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Missouri Senate divided over congressional redistricting

The Missouri Senate remained divided over a congressional redistricting plan Tuesday after rejecting an aggressive proposal from some conservative Republicans and then failing to reach a consensus during an all-night debate.

The Senate late Monday voted against a proposed map from conservatives that would have redrawn the state’s eight U.S. House districts to give Republicans a shot at winning seven of those seats. Missouri currently has six Republican representatives and two Democrats.

In an overtly political debate, conservative senators pointed to Democratic gerrymandering in states such as New York and Illinois and said Missouri Republicans who control both chambers of the state Legislature should similarly manipulate the map-making to try to maximize their party’s power in Washington, D.C.

“Control of Congress and the future of our country hang on a razor-thin margin,” said state Sen. Bob Onder, one of the Republicans pushing for a 7-1 map.

Politicians in power from both parties have been aggressively redrawing congressional districts to their advantage in many states, after the Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that federal courts had no role in settling disputes over partisan gerrymandering.

Missouri’s constitution doesn’t address partisan gerrymandering, stipulating only that congressional districts must be “composed of contiguous territory as compact and as nearly equal in population as may be.”

The proposal from Missouri’s conservative Republicans was defeated 24-8, with Republican leadership and Democrats joining in opposition.

Democrats say a map with a projected 5-3 split would more closely reflect the results of statewide elections.

An aggressive GOP map would leave more districts with closer margins between Republican and Democratic voters, which Republican legislative leaders fear could backfire in a good Democratic election year.

The House passed a plan last month that is projected to keep a 6-2 split favoring Republicans. But some Republicans contend it wouldn’t do enough to shore up GOP support in the 2nd District in suburban St. Louis, which currently is held by Republican U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner.

On Tuesday morning, Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden proposed what he described as “an attempt to compromise.” He said his proposed 6-2 map would have a stronger Republican tilt in the 2nd District than the one passed by the House. Among other things, it would shift Jefferson County into the 2nd District instead of the 3rd District, which stretches west from the St. Louis area to Jefferson City and the Lake of the Ozarks.

But Rowden’s proposal still faced resistance. Among those opposed to it was Sen. Denny Hoskins, a conservative caucus member who wants to keep the military installations of Fort Leonard Wood and Whiteman Air Force Base together in western Missouri’s 4th District. The plans passed by the House and proposed by Rowden would place Fort Leonard Wood in southeastern Missouri’s 8th District.

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