Lessons to be learned about redistricting process

Tuesday, December 18, 2001

It's been said that the legislative process is much like making sausage - you don't really want to watch either one.

But here's a thought that's even scarier. Having no idea, or input on, what is going into the legislative process. That's what thousands of residents in the eastern portion of the state will apparently be facing from 2002 to 2004.

Under new legislative district lines drawn by a panel of judges a swath including part of Jefferson County, all of Washington, St. Francois, Ste. Genevieve, Iron, Reynolds and Carter counties is included in the new 3rd District for the Missouri Senate. The problem is that a large portion of that area currently falls under the district of 20th District Sen. Danny Staples, who must retired in 2002 because of term limits. There is no election currently slated to fill the new 3rd District seat until 2004.

That's not the only garbled situation in the state under new legislative district boundaries, either. Pettis County will have two state senators for the next two years, because the county immediately to our south will now be split between two districts starting next year. That means that Sen. Jim Mathewson, whose senatorial district had also included Saline County, and the winner in the 28th District in 2002 will both represent portions of the county in the Senate until Mathewson is forced to step down in 2004 by term limits.

The redrawing of district boundaries is necessitated every 10 years to reflect population shifts shown in the official census. That's the only fair way to arrive at representational government.

But the panel of judges announced its maps nearly two weeks ahead of the deadline, made a few comments about how not everyone would probably be pleased with the result and then declared there could be no challenges to the maps they had turned out.

In a government that is supposed to be feature checks and balances, you'll certainly have to excuse many Missourians for being less than thrilled - at the prospect of having no appeal to a result they consider unfair.

This process of redrawing legislative district boundaries was supposed to be handled by a bipartisan citizen panel but party leaders failed to truly work toward putting together a viable panel of Missourians and the resulting stalemate led to the appointment of the judicial panel.

Republicans have made statements about gains that they hope to make in their numbers in both bodies of the General Assembly, and there is nothing wrong with the stronger candidate winning - in any district, no matter how it is drawn.

But we would rather see an open process of drawing boundary lines by a body holding public meetings, no matter how ugly, so that no party can be accused of gaining an untoward advantage.

Maybe by the year 2010 we'll learn something about bipartisanship, and double-checking to avoid having any Missourians without representation.