Missouri Senate GOP divided over gerrymandering attempts
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A plan to redraw Missouri’s eight U.S. House districts remained stuck amid Republican squabbling Wednesday, as conservative state senators continued to press their party’s leaders to embrace an aggressive map that could flip a Democratic-held seat to the GOP.
The Senate quit for the day without voting but was scheduled to return Thursday to try again. A relentless filibuster by a conservative coalition has chewed up about 35 hours over parts of three days.
The intense, prolonged debate unfolded after counterparts in numerous other states have done much the same thing — twisting district lines to give Democrats an edge in states such as Illinois, Maryland and New York and Republicans an advantage in states such as Tennessee, Ohio and North Carolina. Courts have overturned the Ohio and North Carolina maps.
Kansas joined the list of states enacting partisan redistricting plans Wednesday, when its Republican-led Legislature overrode Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of a map that hurts the election prospects of the state’s only Democrat in Congress.
Missouri is currently represented in Congress by six Republicans and two Democrats — one each from St. Louis and Kansas City.
A redistricting plan passed last month by the state House is projected to keep that 6-2 makeup while slightly strengthening the GOP edge in the only area close to a swing district — the 2nd District in suburban St. Louis, held by Republican U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner.
But some Republicans contend that map doesn’t do enough to shore up the 2nd District. And some want to give the GOP a shot at winning seven seats by drastically redrawing the Kansas City-based 5th District held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver.
Spreading out those Democratic voters would lower the Republican margins in other districts, which GOP legislative leaders contend could backfire in an election year favorable to Democrats.
As the stalemate dragged on Wednesday, Republican Sen. Elaine Gannon took the Senate floor to inquire of other women senators, who said it was time for colleagues to stop grandstanding, bickering and maligning each another.
“Maybe we can find some common ground here. We certainly can be civil to one another,” Republican Sen. Sandy Crawford said, noting that the behind-the-scenes negotiations were focused not on a 7-1 map but on reaching consensus on a 6-2 redistricting plan.
Unlike some previous redistricting cycles, when partisan gerrymandering was more closely guarded, some Missouri Republicans have been particularly open about their motivations to bend district boundaries in an attempt to win as many seats as possible for the decade to come. They have been emboldened to do so by a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2019 that said federal courts had no role in settling disputes over partisan gerrymandering.
But Republican Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, chairman of the Senate’s redistricting committee, said passing a 7-1 GOP map wouldn’t reflect the political makeup of the state. He equated it to cheating in baseball, adding: “We’re not beating the Democrats with our best pitch, we’re taking the bat away from them.”
The Senate defeated a proposed 7-1 Republican map late Monday. But conservatives engaged in a filibuster than ran for 26 hours before pausing and restarting a couple times on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Senators held the floor by reading books, song lyrics and emails from people supporting their cause. Among the songs read aloud by Sen. Denny Hoskins was Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood,” with the line: “Now we got problems, and I don’t think we can solve ’em.”
Associated Press writer Summer Ballentine contributed to this report.