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Politically Speaking: Former Sen. Talent makes the case against passing Clean Missouri

Former U.S. Sen. Tim Talent
Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
Former U.S. Sen. Tim Talent

Former U.S. Sen. Jim Talent joins St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum and Jo Mannies on the latest episode of Politically Speaking. The Republican served in various federal and state capacities for more than 20 years.

While Talent is no longer a candidate himself, he is leading the charge against a constitutional amendment known as Clean Missouri.

A Cole County judgeordered that Clean Missouri be removed from the November ballot on Friday, but proponents of the measure are appealing the ruling.

Talent is a St. Louis County native who has served in the Missouri House, the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate. He lost to U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill in 2006. While many Missouri Republicans have wanted Talent to run again for statewide office since then, he has stayed out of the electoral fray — and instead became an expert on defense and national-security policy.

This election cycle, Talent is turning his attention to Clean Missouri. Among other things, it would curtail lobbyist gifts, make small changes to campaign-finance laws and make it more difficult for a lawmaker to become a lobbyist. But both Republicans and Democrats agree that a central part of the initiative is an overhaul of the state legislative redistricting process.

Currently, bipartisan commissions are tasked with drawing new state House and Senate lines after a census is complete. In recent years, these commissions have often deadlocked — which effectively means appellate judges that the Missouri Supreme Court appoints draw the lines.

Clean Missouri would turn much of the power to draw districts over to a demographer. That person would have to create districts based on specific criteria, most notably “partisan fairness” and “competitiveness.” (You can listen to a past episode of Politically Speaking with Clean Missouri proponents by clicking here.)

While Clean Missouri has support from Republicans, including former U.S. Sen. John Danforth, other members of the GOP are organizing in opposition to the measure. Talent believes that the initiative is aiming to give Democrats an advantage in the redistricting process. He also contends that the process could be manipulated, as the state auditor would play a major role in solicting candidates to be the state demographer.

Here’s what Talent said during the show:

  • Talent says the Clean Missouri proponents haven’t made a strong case that the current redistricting system is substandard. He said the way it’s set up now either requires the bipartisan commissions to compromise — or judges who are part of the Missouri Nonpartisan Court Plan to make the final decision. “The system is meant to protect against partisan manipulation,” he said.
  • Clean Missouri includes language saying districts have to conform to the federal Voting Rights Act — and has the backing of a number of civil rights groups. But Talent believes that creating more competitive districts in St. Louis will require lowering the percentage of African-American inside some state legislative districts — and, therefore, decreasing the number of black lawmakers.
  • Talent doesn’t have any objection to the other items in Clean Missouri. But he believes they were put into the measure to make the redistricting portion of the initiative more palatable to voters. “I think it’s a little much in a referendum that’s supposed to be about clean government and ethics in government when 70 percent of it is about something that’s a massive constitutional change in the way you draw these maps,” he said.
  • Talent said it’s tough for any senator in a competitive state to win a third term — which is why he believes McCaskill is vulnerable. “What we don’t know, is this going to be a big blue-wave election?” he said. “I think it’s going to be a Democratic year — but how much I don’t know. I think it’s still pretty fluid.”

Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Follow Jo Mannies on Twitter: @jmannies

Follow Jim Talent on Twitter: @JimTalent

Music: “A Fault Line, A Fault of Mine” by Underoath

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.
Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.