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Senate panel adopts new boundaries with dramatic changes for St. Louis area

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 23, 2012 - The St. Louis area’s state Senate delegation is in for a significant shakeup under a new statewide boundary map adopted early Thursday morning.

A commission tasked with redrawing the state’s Senate districts agreed to a tentative map by an 8-2 vote, a margin that satisfies the constitutional requirement.

The agreement came after hours of closed-doors deliberations and counter-proposals between the five Democrats and five Republicans on the commission. The governor had recently appointed the panel after the state Supreme Court rejected an earlier map.

The new map now is subject to a 15-day public-comment period before its boundaries become final.

One aspect of the new map: Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, is now in the same district as Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Washington. And the 7th District – which Cunningham currently represents – is relocated to the Kansas City area.

The 10th District, currently represented by Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City, now encompasses Lincoln, Warren, Audrain, Monroe, Callaway and Montgomery Counties. Currently, nobody in the Missouri Senate lives in any of those counties.

Sen. John Lamping, R-Ladue, said in a telephone interview on Thursday morning that he was "extremely disappointed for Cunningham."

"She's represented that part of St. Louis County for a very long time; I think she fits her district very well," said Lamping, who represents the 24th District. "Frankly, I'm shocked that she doesn't have a race to run in in 2012. ... She's so good at what she does. She'll find a way to represent the people. I never thought this would happen and I'm really disappointed."

He also said that the new map is a blow to St. Louis area as it results in fewer senators representing the region.

"It's a dramatic thing," Lamping said. "To get down to a point where we're now represented by seven state senators for the next decade, our ability to be represented and to have our voices heard -- and most importantly to have a sheer a number of votes - that's a disappointing thing."

The good news for Lamping: The earlier version of the map had moved his district outstate. This version keeps the 24th in St. Louis County.

Start of update: Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, echoed Lamping in criticizing the map for shifting a senator out of St. Louis County.

"When you a lose a Senate seat, that matters around here," Schmitt said. "One senator means a lot. And when you're advocating with a group of people that feel the same way, that can be an incredibly powerful voice. Moving a Senate district out of St. Louis just doesn't make any sense to me. And it doesn't have anything do with -- in my opinion -- individual people. We are a regionally a community of interest of shared values and goals. And that was moved away." End update.

Some other takeaways from the new map:

  • The 1st District, currently represented by Sen. Jim Lembke, R-Lema, now takes in parts of Webster Groves, Maplewood and Brentwood. The district may be more Democratic-leaning than Lembke’s current district. (For his part, Lembke is now floating a possible bid for governor on Facebook.)
  • The 14th District, represented by Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, now includes parts of Clayton, Hazelwood and Bridgeton. The 24th District, represented by Lamping, appears to become more Republican with the addition of Town & Country and part of Manchester.
  • Jefferson County is split roughly the same, with the northern part in the 22nd District represented by Sen. Ryan McKenna, D-Crystal City, and the southern part in the 3rd District represented by Sen. Kevin  Engler, R-Farmington.
  • Elsewhere, Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, now resides in a district that includes Boone and Cooper counties. Since Cooper is Republican-leaning, it may boost the Senate Appropriations chairman’s re-election chances against state Rep. Mary Still, D-Columbia.
  • The 4th District, now represented by Sen. Joe Keaveny, D-St. Louis, will go west and take in part of central St. Louis County. The result is that the 4th's racial makeup would be over 50 percent white. An earlier version had made the 4th predominantly African American.  Instead, the 13th District in north St. Louis County would become more African American, with a minority population of about 55 percent.

The commissioners seemed to have resolved a disagreement over Clay County in suburban Kansas City by putting one part into the 17th District now represented by Sen. Luann Ridgeway, D-Smithville, and the rest in Sen. Brad Lager’s 12th District.
An initial Democratic map split the county into three districts, which prompted pushback from Republicans who claimed such a division was unconstitutional.

Start of update: Both Lembke and Cunningham spent part of Thursday afternoon condemning the map, urging the commissioners to “go back to the drawing board” during the 15-day waiting period. Their criticism came during debate on legislation to move the candidate filing period to March.

“I don’t want to even call it a product,” said Cunningham, referring to the map. “It doesn’t reach to the level. It is a travesty. A travesty – not a product.”

Cunningham said it was inappropriate that most of western St. Louis County -- typically considered suburban -- was paired with Franklin County, which is more rural. She said the move was akin to taking "a knife and [stabbing] it right into the economic engine of the state."

Added Lembke: "It was a stab in the heart for us to lose one of those seats and for it to be shifted to Kansas City." End of update.

Chairman 'OK,' not thrilled, with map

The commission chairman, Doug Harpool of Springfield, a Democrat, says that he's not thrilled with some of the changes in the final version, compared to the draft map he filed last weekend.

" 'OK' is a good word," said Harpool in an interview. "I'm not thrilled with it. I feel remorse over the things we (Democrats) gave up to get it."

He singled out the changes in the 19th District, which Harpool says makes the Boone County seat less favorable for a Democrat, such as Still.

Negotiations over that district were a key reason the talks lasted until early Thursday morning, he said. And also why one Democratic commissioner, Todd Patterson, voted against the map.

The other "no" vote was cast by a Republican commissioner, St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann.

Harpool said negotiations also were testy over the 24th and 7th districts, both now held by Republicans. The GOP commissioners were willing to allow the 7th to move outstate -- but refused to move the 24th -- because the 7th will be on this fall's ballot. The 24th, now held by Lamping, won't be up until 2014.

He believes the new 24th District is more Republican, which could be a boon for Lamping. The 24th now is predominantly Democratic, even if a Republican holds the seat.

During the 15-day comment period, the map could be killed if more than one supportive commissioner switches to a "no" vote.

Harpool said the commission won't try to come up with another map, because he could not envision any way the commissioners on either side would be willing to compromise further.

A lawyer, Harpool said that research into the state constitution indicates that a rejected map this time around would not be tossed to state judges.

Rather, the current district lines would remain and a lawsuit would be filed, shifting the map-drawing to federal court, he said.

Harpool added that he hopes that this map, for all its flaws, stands. "It's not perfect," he said. "But it's fair."

Jo Mannies contributed information to this story.

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