Missouri lawmakers will attempt to break through their redistricting stalemate Tuesday morning, when they are scheduled to reconvene and consider, once again, the state’s new Congressional map.
Republicans who control the Legislature have spent the past several weeks wrangling over new Congressional borders, which are dramatically changing since the state lost a seat because of reapportionment. As of this week, state Republicans still could not agree on the new boundaries around two exurban St. Louis counties: St. Charles and Jefferson.
“The difference between the two maps is probably less than 40,000 residents, but you have to move them to please a lot of people,” said Missouri Republican Party Executive Director Lloyd Smith. “Everyone has an opinion in the House and Senate about where they want them to be.”
The state House and Senate have each passed their own version of the new map, but the conference committee cannot agree on a compromise yet, despite working until early Friday morning before lawmakers took a break for the holiday weekend.
With the next Congressional election in the state more than 18 months away, what’s the big rush to get the new lines finalized now? If Republican state lawmakers do not pass a map in the next couple of days, they might have to wait until the fall to get it done — too late, they argue, for many potential candidates to decide about a bid.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) has kept mum about whether he would veto any of the proposed maps, but he has 15 days under state law to take action on legislation that has passed both chambers. If Nixon vetoes the changes after the legislative session is scheduled to end on May 13, state lawmakers will have to wait until the September session to try to override the governor’s veto.
But a veto override isn’t necessarily a lock for Republicans in the state Legislature. Although Republicans have a veto-proof majority in the Senate, they don’t have the same advantage in the House, meaning they’ll have to bring some Democrats on board in order to override the governor if necessary.
The maps passed by each chamber move two Democrats, Reps. Russ Carnahan and William Lacy Clay, into the same St. Louis-based district. Carnahan will be forced to choose whether to challenge his colleague or run in another district.
However, some of the stalemate is a result of local GOP lawmakers having designs on running for some of the very House seats they are currently drawing. Their ambitions are also complicated by the fact that it could be decades before Republicans will have such control and influence over the new lines, making the stakes even higher for this redistricting session.
For example, state Sen. Tom Dempsey (R), a leader on the redistricting committee, has an interest in keeping his base in St. Charles County in Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer’s district. According to a GOP source close to the situation, Dempsey is interested in running for the Republican’s seat someday. Dempsey, the state Senate majority floor leader, did not return an e-mail request for an interview.
State Rep. John Diehl (R), another rising star in the Legislature and chairman of the state House’s redistricting committee, has a base in Town and Country, Mo., just east of the disputed area. The new map could set up Diehl for a potential Congressional run in the district currently represented by Rep. Todd Akin (R), who is considering a bid for Senate.
Despite the tight deadline, Republicans still expressed cautious optimism that state lawmakers could agree on a map in the next couple of days.
“When I die, I want to be buried in Jefferson City, because that’s where things are resurrected,” quipped one Republican operative close to the redistricting process.