Missouri Senate breaks gridlock and passes map that likely keeps Cleaver in Congress

Missouri House of Representatives

The Missouri Senate on Thursday approved the state’s congressional map that appears to protect Democratic U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver’s hold on the 5th Congressional District.

After approving the state’s district boundaries, the Senate adjourned for the year a day early — leaving behind a fractured Republican party that failed to address many of its key legislative priorities this session.

The map, which passed the upper chamber by a vote of 22-11, appears to maintain the state’s current mix of six Republican and two Democratic members of Congress. It now heads to Gov. Mike Parson’s desk, sidestepping immediate concerns that a federal or state judge would draw the state’s congressional boundaries.

Cleaver, who was first elected to his Kansas City area district in 2004, expressed frustration with the process even as the final result is likely to land him a tenth term in Congress.

“We’ve got to do better than this,” Cleaver told The Star Friday. “This is yet another turn-off to a lot of people who think politics are going further and further and further downhill. Maybe some people think it’s ok for it to go downhill as long as they have something downhill that benefits them. But for the rest it’s not good.”

The Kansas City Democrat added that Republicans in the Missouri congressional delegation spoke out behind the scenes against the efforts to oust him throught the redistricting process, but he declined to name them because he didn’t want to “get them in trouble.”

He said he would prefer to see redistricting handled by the courts in the future to avoid politicization. “Every single member of the delegation has at one time or another been frustrated by what’s going on. And that’s every member,” Cleaver said.

Thursday’s vote illustrated the General Assembly’s last-minute attempt to fulfill its constitutional obligation and avoid the courts before the legislative session ends at 6 p.m. Friday. A panel of three judges would have stepped in to find a solution in the courts if the legislature had failed.

It ended months of filibusters and derailed debate by a hard-right group of senators, called the Conservative Caucus. The group sparred with Republicans aligned with Senate leadership in search of a map that would have allowed the party to pick up an additional seat in Congress.

The proposal pushed by the Conservative Caucus, which they called a “7-1 map,” would have carved up parts of Kansas City’s 5th District and moved them into more rural, Republican districts, likely pushing out Cleaver, a nine-term incumbent.

The new map was built to survive the fractured Senate, according to House Redistricting Chair Rep. Dan Shaul, an Imperial Republican. It was viewed as a compromise between Republican leadership and members of the hard-line conservatives.

It splits liberal-leaning Boone County— home to the University of Missouri-Columbia— nearly in half between the 3rd and 4th districts, which both lean right. Jefferson County is also split between the 3rd and 8th districts.

And it keeps Fort Leonard Wood and Whiteman Air Force Base together in the 4th District, currently represented by Republican U.S. Senate candidate Vicky Hartzler.

Earlier on Thursday, prior to the map’s approval, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft said passage of the map so late in session may cause errors that could undermine confidence in the upcoming Aug. 2 primary. Ashcroft said lawmakers were not giving local election authorities enough time to ensure voting addresses were accurately assigned to the new districts.

In a press conference after the vote, Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, a Columbia Republican, said the major source of controversy among senators in the days leading up to Thursday’s approval was related to the eastern part of the state, namely the St. Louis and St. Charles regions, he said. Rowden acknowledged that the map’s late approval could put a strain on election officials.

“We had gone to considerable lengths... to ensure that we would not be a part of an embarrassment that would lead to, presumably, a panel of liberal federal judges drawing the Missouri map,” he said. “Ultimately, I think cooler heads prevailed.”

Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, an Independence Democrat, told reporters that he believes the new map ensures Democrats will be able to hold the 1st District in St. Louis and 5th District in Kansas City, but he lamented that it’ll likely make it more difficult for the party to compete in the St. Louis suburbs.

The map should ease Republican U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner’s path to victory in the 2nd District, the state’s sole swing district, after close races in recent elections.

Sen. Bob Onder, a Lake St. Louis Republican and hard-line conservative who had hotly debated the congressional map for weeks, acknowledged his faction’s defeat Thursday. But he framed the final map as better for conservatives than the version previously passed by the House.

“There’s been a lot of mistrust, a lot of dirty tricks in the course of this session,” he said. “Ultimately, the Conservative Caucus fought off the 5-3 Pelosi map. That was a big success for the Conservative Caucus. At the end of the day, we passed a reasonably strong 6-2 map, but I would call the results thoroughly mediocre.”

The Star’s Daniel Desrochers contributed to this report.