© 2023 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Nixon explains why he vetoed congressional redistricting map

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 2, 2011 - Gov. Jay Nixon on Saturday was true to his word, vetoing the congressional redistricting map sent to him by the General Assembly. Nixon's action came less than 24 hours after he had said publicly that he planned a quick decision -- rather than stringing the matter out. By law, he could have waited until May 12.

"It's on a quick time frame,'' Nixon had said on Friday. "We're not going to drag this out."

On Sunday, the governor reaffirmed in an interview his hope, reflected in the veto letter, that lawmakers will send him a better map before their session adjourns on May 13. Nixon said that desire was why he acted so swiftly, rather than delay.

"This one had a number of wrinkles in it,'' said the governor, a Democrat, as he referred to the map drawn up by the Republican-controlled legislature.

When pressed, Nixon acknowledged that the map's treatment of his home turf of Jefferson County -- cut up among three congressional districts -- was "one example."

"There are other examples in other parts of the state,'' the governor added. "Compact, continguous districts...where the people of that district can directly identify regionally with their congressman is very important."

The current map failed to meet that test, Nixon said.

But he avoided taking any verbal jabs at Republican legislative leaders. "They've been working hard on it. I'm confident they can get it done in the next couple weeks," Nixon said.

Nixon pointed to the conciliatory language in his veto letter, in which he wrote: "I am hopeful that in the next two weeks the legislature can produce a map that will reflect a better representation for all regions of the state and deliver it to my desk."

But legislators also can attempt to override his action, with a two-thirds vote in each chamber. If the General Assembly fails to override the governor, or draft a revised map acceptable to him before the session ends, the boundary-drawing task shifts to the state's appellate judges.

Nixon declined to say whether he objected to the map's preservation of all six congressional districts represented by Republicans, while retaining only two districts represented by Democrats. Nixon, and some Democratic legislators, previously had maintained that a fairer map would have five Republican-held districts and three represented by Democrats.

Nixon had said Friday, for example, that he believed that the state should have a congressional-boundary map "that reflects the state'' and its closely divided politics. The map approved by the legislative sets up six Republican districts and two Democratic districts, doing away with the St. Louis area district now represented by Democrat Russ Carnahan .

The state currently has six Republicans in the U.S. House and three Democrats. The state is losing a seat because its population growth lagged behind several other states.

Veto Highlights the Numbers Needed to Override

Leaders of the GOP-controlled General Assembly have been wrangling for months over new boundaries for the remaining eight congressional districts, reaching a compromise agreement only last Wednesday. The vote in the House was 13 short of the number needed for an override, while the state Senate had four more than the number needed.

House Republicans need 109 votes to override the governor, but have only 105 Republicans. (Rep. Sally Faith, R-St. Charles, recently resigned after she won election to be the mayor of St. Charles.) That means four Democrats need to defect.

The fact that Nixon issued his veto Saturday morning indicates that Nixon quickly collected enough information -- including, perhaps, promises from top Democrats that they could block an override vote.

Democratic sources said over the weekend that the governor and his staff had decided that it was best to veto the map quickly and toss the matter back to Republicans, rather than let legislators in both parties speculate for days or weeks as to Nixon's intentions.

Carnahan told a town hall in his district Thursday night that he has asked Nixon to veto the map. Carnahan said it was too pro-Republican and unfair to the St. Louis area.

On Saturday, Carnahan issued a statement lauding Nixon's action:

"There is no question that the map that was vetoed today was a partisan gerrymander that would have been bad for the entire state of Missouri. It sliced and diced the St. Louis region -- the economic engine of the state -- dividing communities of interest and weakening Missouri's representation in Washington.

"This veto will provide an opportunity for a map that is better for the people and businesses of this state -- one that is more representative of Missouri's political balance and does not divide communities, counties and regions."

The redistricting battle also may be influenced by the added political element that state House Speaker Steve Tilley, a Republican, plans to run for lieutenant governor in 2012. Although the governor has said nothing publicly about the speaker, his Democratic allies appear to be paying close attention to everything Tilley says and does.

Tilley has maintained for months that he is confident he can assemble the necessary 109 votes to override. Democrats would love to see him fail.

St. Louis Legislators Play Pivotal Role

The state House vote in favor of the General Assembly's final map included several Democrats in the urban 1st District now represented by U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay Jr., D-St. Louis. He has not publicly voiced any major objections to the General Assembly's treatment of his district in the new map.

To override the governor, Republicans in the Missouri House will need at least three Democrats to cross over; so far, most of the crossovers have been legislators in Clay's district. Clay and Nixon are old friends, and some Democrats say privately that Nixon wouldn't veto the map unless Clay promised to support that decision.

But one of those state House Democrats in the 1st District -- state Rep. Karla May , D-St. Louis -- said in an interview Friday that she won't vote to override the governor should he decide to veto the map. May has voted for various versions of the Republican House map but was absent for Wednesday's final House vote.

"I'm going to stand with the Democrats,'' said May, adding that she might have stuck with her party earlier if Democrats had acted sooner in circulating alternative maps to the GOP-drawn one approved by the legislature.

May recalled, "We got four Democratic maps on the morning" of the April 22 vote in the House on a now-defunct "compromise'' map crafted by House Republicans. May said she had voted for the GOP version because "it put my (1st) district in a positive position."

But since looking more closely at the Democratic alternatives, May said, "I believe the judges will draw a fairer map."

State Sen. Robin Wright-Jones, D-St. Louis and an ally of Carnahan and Clay, said Friday it was unclear if the outnumbered Democrats could united, especially in the House, to block an override vote.

Said Wright-Jones, a member of the Senate redistricting committee: "The numbers needed to sustain a veto are a moving target."

Three Democrats voted for the final GOP-backed map approved Wednesday: state Reps. Jamilah Nasheed and Penny Hubbard, D-St. Louis, and Michael Brown, D-Kansas City. (As mentioned, May was absent)

Hubbard told the Post-Dispatch earlier this week that she would vote to override a Nixon veto.

Nasheed said in an interview Friday that she also will vote to override the governor, if he vetoes the map. "I supported it in the beginning and I'll support it at the end," she said.

Proposed Legislative Map Targets Defectors

But some other Democrats already are applying pressure.

On Thursday, several proposed maps were circulated during the first session of the commission charged with drawing new boundary lines for Missouri's 163 state House districts. (At right is just one of the proposals, which was provided to the Beacon.)

At least one of those maps -- the one pictured -- put Hubbard and Nasheed in the same House district.

Nasheed said she's aware of that legislative map, but added that she's confident the final map won't toss her and Hubbard together. "At the end of the day, African-Americans shouldn't lose a (state House) district in the city of St. Louis,'' she said, adding that a lawsuit would likely be filed if that occurs.

If the congressional redistricting spawned spirited battles among Republicans, the battles over state House and Senate boundary lines may engulf Democrats.

And the two fights may end up linked. 

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.