JEFFERSON CITY — Opposition to a new congressional map crumbled Thursday, and the Missouri Senate approved new boundaries for the state’s eight U.S. House districts, sending the map to Gov. Mike Parson.
An extraordinary series of events unfolded, allowing an acrimonious, monthslong debate to come to an end — along with all other business. After approving the map, the Senate adjourned for the year, a day before its Friday deadline.
The new map will likely lead to the status quo in Missouri’s U.S. House delegation: six Republicans and two Democrats, shoring up U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner’s St. Louis County-based 2nd Congressional District for the GOP.
A group of Republicans calling themselves the “Conservative Caucus” had sought an aggressive “7-1” gerrymander to send seven Republicans to the U.S. House. Democrats believed with their party winning more than 40% of the vote in recent elections, they should have a shot at winning three seats.
In March, the splinter group of Republicans eventually accepted a “strong” 6-2 map that maintained both Democratic districts. The map placed four-fifths of St. Charles County’s population in the heavily Republican 3rd District, a win for St. Charles County Sens. Bob Onder and Bill Eigel.
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The House rejected the map, sending a revised “6-2” map to the Senate on Monday in a last-ditch effort to finish redistricting by the end of the legislative session, at 6 p.m. Friday.
If legislators had not acted, three federal judges would have been tasked with drawing the state’s map.
On Thursday, the Senate Redistricting Committee convened at noon and was expected to conduct a public hearing on the new House plan.
But Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, the chairman, promptly paused the proceedings by going into recess, and no hearing on the bill took place.
After 5 p.m., 12 Republicans employed a rarely used Senate rule to “relieve” the House map from committee, sending it straight to the Senate floor for debate.
Over the procedural objections of Onder, a leader of the splinter group, the chamber moved forward, bringing the legislation to the floor for debate.
“Why exactly did you short circuit the process by dissolving the committee and pulling the bill directly onto the calendar?” Onder asked Bernskoetter.
“I think there’s a group of us that think we’ve done enough talking and filibustering and I think it’s time to — to let the process play out and have the bill debated on the floor and voted on,” Bernskoetter responded.
“Clearly what went on here, when the Senate Redistricting Committee was dissolved, was a sneak attack,” Onder said minutes later.
The map was approved on a 22-11 vote shortly before 8:30 p.m., but not before Republican senators sniped at each other on the floor.
“There’s no question that this map that this body is likely to pass today is an improvement over the (House Bill) 2117 map, the (Nancy) Pelosi map, the betrayal map, the sellout map that this body — this body’s leadership — Republican leadership, so-called,” Onder said, “tried to force down our throats.”
Onder and allies argued the original House map contained a 2nd District too favorable to Democrats and likely to flip from the GOP, deriding it as a “5-3” map.
“The victory that I will claim,” Onder said, “is the defeat of the Pelosi map, the 5-3 map.”
“I pray to God that’s the last pontificating that we have to hear from the senator from the second,” said Sen. Holly Thompson Rehder, R-Sikeston, who held a news conference in March to blast the group’s obstruction of her legislation revising the state’s sexual assault survivors bill of rights.
She said that despite all the faction’s public talk of a “7-1” map, the concept wasn’t pushed in behind-the-scenes caucus sessions with other Republicans, suggesting the group had political motivations.
“Everyone — including all the senators that want to talk about it on their social media — knew” that 7-1 map was impossible because it was unconstitutional, Rehder said.
The faction this week also derailed Rehder’s legislation implementing a wide range of health care policy priorities, including legalizing needle exchanges in an effort to prevent the transfer of disease through use of dirty needles.
“She’s mad because her needle exchange bill did not get across the finish line,” said Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, who is allied with the splinter faction.
He went on to call Rehder a “progressive Republican,” and “definitely not a conservative.”
Hoskins got the last word in the exchange, with the map coming up for a vote afterward.
Under the plan, the 1st District, held by Rep. Cori Bush, D-St. Louis, would reach farther into the Webster Groves area with a “peninsula” that places voters in the Maplewood, Richmond Heights and Shrewsbury areas in the 2nd District.
Wagner’s 2nd District is poised to stretch from mid and south St. Louis County west to Warren and Franklin counties.
Eastern St. Charles County would be placed in the 3rd District. About three-fourths of St. Charles County’s population will be placed in the 3rd, the sponsor of the plan has said.
The House returns to action Friday with likely votes on unfinished priorities such as legislation granting patients in health care facilities the right to visitors in response to limits introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Updated at 10 p.m. Thursday, May 12.