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Mo. redistricting panel considers testimony on map

By Chris Blank

Opponents of proposed new Missouri Senate districts raised arguments similar to a recently filed lawsuit Thursday while urging a bipartisan state redistricting commission to reconsider the tentative plan it endorsed two weeks ago.

Attorney Eddie Greim said the tentative Senate map is unconstitutional because it violates federal equal protection rights. The federal lawsuit contends the new map favors urban voters at the expense of rural residents.

Greim’s comments came as the 10-member redistricting commission heard public reaction to its tentative Senate map. Commissioners are scheduled to meet Monday and could give final approval to a map. The panel approved its tentative plan 8-2, and it takes seven votes to pass the final plan.

Boundaries for the 34-member Missouri Senate are being redrawn based upon the 2010 census.
Redistricting commissioners spent more than two hours directing sometimes pointed questions at Greim, including about what are considered urban, suburban and rural districts. Greim, who is among the lawyers challenging the tentative Senate districts in court, said he represented the same plaintiffs Thursday and was being paid to testify but declined to say by whom.

“We still hope that the commission changes its mind and changes the tentative plan and adopts something that’s constitutional,” Greim said

The federal lawsuit was filed last week by a pair of law firms whose attorneys include former U.S. Attorney Todd Graves, a Republican, and former Missouri House Speaker and U.S. Attorney Catherine Hanaway, a Republican. Earlier this week, U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitan ruled the lawsuit was not obviously frivolous and granted a request for the appointment of a three-judge panel.

The bipartisan commission’s map creates a new east-central Senate district and places Republican Sens. Jane Cunningham and Brian Nieves each into the 26th District covering Franklin County and part of St. Louis County. The map makes the new seat Senate District 10 and renumbers a little changed seat in Jackson County as District 7.

The lawsuit also objects to the assignment of particular district numbers. Numbering is important because odd numbered districts _ such as the 7th District _ appear on the ballot this year while even numbered districts, such as the 10th District, will next stand for election in two years.

St. Louis County Republican Sens. Jane Cunningham and Jim Lembke have condemned the redistricting plan. Both watched much of Thursday’s public hearing along with fellow GOP Sen. Eric Schmitt, who said he does not think the St. Louis-region should lose a Senate district.

Shortly after the tentative redistrict map was approved last month, Lembke called it “an atrocity for the people that we represent” and added that it would give Democrats an edge in St. Louis County. Lembke asked the redistricting commission Thursday to consider restoring to the 1st District some areas he has represented while removing new territory. He said the change would better link more closely aligned St. Louis County communities.

Cunningham did not testify.

Marc Ellinger, a Republican and vice chairman of the redistricting commission, estimated he has received 200 emails and 30 phone calls about the tentative plan. He said some were identical and many asked for Cunningham and Lembke to be protected. Some emails also included allegations from the lawsuit Greim’s filed.

Ellinger, who supported the tentative plan, said the commission might amend its proposal or might not. He said he plans to consider all the objections.

Missouri’s redistricting process has run into several complications this year. The state Supreme Court in January rejected new Senate districts developed by a special panel of state appellate judges and ordered the process to start from scratch. Candidate filing started last week and continues through March 27.

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