JEFFERSON CITY — A St. Louis County Republican who wanted voters to repeal and replace Missouri’s new redistricting system said he doesn’t know how hard the GOP-controlled Legislature will push the issue next year.
“I don’t think our goal is to waste anyone’s time,” said state Rep. Dean Plocher, of Des Peres, whose proposal died in the Senate during the final days of this year’s legislative session. “If it’s a priority, it’s a priority. If it’s not, we’ll find out.”
If Republicans want to jettison provisions mandated in Amendment 1, known as “Clean Missouri,” next year would be the obvious time to do so. The last general election scheduled before the next round of redistricting is Nov. 3, 2020.
Plocher said any move to repeal the new system might have to start in the Senate, where it’s more difficult to advance legislation because of Democrats’ filibuster power. An Associated Press analysis last year found the new plan would likely improve Democrats’ chances on Election Day.
House Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, did not respond to a request for comment about the House’s intentions. Kelli Jones, spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Mike Parson, said it was “premature” for the governor’s office to comment on next session’s priorities.
“Please circle back around in a few months,” she said.
Approved by voters last November, Amendment 1 will place state House and Senate redistricting responsibilities in the hands of a “nonpartisan demographer,” rather than two bipartisan panels of political appointees, starting after the 2020 census.
Plocher’s proposal would have asked voters to revert the process to a bipartisan commission.
“We’re not trying to repeal anything with Amendment 1,” Plocher said on April 23 on the House floor. “We’re going to the voters. We’re not overturning the will of the voters. The voters are going to have their day.”
Plocher’s speech followed weeks of communication among Plocher, GOP attorney Edward Greim and lobbyist Jewell Patek, according to emails reviewed by the Post-Dispatch.
Greim works at the same law firm as Todd Graves, the former chairman of the Missouri Republican Party who transferred $200,000 out of the party’s account to the group Fair Missouri, which was launched to combat Clean Missouri.
The transfer angered party leadership, who accused Graves of draining the party’s coffers as his term as party chairman was ending.
Greim was a vocal opponent of Amendment 1 last year, suing the state in a failed attempt to keep the question off the ballot. His notes to Plocher include potential arguments to sway voters if Plocher’s question were to appear on the 2020 ballot.
Pushing a ballot measure to repeal the new redistricting system carries political risk going into the 2020 election season.
Sixty-two percent of voters approved Amendment 1. The amendment included a laundry list of changes to state ethics laws, including limiting lobbyist gifts to $5 and subjecting the Legislature to the Sunshine Law.
Republicans, many of whom opposed Clean Missouri, argued voters had been forced into a corner: either approve the complete ethics package, or nothing at all. That point is reflected in an April 23 memo to Plocher.
“Passage of Amendment 1 tells us one thing: that, on balance, voters preferred that mix of ideas to current laws,” Greim said. “But voters were forced to make an up or down vote on the whole package, take it or leave it, with no right to consider each piece on its own.”
Plocher’s legislation included “major fixes” to Amendment 1, Greim said in his memo.
One major selling point: Plocher’s proposal would ban all lobbyist gifts, not limit them to $5, as outlined in Amendment 1, Greim said.
“It’s far more sincere with ethics reform,” Plocher said on the House floor. “It bans lobbyist gifts outright.”
Greim’s memo also took aim at the validity of the “nonpartisan demographer” who will be in charge of redistricting.
Under Amendment 1, the state auditor, currently Democrat Nicole Galloway, forwards demographer applications to the Missouri Senate, where the majority and minority leaders choose the winning applicant.
Greim portrayed the selection process as partisan power grab by Democrats, ignoring the top Senate Republican’s role in selecting the demographer. He said a bipartisan committee of political appointees, the same system used in past redistricting cycles, would provide a fairer process.
“This removes the danger of a single redistricting czar under the sway, if not the outright control, of one political party or set of special interests,” Greim said.
He also said the methodology outlined in the next round of redistricting would lead to districts that emphasize partisan fairness over the rights of individual voters, communities and racial minorities.
On March 25, the same day Plocher presented his proposal to his House General Laws Committee, Patek forwarded Plocher a copy of draft legislation that Greim had prepared.
Greim also contacted Plocher on April 22, the day before Plocher presented his plan to the full House. The email included draft legislation, some of which was ultimately added to Plocher’s proposal.
Sean Nicholson, campaign manager for Clean Missouri, who obtained the emails through a Sunshine Law request and sent them to the Post-Dispatch, said anti-gerrymandering groups endorsed Clean Missouri because it would take partisan influence out of the redistricting process.
He said the old system encouraged political horse-trading and allowed incumbents to lobby to protect their districts. Republicans ultimately benefited from the panel, he said.
Under the new plan, the bipartisan commission will still exist, and can make changes to the demographer's map if 70% of its members go along with an alteration.
Many Republicans, meanwhile, have said the new redistricting scheme will result in “spaghetti-string” districts that take in urban and suburban areas in order to maintain partisan fairness.
Nicholson rejected those claims, saying district compactness will still be taken into consideration during the next round of redistricting.
"The question is whether compactness is the only thing that matters, and whether it's allowed to be a smokescreen for new gerrymandering schemes," Nicholson said.
Plocher said he doesn’t know whether Greim and Patek will be involved with the legislation next year.
“We’ll see who raises their head up and wants to get involved this time around,” he said.