Friday, January 31, 2020

Ed Emery: Here's my reason for overturning the will of the voters

(From Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar)

Compared to other states, it’s remarkably easy to place issues before voters in Missouri. To change the constitution it is only necessary to submit a proposed question to the secretary of state and then gather a sufficient number of signatures in support – eight percent of legal voters in any six of Missouri’s eight congressional districts.

This is exactly what happened in 2018. A group claiming to want to take the money out of politics submitted a measure and begin collecting signatures.

Exactly who backed the measure, and how they raised the money for their campaign remains something of a mystery. Ironically, many of the signatures were gathered by paid employees and most of the money to fund this campaign came from out-of-state sources.

Amendment 1 appealed to voters. Even the name, “Clean Missouri,” sounded wonderful. The measure placed limits on campaign contributions, capped the value of gifts legislators could accept and required former office holders to wait two years before becoming a lobbyist. The measure also promised to ensure “fairness” when legislative district boundaries are drawn.

Amendment 1 passed by a wide margin. The supporters of Amendment 1 that I’ve spoken to said they liked the ethics reforms. Most of them weren’t particularly interested in the legislative redistricting portions of the measure. I believe that’s exactly what the backers of the amendment intended. Like a Trojan horse, ethics reform was just a way of sneaking a new legislative redistricting plan – one that favored a party that has not found much success at Missouri polls – past the guard of voters.

Legislative districts are vitally important. Where the lines are drawn determines whether communities and cultures are represented, or whether the influence of neighbors is divvied up and diluted. Depending on where you live relative to the boundary line, your representative may share your interests or better reflect a community other than your own.

Prior to the passage of Amendment 1, legislative districts were crafted by a bipartisan citizen commission, with the two major parties equally represented. Due to the passage of Amendment 1, legislative districts will now be determined by a single government employee, a state demographer. The criteria for how districts are crafted has changed, too. Previously, the commissions sought to create districts that were compact and contiguous. Senatorial District 31, which I represent, is an example of this. It is made up of five neighboring counties – Barton, Bates, Cass, Henry and Vernon – with similar demographics, interests and economics.

Amendment 1 imposed a new criteria. Legislative districts now must reflect “partisan fairness.” The state demographer will look at how Missourians voted in the past three elections for governor, U.S. senator and president and each new legislative district must mirror those political results. The problem with this approach should be obvious. I believe people in the cities tend to vote one way, while those in rural areas vote another. How do you create legislative districts in rural areas that reflect the overall political divisions of the state?

In the future, legislative districts may no longer consist of neighboring communities. To achieve “partisan fairness,” the state demographer may have to group urban areas with unconnected rural areas. Residents of Vernon County, for example, may be represented in the Missouri Senate by a lawmaker from Jackson County. There is a genuine concern that the passage of Amendment 1 represents the end to local representation in Missouri.

There is a measure before the Missouri Senate this year that will put redistricting back before the voters. Senate Joint Resolution 38 would restore the bipartisan citizen commissions and reorder the redistricting priorities to again favor compact and contiguous districts. This resolution came before the Senate this week and opponents staged a filibuster. It seems that some members of the Legislature are determined to prevent voters from revisiting the redistricting portions of Amendment 1. It’s possible that once the issue is presented to voters clearly and “cleanly,” they may again choose the state demographer system and partisan fairness over compact districts that represent local communities. Or, what is more likely, they may decide that traditional methods are best. Either way, voters should be given the opportunity.

The Buck Starts Here: Harry S. Truman and the City of Lamar by Randy Turner is available at the Lamar Democrat office, Harry S. Truman Birthplace and Barton County Chamber of Commerce in Lamar and at Always Buying Books, Changing Hands Book Shoppe and The Book Guy in Joplin and in paperback and e-book formats from Amazon.

No comments: