The fight over Clean Missouri is officially back on.
Republicans held a hearing Tuesday on a resolution that would ask voters to neuter recent changes they made to the redistricting process, which conservatives fear could cost them seats in the coming decade.
Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, carried the ball for his party, telling a committee he wants to offer the public “another opportunity to weigh in on this monumental change that could affect Missouri for decades to come.”
By “monumental change,” Hegeman was mostly referring to two big changes Clean Missouri made in how the state will draw new districts for legislators after this year’s census.
The first created a new “nonpartisan” demographer to draft legislative districts. To override the demographer’s recommendations, a 10-person bipartisan panel of political appointees would have to muster seven votes.
The second changes map the drawers’ priorities. In the past, they’ve focused on drawing compact shapes. Now, that takes a back seat to drawing districts more likely to produce more competitive races and better align the overall makeup of the legislature — where Republicans hold supermajorities in both houses — with the outcomes in statewide elections, where the parties have been more evenly matched.
Those changes, along with new limits on lobbyist gifts and campaign contributions, won the support of 62% of voters statewide and 54% of Audrain County voters in November 2018.
But Republicans have never accepted those results. Prominent figures like Senate Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said voters didn’t understand what they were doing; others have suggested voters were purposefully bamboozled by a campaign funded by out-of-state “moneyed interests” that want to help Democrats.
The plan, as expressed in Hegeman’s bill, asks voters to put the usual bipartisan commissions back in command, shifting concerns about competitive races and partisan balance to the back burner.
Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz said in the new criteria, “at the bottom of that list is going to be what they ultimately wanted to be at the top of the list.”
In his speech to fellow Republicans on the committee, Hegeman also pointed out his resolution would go further than Clean Missouri on lobbyist gifts and campaign money.
His resolution would ban all lobbyist gifts, as opposed to banning gifts worth more than $5, and further decrease the amount of money someone can donate to a politician’s campaign.
Democrats have dismissed those ideas as a smokescreen for the real attack on redistricting.
But Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville, applauded those ideas in a friendly inquiry as he pushed back at claims Republicans are trying to gut Clean Missouri and the will of the people.
“Really, what we’re doing is not touching or we’re strengthening every component of the ethics provisions that were in Amendment 1,” Luetkemeyer said. “And then we’re reverting Missouri back to the bipartisan method with which we previously drew districts.”
B.J. Tanksley, a lobbyist for the conservative Missouri Farm Bureau, also spoke in support, saying his members worry the new plan could “erode rural representation” in the legislature.
A number of opponents were in attendance to disagree, though.
Angie Dunlap of the state’s League of Women Voters, a nonprofit dedicated to voting rights, said Clean Missouri reforms brought the system closer to “what Missourians deserve” and said Republicans’ plans for a do-over vote “undermined voters’ confidence that their votes even matter.”
Other witnesses echoed Dunlap and suggested Republicans should let it go.
Schatz, the Senate Republicans’ leader, poured cold water on that.
“It’s not too late,” he said. “We’re going to say (to voters), ‘Maybe you didn’t get it right, and we’re going to give you another opportunity.’”
The committee did not take any action on the resolution Thursday, which is what usually happens when a committee hears a bill for the first time.
Republicans are expected to push hard for the changes, though.
An Associated Press analysis found Clean Missouri’s new formula really could help Democrats’ chances in 2022.
It also found that Republicans won 13 more House seats in 2018 than would be expected based on their share of votes for House candidates statewide, a disparity the amendment’s changes are designed to reduce.