JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri politicians need to hear again from voters whether they meant what they did in 2018 to limit partisan influence in designing legislative districts, says Gov. Mike Parson.
Parson spoke Thursday, just hours after the Missouri Senate adjourned from a filibuster that lasted almost 12 hours as opponents seek to block a proposed constitutional amendment rewriting the 2018 initiative called Clean Missouri by supporters.
Parson, a Republican, first called for changes to the measure days after it was passed by voters.
"I don't have a problem with the people going back and saying, yeah, this what we said, you guys," Parson said to editors and publishers assembled at the Governor's Mansion for the annual Missouri Press Association and The Associated Press Day at the Capitol.
State Auditor Nicole Galloway, a Democrat planning to challenge Parson in November, said she sees no need to change the constitutional provisions approved by voters.
Galloway said that Republicans, who have overwhelming majorities in both legislative chambers, want to preserve their advantage. Right after it was approved by voters, she noted, Republican leaders began criticizing the result, saying voters were misled and too focused on other parts of the initiative to understand the redistricting issue.
"Why were voters so smart when they voted these guys into office, but not so smart when they voted on taking care of a problem in their government, like Clean Missouri," Galloway said during a separate session with the journalists. "So I do think the will of the voters should be respected."
The Clean Missouri initiative, which was on the November 2018 ballot as Amendment 1, set limits on campaign contributions to legislative candidates and barred lawmakers from accepting gifts worth more than $5 from lobbyists. It also created a new office, the nonpartisan state demographer, who will use census data gathered this year to redraw Missouri House and Senate districts for the 2022 election.
The districts drawn by the demographer are required to be as competitive as possible between the two major parties while also being as compact as possible and avoid crossing political boundaries.
The state Senate on Wednesday began debating a proposal from state Sen. Dave Hegeman, R-Cosby, that would eliminate the demographer's office and give a 10-member commission responsibility for the maps. Hegeman's proposal puts a priority on compact districts that do not cross political boundaries.
It would also require that counties with more than enough population for one district have as many entire districts as possible within their boundaries.
The Senate debate ended after 3 a.m. Thursday and Hegeman, who also spoke to the editors and publishers, said he expects to resume debate next week.
The provisions of Clean Missouri, intended to end the practice called gerrymandering that results in districts that are safe seats for one party, will actually result in convoluted districts to make them competitive, Hegeman said.
"I want to give people an opportunity to look at that once again and see if they truly want long, stringy districts that don't really represent their counties, their cities, their neighborhoods, any more," Hegeman said.
The amendment covered several subjects and voters focused on the ethics provisions, he said. Hegeman's proposal also includes those issues, and would eliminate the $5 allowance for gifts and cut the amount that can be donated for state Senate campaigns.
The backers of Clean Missouri have attacked Hegeman's legislation – and the notion that voters didn't understand the amendment.
Hegeman's proposal, an email from Sean Nicholson of Clean Missouri stated, is "an extreme gerrymandering proposal that would roll back redistricting reforms passed overwhelmingly by Missouri voters in 2018. The proposal would put new language into the state constitution to allow lobbyists and political appointees to gerrymander maps in 2021."
The amendment was not confusing, Galloway said.
"The ballot language made it clear what the amendment was going to do," she said.
Galloway was responsible for screening applicants for the nonpartisan state demographer and sent six names to Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, and Senate Minority Leader Gina Walsh, D-St. Louis. Each can strike up to two names from the list and the the office will be filled by a random selection from the two finalists.
There is no timeline in the constitution for Rowden and Walsh to make their decisions, Galloway said, but added in an interview after her appearance that she expects both fulfill their responsibility.