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Amendment 3 perpetuates partisan unfairness

By Rep. Robert Sauls

The Missouri General Assembly is 70% republican. The Missouri House is comprised of 48 Democrats and 113 Republicans, while the Missouri Senate consists of eight Democrats and 24 Republicans. I mention the numbers because they fully illustrate an underlying problem we have had in Missouri. That problem is the manipulation of district boundary lines to benefit one party over another – gerrymandering. 

Historically both parties have done it, and I firmly stand against it. That was the main point of Clean Missouri, a ballot initiative that directly addressed the problem.  

Amendment 3 seeks to repeal the Clean Missouri redistricting reforms Missouri voters overwhelmingly ratified in 2018 that give the job of drawing new state legislative districts to a non-partisan state demographer. Clean Missouri also established constitutional criteria that require districts to be drawn in a way that maximizes partisan fairness and competitiveness while minimizing the number of “safe” districts dominated by one party.

Furthermore, Clean Missouri put $5 restrictions on lobbyist gifts and tightened campaign contributions. Why is this important? Because Amendment 3's main purpose it to do away with fair redistricting. Republicans in the legislature are attempting to trick you with the ballot language that they drafted.

How do I know this? Largely because of two reasons: The General Assembly is 70% Republican, and it has been in control of the state legislature in Missouri for 20 years. If they wanted to do away with lobbyist gifts and limit campaign contributions, they could have done that at any point in the last two decades. Secondly, they chose to address the issue only after Missouri voters overwhelmingly passed Clean Missouri.

The Amendment 3 ballot language begins with the premise that it will ban gifts from lobbyists. Before Clean Missouri, lobbyists were giving politicians lavish gifts, and Clean Missouri did away with that. This was wrong, and it has been corrected.  The second sentence indicates the amendment will reduce legislative campaign contributions limits. Clean Missouri did that as well. Amendment 3 only reduces the limits from $2,500 to $2,400. Of course, the ballot language does not tell you that.

The third sentence is where you can see the true intent of Amendment 3 “[c]hange the redistricting process voters approved in 2018 by transferring responsibility for drawing state legislative districts from Nonpartisan State Demographer to Governor-appointed bipartisan commissions.” Regardless of who the governor is, his or her appointments will not be “bipartisan.” It is important to note that actual ballot language of Amendment 3 is still being argued in the courts. It may change before the November election, but the actual language of the amendment will not change. It was passed out of both the Republican-controlled House and Senate.

Some of you know me, and some of you do not.  You may question my motives in this op-ed based on the premise that I am an elected member of the Missouri House, but I cannot be any clearer when I state my frustration with gerrymandering. I stand firmly against it regardless of which party is the one doing it. I believe a legislature should have balance, and 70% is not balance – 70% is carefully crafted lines that benefit one party over another.

I hope you will join me in opposing Amendment 3, a proposal that injects partisan unfairness into the redistricting process.

State Rep. Robert Sauls, D-Independence, is an associate attorney at Boyd, Kenter, Thomas & Parrish, LLC.