because, quite frankly, it is an emotional issue and people have opinions about it,” Talboy said. “I can’t speak for all my caucus members and what’s in their head right now, but we will have a discussion.”
Speaker of the House Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, said the Democratic caucus should be embarrassed for discussing the possibility of kicking out members for voting against the party.
“There’s no one vote that I would kick any member of our caucus out of our caucus. … In our caucus, when we disagree, we disagree and we don’t ostracize people because we disagree with them,” Tilley said. “If they continue to behave like that, the Republican caucus is only going to grow larger.”
House Redistricting Committee Chairman John Diehl, R-St. Louis County, said the map was compact and “adequately represents all Missourians,” a sentiment that he has stated repeatedly in the past.
In the afternoon, the Senate followed the House’s example and, without debate, overrode the veto in a 28-6 vote. One Republican senator, Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, voted with five Democrats against the veto override. Stouffer has been against the redistricting proposals throughout the process because the maps place his and two other rural counties in the Fifth District with a part of urban Kansas City.
The chambers sent Gov. Jay Nixon the finalized conference maps on April 27, and he vetoed the bill on April 30.
Nixon was unavailable for comment, but released a statement on the override. In the statement, Nixon said he still does “not believe this map reflects a fair representation of the interests for all regions of our state.” He continued, “Now that the map is finalized, we expect a robust electoral process in these significantly altered districts.”
Last week, members of both chambers formed the conference map, which eliminates the St. Louis district held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, following a contentious debate over the proposed district lines that split the Republican party and stalled the legislation for weeks.
Carnahan’s office released a statement about the override of the redistricting plan that eliminates his congressional seat.
“This is a bad day for the people of Missouri,” the statement said. “Families and businesses across this state are facing the prospect of weaker representation and divided communities, all in the name of a partisan power-grab.”
The General Assembly’s override of Nixon’s veto was the first since 2003 and only its 23rd override in the legislature’s 191-year history.
The original plans proposed by both chambers split Jackson and St. Charles counties between two different districts, while dividing Jefferson County among three. The final conference map plan puts a larger chunk of St. Charles County in one congressional district. The map also splits Jefferson County into three different congressional districts. Although splits among Senate Republicans stemmed from the rural versus urban issue, opposition between the House and Senate came from a dispute over the St. Charles and Jefferson County area.
The General Assembly was required to lower the state’s congressional districts from nine to eight after 2010 census results revealed the state’s population did not grow as quickly when compared to other states. The new congressional districts will be implemented starting with the 2012 elections.