Spare us the political lecture over the unfairness of voters getting another crack at changes to legislative redistricting in the state of Missouri.
Voters were presented with a poison pill in 2018, when an impractical system of drawing up boundaries was tacked on to a measure that limits lobbyist gifts to lawmakers.
Those much-needed ethical reforms came with baggage: In this case, an unelected demographer is given the ultimate power to draw state House and Senate boundaries with a goal of achieving “partisan fairness.” This represents a step back from the past system that used a nonpartisan commission to draw boundaries every 10 years.
Among elected officials, this could be seen as a pure power play. Republicans have a stranglehold on the legislature and are none too keen to see Democrats make inroads, thanks to a demographer wielding a complex formula known as an “efficiency gap.”
But viewed from the standpoint of Missouri’s voters, the legislature’s endorsement of a redistricting do-over makes perfect sense. Clean Missouri, as passed in 2018, put a premium on competitiveness and partisan fairness over the shape or compactness of districts.
That should raise concerns about Andrew County’s representation coming from south of Interstate 29 or St. Joseph residents calling a 660 area code to talk our own elected official.
This issue largely passed the legislature last week on a partisan vote, but one exception was Rep. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, a Democrat from University City outside of St. Louis. She expressed worry about districts with funny doglegs and elongated strips making it harder to get African-Americans elected, if inner-city St. Louis needs a Republican to balance out the new Democratic seats in the rural areas or suburbs.
“We’re talking about the representation of our communities,” she said in stltoday.com.
The irony is that the original Clean Missouri was pitched to voters as a way to stop the gerrymandering of legislative districts, but it has the potential to create districts that are just as oddly shaped. The only difference is this gerrymandering is accomplished by bureaucratic experts in the name of fairness.
In the end, voters get the final say at the polls on the new redistricting proposal, which would retain the bipartisan commission and emphasize compactness of districts.
It’s a risky move. Missouri Republicans who supported this second constitutional amendment could pay a heavy price for advancing a measure that is seen as undoing the will of the people.
That’s politics. We’re just saying if there is voter retribution, it should come from voters who live fairly close to the lawmaker in question.
They say all politics is local. They don’t necessarily say it’s fair.