A state senator, echoing the frustration or at least puzzlement of many around the state about the recent redistricting process for the General Assembly, now wants some changes.



Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, wants to expand Missouri’s Sunshine Law and require that if judges have to draw new legislative districts – as they surely will in the future – then they should meet and deliberate in public, not in secret as they did this fall.

A state senator, echoing the frustration or at least puzzlement of many around the state about the recent redistricting process for the General Assembly, now wants some changes.

Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, wants to expand Missouri’s Sunshine Law and require that if judges have to draw new legislative districts – as they surely will in the future – then they should meet and deliberate in public, not in secret as they did this fall.

That is a self-evidently very good idea.

It also should be the beginning of a broader conversation about putting some teeth into a law that is too easily skirted or ignored. The standard of proof for violations is excessively high, and actual penalties are rare and meaningless. Moreover, the political culture of our state is such that public officials generally treat the Sunshine Law as an annoyance rather than a tangible expression of the fundamental belief that the public’s business should be conducted in public, with rare and limited exceptions.

However, badly needed reforms in the Sunshine Law go nowhere every year in the General Assembly. Maybe frustration with the judges will spur legislators – who this time find themselves among the locked-out public – to reconsider their neglect.

Of course, none of this would have come to pass if the two bipartisan commissions – one for the Missouri House, one for the Senate – had been able to do their jobs and agree on new districts. Those bodies met in public, held hearings and agreed to nothing. By law, the issue went to a panel of six appellate judges, who – under the law – met privately and disclosed none of their thinking behind some of the curious new districts they devised and that the voters will live with for the next 10 years.

Nor did they offer a word of explanation when, two weeks ago, they abruptly withdrew the new state Senate map and then handed down another with substantial changes.

Should this be a public process? Of course. Should a voter be able to find out the rationale behind a decision that puts him in one district and his neighbor across the street in another? Of course. That would require a change of mindset as much as a change of laws.

Redistricting is always complex, it always leaves lots of people unhappy, and it’s intensely political, whether done by active politicians or by judges. Secrecy only makes this worse.