MO GOP’s overt / covert plots to undermine new anti-gerrymandering law

After the November 2018 midterm election, Missouri voters could congratulate themselves on being ahead of the curve in the nationwide drive for anti-gerrymandering laws. But the elation was short-lived. One day after voters passed Constitutional Amendment 1—nicknamed “Clean Missouri”— by an overwhelming 61% margin, Republicans in the “Show Me” state showed their true colors and began a cynical effort to undermine the new law.

The Clean Missouri amendment includes sweeping new provisions aimed at reducing government corruption at the state level. The new law limits gifts to legislators and bans elected lawmakers from becoming lobbyists immediately after serving in office, among other restrictions.

But the biggest news in the new law is how it revises the process for redrawing congressional district boundaries after each national census. And that’s the provision that Missouri Republicans are targeting.

Here’s what is different about Missouri’s new approach to congressional redistricting. According to AP,

Other states have created independent commissions and required bipartisan votes to redraw legislative and congressional districts. Missouri will be the first to rely on a new mathematical formula to try to engineer “partisan fairness” and “competitiveness” in its state legislative districts; the Legislature will continue drawing the state’s congressional districts.

It’s an experiment—one that Missouri Republicans want no part of because, according to an AP analysis:

…it has the potential to end the Republicans’ super-majorities in the state House and state Senate and move the chambers closer to the more even partisan division that is often reflected in statewide races. But the size of the likely Democratic gains remains uncertain, partly because the formula has never been put to a test.

[Also, there’s science, analysis and factual information involved. Those things apparently turn off Missouri Republicans as well.]

So, without missing a beat, Missouri Republicans declared war on Amendment 1. According to the New York Times,

The day after the election, the Republican speaker of the Missouri House, Elijah Haahr, said that he wanted “to strike up conversations with African-American lawmakers who have expressed misgivings that Clean Missouri could reduce the [number] of black lawmakers,” Jason Rosenbaum of St. Louis Public Radio reported. That’s a classic strategy for Republican gerrymandering: Effectively guarantee black-held seats in exchange for reducing the overall number of Democratic seats.

In addition,

…opponents of the amendment created a political group to undermine it, Tony Messenger, a metro columnist for The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, has noted. The group has the Alice-in-Wonderland name of “Fair Missouri” and $150,000 in initial funding. Its goal is to place a new measure on the ballot that would sabotage parts of the amendment before they can take effect.

The covert, state demographer gambit

The most cynical anti-Amendment 1 strategy is one that will take place far out of the spotlight of ballot initiatives and special elections. Rumor has it that one Republican state representative is preparing a bill that would simply defund the newly created state demographer’s office.

How would that proposal affect Missouri’s anti-gerrymandering effort? Bigly. A report from KSDK-TV describes the impact:

Currently, state House and Senate districts in Missouri are redrawn after each census by bipartisan commissions. Members are appointed by the governor from nominees submitted by the Democratic and Republican parties.

Amendment 1 creates a new position of nonpartisan state demographer who would propose maps to commissioners that reflect the parties’ share of the statewide vote in previous elections for president, governor and U.S. senator. Criteria of “partisan fairness” and “competitiveness” would outrank more traditional criteria such as geographically compact districts.

De-funding the state demographer is a starve-the-beast, behind-the-scenes maneuver that would, essentially, kill the entire effort.

Interestingly, Missouri’s state website has duly posted a job opening for State Demographer and is accepting applicants. Among the duties of the job, the listing says that the state demographer:

Prepares periodic estimates and projections of the state population, and county-by-county population estimates and projections.

Serves as liaison with state agencies, the federal government, and local governments regarding population estimates and projections for the State of Missouri .

And, most importantly,

Supervises the decennial reapportionment project, including the supervision of professional, technical, and clerical personnel.

[Translation: the demographer is in charge of the data used in redistricting after every US Census.]

The pay scale is attractive: $50,000 – $80,000. The job could be a great landing place for a highly competent, non-partisan statistics nerd. The question is: With Republicans in a tizzy about the new law, and given their multi-pronged anti anti-gerrymandering effort, how long will that job posting—or the job itself, once filled—last?

These strategies show that the Show Me State  —  at least its Republican party — is not, as is popularly believed, out of step with the rest of the US. Undermining initiatives passed by voters [and even elections for high office]  is quickly becoming a national Republican strategy. Looking to Wisconsin, Michigan and other states as role models for controverting the time-honored democratic concept of “the will of the people,” Missouri Republicans can now congratulate themselves for being right there in the ugly, sour-grapes, democracy-defying mainstream of the GOP.