The White Pages: An Update from Senator Bill White for February 16, 2022

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Redistricting Battle Continues in Missouri Senate

As you may be aware, the Missouri Senate is in the midst of developing a redistricting map for our eight congressional seats in the US Congress. This occurs every ten years based on the federal census data for the start of each decade so for this redistricting it is the 2020 census. Due to COVID the state received the census data about a year later than usual which has placed us under a time pressure.

Redistricting, which means drawing maps of what geographic area is in which congressional district is a complex task. The end result must comply with the federal and state constitutions and federal and state law. It is, by its nature, an adversarial process with the major parties, regional entities, and politicians being involved. Unfortunately this year, for a few, it has devolved into a name calling frenzy of self-interest and disinformation.

Before I explain my position on redistricting I am first going to give you some facts about Missouri related to redistricting and our redistricting bills.

Based on the 2020 general election and averaging the five state wide races (Governor, Lt. Governor, Secretary of State, Treasurer, and Attorney General) to avoid any distortion for a charismatic candidate such as President Obama or President Trump, Missouri is a 58.9% republican state. In 2016 we were a 55.3% republican state. The republicans currently control 6 of the 8 congressional seats equating to 75% republican representation in our congressional delegation. St. Louis, with a minority population of over 50%, qualifies as a majority minority district under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as amended. As such it cannot be constitutionally divided to minimize the voting power of the minorities.  Our largest city, Kansas City, is not a majority minority district with only about 23% of its population belonging to the various minority groups but is very geographically concentrated and has a definite “community of interest” that is, a long-standing community of interest based on social, cultural, ethnic, and economic similarities and interactions.

Our state constitution requires that each district be ”…composed of contiguous territory as compact and as nearly equal in population as may be.” Both constitutions imply or expressly state the principle of one person one vote.

The House passed the redistricting bill, HB2117, by a majority vote of the republican representatives with no democrats voting for the bill. It passed out of the senate redistricting committee 9 to 5 with 7 republicans for and 3 republicans against. The democrats split their votes 2 for and 2 against. Senate Bill SB663 is identical to HB2117 except for the addition of an emergency clause and it was passed by an identical result. These are solid “6-2” maps.

On the floor a senate substitute for HB2117 was offered and an amendment to convert it to what the amendment sponsor called a “7-1” map was offered and defeated by a vote of 24 to 8 with a majority of republicans (14) voting against the amendment.

To first address those who call for an 8-0 map, St. Louis, as previously stated, is a majority-minority population area. The Supreme Court has upheld the Voting Rights Act against several challenges. It cannot be constitutionally divided so as to minimize the voting power of the minorities. Therefore an 8-0 map is not possible.

Next, I will review the issue of creating a 7-1 map. On its face that would increase the republican representation in the congressional delegation to 87.5% which is significantly higher than the 58.9% republican vote in the last general election.  That high a percentage difference does not make a map gerrymandered depending on the geographic distribution of our population. However, in our state there is a second compact and contiguous area with a clearly defined community of interest, our largest city, Kansas City.  It is not a majority minority district but it has about 23% of its population belonging to the various minority groups.  Kansas City, which is primarily south of the Missouri River, and its immediate neighbors is a definite long-standing “community of interest” based on social, cultural, ethnic, and economic similarities and interaction. It has historically been its own district based around the Kansas City metropolitan area.

Dividing Kansas City between two or three districts would have several inappropriate results. First it would lessen the ability of the citizens of the city to political impact their community. Second, it would distribute several hundred thousand liberal urban voters into predominately very rural districts. Republicans in those areas are not in favor of such a redistricting. Urban and rural interests and philosophies are often not compatible. Would you like to be in a district with south Kansas City? One of the “7-1” maps would do just that, running along the Kansas/Missouri line from Arkansas to Kansas City.   Not only is there not a commonality of interest between the areas, there is often direct competition for resources and opposing positions on governmental policies.  In a district like this, my county, Newton County, could end up being represented by someone from southern Kansas City.

Third, the “7-1” maps I have seen will become”5-3” or even “4-4” in bad republican election years.  Each district has to have the same number of people so if you add 100,000 democrats to a republican district you will have to lose 100,000 republicans which will make the percentage of each party much closer. A charismatic national candidate can cause a surge in one party’s voting thus flipping close seats to the other party.

Fourth, those supporting a “7-1” map have talked about how unethical Illinois and other states are for gerrymandering their own conservative citizens and constituents out of representation, but immediately turn around and want to do the same thing to our Missouri citizens.

The map passed by the House of Representatives and the senate redistricting committee is a solid “6-2” map which will survive future challenging years.

I served four years in the Marine Corps defending our country.  I did not serve to protect the rights and freedom of only one party’s members. As a representative and senator I was elected to serve all the citizens of my district and work for the betterment and interest of all Missourians. I am a conservative republican but I will defend the rights of my fellow citizens to make up their own mind.   We went from 55% republican in 2016 to 59% republican in 2020.  We did not do this by using political power to suppress or diminish the votes of those who don’t believe like we do.  We did this by holding true to our beliefs, our honor and our integrity and convincing them that what we believe is better.

In 2011 when I first went to the House of Representatives much of southeast Missouri was represented by democrats. Eleven years later there are no democratic representatives or senators from that part of the state. Their party left them behind and they saw what we stand for: freedom, life, 2nd amendment rights, limited government, parental control in education and other conservative values.  They joined us willingly and are now a strong and large part of our party.  Would they have done that if we had earlier gerrymandered them out of the representation of their choosing?  I think not.

I respect others right to have differing interpretations of the data and philosophy on what is acceptable and I hope that all who consider themselves republicans also allow other republicans to have a different opinion on whatever issue. If not, it is inevitable that we will go the way of the democrats where we disenfranchise our own and self-destruct ultimately losing the virtues and beliefs we said we believed in.

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