In an American democracy, you would not think it's possible for a small group of unelected officials to subject citizens to a legislator whom they did not elect. You would not think it possible that voters could be blocked from getting to elect their legislator.
Yet, that is exactly what the Missouri's Senate Redistricting Commission has proposed.
A leading conservative voice in education, St. Louis County Republican Sen. Jane Cunningham, will be blocked from seeking re-election this year under the tentative Senate redistricting plan proposed Thursday, Feb. 23, by the Senate Redistricting Commission.
Cunningham's term expires this year, as do the terms of all the 17 senators elected from odd-numbered districts. But under the new map, Cunningham would be placed in an even-numbered district represented by a senator from another county -- Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Washington.
Like all senators from even-numbered districts, Nieves' term will not expire until 2014.
So, citizens living in a portion of St. Louis County will be represented in Missouri's Senate by a man they did not elect. And those residents will be blocked from the right to choose their senator for two years.
This is not the first time that switching a Senate district number blocked a senator from office. It happened to Sen. Jeff Schaeperkoetter, D-Owensville. After just four years in the Senate, he was blocked from seeking a second term in 1992 because his district number went from odd to even.
But this year, the redistricting saga has been particularly unusual.
The first commission effort in 2011 failed because the bi-partisan commission could not reach an agreement on a map. There are an equal number of Republicans and Democrats on the commission. Like a decade earlier, the commission deadlocked along party lines.
That tossed redistricting to a panel of appeals court judges picked by the state Supreme Court. You would think that judges would do better. They did not.
Their first effort violated a constitutional restriction on splitting counties between districts. Realizing their mistake, these lawyers rescinded their first plan and adopted a new map.
But Missouri's Supreme Court ruled the appeals court panel did not have legal authority to rescind its first plan. So that threw redistricting back to a new bipartisan commission.
The House map also has been embroiled in controversy. Like the Senate plan, it was drawn by an appeals court panel. And like the earlier Senate map, the House map is under legal challenge in a case now before Missouri's Supreme Court.
Missouri's Constitution requires that a House district be "composed of contiguous territory." But that word "contiguous" takes on an unusual meaning for the 50th District where lives Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia.
To get from one part of that district to the other, Kelly would have to drive through three other House districts and travel nearly 30 miles outside his district.
His only other option would be to swim or boat across the Missouri River.
That's because the district is split in half by the river. And there's no bridge, or even a ferry service, connecting the two halves of the new 50th District.
The 50th is not the only such district. The new map has a total of four House districts that are split by the Missouri River without a connecting bridge in the district.
That's one of the points in the Supreme Court case, that those districts do not meet the definition of contiguous.
We do not know what the judges who drew that map were thinking because reporters could not cover their deliberations. The judges did not consider that they were bound by the state's open meetings law that governs most other government agencies. That also is part of the legal challenge to their map.
One unusual aspect to the House map is the large number of incumbents thrown together into the same districts. Legislative staff report more than 50 House members would be in districts with two or more current members.
Lumping so many incumbents together not only exacerbates political tensions, it would assure a significant turnover of members in a chamber already showing the loss of continuity because of term limits.
House Republican Leader Tim Jones describes the House plan as just plain "bizarre." The St. Louis County Republican and a bipartisan group of other legislators have concluded that there needs to be a complete review and overhaul of Missouri's redistricting process.
"I believe there is a bipartisan interest in taking a look at this entire process, from top to bottom, so our successors 10 years from now do not have to have an experience such as this," Jones said.
The House Democratic leader agreed. "It is time that we start looking at how we conduct the redistricting process and try to find some way that is not necessarily as disjointed as we have now," said Mike Talboy, D-Jackson County.
One intriguing possibility is that revising how legislative districts are drawn could provide a vehicle for repealing or changing legislative term limits.
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