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Proposed new legislative boundary lines touch off furor among many incumbents

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 11, 2011 Amid all the haggling during the final days of this legislative session, members of the Missouri General Assembly are abuzz over their own political futures.

And according to preliminary redistricting maps, the picture isn't pretty for many of them.

The 24th District state senate seat of Republican incumbent John Lamping of Ladue gets moved from mid-St. Louis County to southwest Missouri.

The residences of state Sens. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, and Jim Lembke, R-Lemay, get tossed into the same district. And part of Chesterfield would be shifted into the district now represented by a Franklin County Republican, Brian Nieves of Washington.

On the surface, such tentative boundary lines would seem to reflect the dream Democratic map aimed at targeting most the St. Louis region's Republicans.

But St. Louis' two state senators -- Democrats Robin Wright-Jones and Joe Keaveny -- are furious over what the preliminary map does to their respective 5th and 4th districts.

"It almost takes us back to the Civil War," said Wright-Jones angrily.

The 4th and 5th districts now are drawn to represent the western and eastern halves of the city, giving both a multi-racial electorate. The proposed map would have the 4th -- represented by Keaveny -- take in all of the city's north side and the Central West End. The 4th's electorate would be heavily African American; Keaveny is white.

Wright-Jones' district would take in the city's southern half, which is predominantly white, along with a bit of south St. Louis County. She is African-American.

Both senators complained that the new lines highlight the city's longstanding racial housing patterns, and run against the effort of the last decade to de-emphasize race in the city's politics. Wright-Jones noted that it took decades to get the current multiracial lines for the two districts.

"This (map) takes us back 20 years," Keaveny said.

As an aside, he said he's heard a lot of grousing since the map began circulating a couple days ago. "I can tell you, there's not a senator I know who's happy," he said.

The Goals of the Drafters

According to the chairman of the commission charged with redrawing the Senate lines, the opinions of incumbent senators are among the last of his considerations.

Chairman Doug Harpool, a former Democratic legislator from Springfield, Mo., outlined his philosophy in a letter sent to the Republican vice chairman, John Maupin. At Harpool's request, a copy was forwarded to the Beacon.

Harpool wrote that the tentative map was designed to elicit discussion. But in defense of the proposed lines, he said the map:

  • "Creates districts as close as practicable to ideal size.
  • "Creates districts that are contiguous, and which follow the constitutional provisions on the crossing of county boundaries.
  • "Attempts to create a map that more closely reflects the true political character of our state than does the current plan."

Harpool also wrote that the map "eliminates the deference that is sometimes given to the protection of incumbents."
"In a world where term limits already exist and in which citizens are increasingly wary of the entrenchment of government, we've created a plan that does not seek to give undue advantages to incumbent legislators," Harpool wrote.

One of the crafters of the proposed Senate map, commissioner Jeff Mazur of Ashland, Mo., said in an interview that "in the creation of this map, protection of majority minority districts was a top, if not 'the' top, priority."

In the St. Louis area, he said, that means protecting the 4th District as a predominantly African-American district -- even though Keaveny is white -- as well as the 14th District in St. Louis County, currently represented by Democrat Maria Chappelle-Nadal of University City, who is African-American.

The residence of Republican Lamping, who is white, would also be in the 14th under the proposed new lines.

The race or identity of the current senators isn't a factor, Mazur added, since protecting incumbents was not a concern of the commissioners.

As for Lamping's 24th District being moved across the state, Mazur said that was justified because St. Louis County has lost population according to last year's census. The county, he said, should have only 5 state senate districts, and 3/4 of another district. That meant a district needed to be moved to elsewhere in the state -- notably southwest Missouri -- where population has increased.

Another aim, said Mazur, was to draw up a map that reflects "the political makeup of the state."

Mazur is a Democrat. The state's partisan split, he and other Democrats have maintained, is not as overwhelmingly Republican as the Senate's current partisan split of 26 Republicans and 8 Democrats.

A similar philosophy appears to be reflected in the preliminary map drawing new lines for the 163 members of the Missouri House.

Incumbent Vs. Incumbent

According to calculations circulating in the Capitol, at least 45 current members of the Missouri House would appear to find themselves in 2012 pitted against a fellow incumbent in newly drawn districts around the state.

In the St. Louis area, those legislators are believed to include:

Democrats Jamilah Nasheed and Penny Hubbard, both of St. Louis;

Democrats Bert Atkins and Steve Webb, both of Florissant;

Democrat Rory Ellinger of University City and Republican John Diehl of Town and Country;

Republicans Andrew Koenig of Winchester and Don Gosen of Chesterfield;

Republicans Tim Jones of Eureka and Dwight Scharnhorst of southwest St. Louis County;

Democrat Scott Sifton and Republican Cloria Brown, both of south St. Louis County;

Republicans Cole McNary of Chesterfield and Sue Allen of Town and Country;

Republicans Doug Funderburk of St. Peters and Kurt Bahr of St. Charles;

Republicans Gary Fuhr of south St. Louis County and John McCaherty of High Ridge.

Nasheed and Hubbard suspect that they are Democratic targets because both voted earlier this month to override Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of the congressional redistricting map.

The override put in place a map that eliminates the congressional district of a fellow Democrat, U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan of St. Louis. Both legislators say they were acting on behalf of U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, who had no objections to the Republican-drawn congressional map.

But many area Democratic leaders privately say the two legislators must be punished since their actions resulted in the loss of a Democratic congressional seat.

However, activists in both parties -- and some involved in crafting the House map -- say that the dramatic loss of population in parts of St. Louis and St. Louis County makes it mandatory that some area legislators find themselves in the same situation as Carnahan: tossed into the same district with other incumbents.

The only issue is who gets picked.

Nasheed said that she doubts that the preliminary House map will get adequate support from the Republicans on the bipartisan redistricting commission. She predicted that the state courts will end up crafting the legislative maps because of partisan differences. Judges get the job if the commissions fail to reach consensus.

"I'll let the chips fall where they may," Nasheed said.

Meanwhile, Keaveny and Wright-Jones plan to address the commissioners on the Senate's map-drawing panel when their hearing is held in St. Louis on May 25. And both say they will register their united opposition to the preliminary map, in its treatment of the 4th and 5th Districts in St. Louis.

Freelance writer Jason Rosenbaum contributed information for this article.