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Missouri Legislature overrides governor's veto of redistricting map

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 4, 2011 - The Missouri Senate voted 28-6 this afternoon to override Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of the bill crafting new boundaries for the state's eight remaining congressional districts. That vote, which was not a surprise, followed the state House's narrow override by 109-44.

The map does away with the district of U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis.

State House Speaker Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, got exactly his chamber's minimum 109 votes, including four Democrats. There are only 105 Republicans in the House.

In the state Senate, all but one Republican voted to override, and were joined by three Democrats: Victor Callahan, Jolie Justis and Kiki Curls, all of Kansas City. The Republican defector was Rep. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton.

The four House Democrats willing to override Nixon, a fellow Democrat, were: state Reps. Jamilah Nasheed and Penny Hubbard of St. Louis, and Jonas Hughes and Michael Brown of Kansas City.

Two apiece are from the districts of U.S. Reps. William Lacy Clay Jr., D-St. Louis, and Emanuel Cleaver, D-Kansas City, the two remaining Democrats in the Republican-drawn map.

All three Senate Democrats were from Cleaver's district.

Right after the vote, Democrats were abuzz on Twitter, circulating Hughes' own earlier comments and Tweets in which he had blasted the map as unfair to Kansas City and St. Louis, calling it "gerrymandering."

After this morning's vote, a tearful Hughes told the Kansas City Star that he voted to override because Cleaver asked him to do so. Cleaver's staff has yet to reply.

The state Senate's vote was anti-climactic because that chamber has 26 Republicans and needs only 23 to override.

Nixon issued a statement late Wednesday: "As I have stated before, I do not believe this map reflects a fair representation of the interests for all regions of our state. Now that the map is finalized, we expect a robust electoral process in these significantly altered districts."

Nixon's spokesman declined comment when asked if the governor had contacted any Democrats or Republicans in the legislature, particularly in the House, prior to today's override votes.

Override Highlights Democratic Differences

The last time a governor's veto was overridden was in 2003 when the General Assembly voted to override Gov. Bob Holden's vetoes of the conceal-carry bill, another bill that dealt with guns and an anti-abortion bill. Both chambers also were under Republican control, and Holden was a Democrat.

Nixon had vetoed the redistricting map on Saturday, telling the Beacon on Sunday that he objected to several aspects where the map, in his view, failed to comply with the federal mandates that the districts be contiguous and that communities be intact.

He acknowledged that one of his objections involved his home county of Jefferson County, a politically swing territory that was divided among three districts. Leaders in both parties in that county had contended the new lines would reduce the county's political power in Washington.

Democratic leaders in the city of St. Louis had made a similar argument, in reverse. The city wants to retain its clout in two congressional districts. Some Democrats now are encouraging St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, a Democrat, to challenge Clay in 2012.

Rumors had been flying since Saturday that Clay and Cleaver had both objected to Nixon's veto. But Clay denied that was the case in a brief interview Monday with Robert Koenig, the Beacon's Washington correspondent.

"I don't think it hurts me," the congressman said. "I'm confident about my re-election chances."

Still, the two defectors from his district -- Hubbard and Nasheed -- had maintained since last week that they were behind the map because they supported how Clay's district was drawn in the new map.

The Republican leader of the House redistricting effort, state Rep. John Diehl, R-Town and Country, told the body: "We believe this map is fair and adequately represents all Missourians. "It's compact and contiguous and I encourage the body to override the governor's veto."

During debate, Democrats once again ripped the proposal for effectively giving the GOP a 6-2 edge for the state's delegation. Carnahan can run in another district -- his residence is now in Clay's 1st District -- but the six districts with Republican members of Congress were drawn with the idea of giving each as many Republicans as possible and as few Democrats.

"If anybody believes that this state is a 6-2 state in a state where Barack Obama (narrowly) lost the presidential vote, then we really need an education bill because nobody can count," said House Minority Leader Mike Talboy, D-Kansas City.

At least one lawmaker indicated on the floor that the defecting Democrats may regret crossing their party. "There are some donkeys with very long memories," said Rep. Scott Sifton, D-Afton.

Afterward, state Republican Party chairman David Cole issued a statement lauding the override.

"We applaud the efforts of Republicans and Democrats in the Missouri House of Representatives, who joined together to override Gov. Nixon's veto of the General Assembly's reapportionment solution," Cole said. "This bipartisan vote sends a clear message that Missouri's representation in Congress should be determined by the duly elected representatives of the people rather than unaccountable judges."

Some Opponents Predict a Legal Fight

State Sen. Joe Aull, D-Marshall, said this afternoon that he hopes that someone sues to challenge, at minimum, the configuration of Cleaver's 5th District. Aull is from one of several rural counties that were moved into the 5th, over their objections.

"If you're talking about a legal challenge, I think you can look at the compactness of [Cleaver's district]," Aull said, noting that he had proposed an unsuccessful amendment to change the 5th's boundaries by putting all of Jackson County in one congressional district. The new district lines split Jackson County, so that some is in the 6th District -- which extends across the top of the state.

The result, said Aull, is a 5th District with an arm that extends east 120 miles. "If you're talking about being compact, that's nuts," Aull added. "I think our people in the rural area are getting messed over."

However, he has no plans to file a suit.

State Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City -- one of three Democrats to cross over and vote in favor of the override -- said the map was the best chance to hold onto a Democratic district on the western side of the state.

"My concern is if it was drawn in a different way, we might not have a Democratic district on our side of the state," Justus said.

Justis added that she did understand some of the Democratic anger about the map's impact on the St. Louis area.

"If there was a way to draw a map like they do in other states that's less political in nature, then I would absolutely support something like that," Justus said. "But reality is that's not the process we have."

State Sen. Robin Wright-Jones, D-St. Louis City, said she decided to vote against the override to stand with Nixon. When asked what advice she had for Carnahan after with map in place, Wright-Jones laughed briefly and said "I don't think I'm in the position to advise a congressman, actually."

"We have to let this whole thing unfold," Wright-Jones said. "Potentially it could still wind up in court."

"I think that a fresh eye needs to look at it - you know, a neutral eye - and say 'is Missouri really reflecting the vote pattern of its constituents inside of the constraints of the numbers," she added.

But like Aull, Wright-Jones said that while she would support a lawsuit, she does not plan to file suit herself.

Republican Members of Congress Praise Result

Later today, U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth -- and who had taken heat for his role in the longstanding GOP fight over the map -- issued a carefully worded statement. He currently represents the 9th District, which is reconfigured and rechristened as the 3rd District in the new map.

Said Luetkemeyer: "I will continue to be a voice of common sense, conservative values in Congress on behalf of the hard-working families in the 9th District who have repeatedly shown their confidence in me for more than two years. I remain humbled and honored to have the opportunity to serve the people of the 9th District and my commitment to them remains unbroken. I also want to assure 9th District families that our staff will continue their exceptional service to those needing assistance from our office. As always, my focus will remain on tackling the critical issues facing the 9th District, the State of Missouri and the United States as we work together to secure a brighter future for our children and grandchildren."

U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau, complimented the map.

"I am glad we have a fair congressional map for Missouri, and I very much appreciate all of the time and effort that went into some very difficult negotiations," she said in a statement.

"Losing a seat in our House delegation made this a tough map to draw, but this process has been guided by input from Missourians at the local level from the start. As a result, the map which today became law will allow us to continue to send Missourians to Washington DC to represent the best interests of the different parts of our wonderfully diverse state, its urban and rural portions from north to south and east to west," Emerson said.

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.
Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.