Special Report: State lawmakers want to reverse Clean Missouri
JEFFERSON CITY - Clean Missouri was approved by 62% of Missourians in 2018. Now, some Missouri lawmakers want to reverse the constitutional amendment.
It all comes down to the state's redistricting rules. Under Clean Missouri, a non-partisan demographer will draw the district lines. Bipartisan commissions nominated by each of the political parties will have the ability to disapprove of the plans drawn out by the demographer.
It's a plan Clean Missouri campaign director Sean Soendker Nicholson said is fair and balanced.
"Map drawing is hard," he said. "So I think that multi-step process with checks and balances and independence is really important."
Now, a new joint resolution is trying to change the way the lines are drawn. SJR 38 designates a bipartisan commission, rather than a single demographer, to draw the district map.
The issue has divided lawmakers, some beyond party lines.
Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, voted opposite his fellow Republicans against the resolution in a hearing that pushed the bill through the Senate. He said he's not ready to rule out Clean Missouri just yet.
"We haven't appointed or hired a state demographer yet, so we haven't seen what these new legislative maps will look like," he said. "I would be more comfortable letting the process play out."
Critics of Clean Missouri say they're worried about the new redistricting process leading to gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is when district lines are intentionally drawn to favor one party or group of people.
Senator Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said he wants the districts to accurately reflect their citizens. He doesn't think Clean Missouri as it stands can do that.
"Do you want a representative that doesn't live in your town, doesn't live in your area and maybe doesn't even live in your region of the state?" he said. "I think most would say no, but the reality of Clean Missouri is that in some cases that would have to happen for them to adequately address the variables there are."
Some lawmakers have also called into question State Auditor Nicole Galloway's role in appointing the demographer. They're worried that Galloway's position as a Democrat will influence the demographer to draw a map favoring Democrats.
Soendker Nicholson said these statements are unfounded.
"The legislature does actually have a lot of discretion on that front," he said. "I think some of the focus on the auditor has been really misguided and may not be rooted in good faith."
There have also been divisions among Democrats. According to the Associated Press, some members of the black caucus are worried that the new redistricting plan would disenfranchise black voters.
Rep. Tommie Pierson Jr., D-St. Louis, does not share those concerns. He said he wants to honor the will of the voters.
"I think it is incumbent upon us to listen to what the voters have to say," Pierson said. "I would hate for us to kind of continue to ask the same questions in hopes of getting the answer that we want."
Senator Hough said he wants to keep the focus on the community throughout this process.
"The thing that I try to do in this job is to best represent my community," he said. "When my community sends a clear message like they did, I feel like this is where we need to be."
The bill has yet to be assigned to a committee in the House. If it passes, it will go on the next ballot, either a general election or a special election that Governor Parson could call.