Missouri US House candidates enter campaign trail with no defined precincts or voters

Campaigning before a group of seniors in Brentwood, Missouri, Democrat Ray Reed has no idea if the people he asks to vote for him will ever see his name on their ballots.

Brentwood currently sits in the 2nd congressional district, represented by Republican Ann Wagner. It’s the district Reed hopes to win in November, but thanks to a months-long struggle between Republicans in the Missouri legislature, Reed and other candidates are in the dark about their district boundaries.

“Republicans control just about everything in Jeff City,” Reed says, referring to the Missouri capital. “It really speaks to their incompetence that you have all the power and all the votes — and you can’t get something as simple as a constitutionally required Congressional card.”

Republican lawmakers may come up with a last-minute plan before the end of the year’s legislative session. But if that doesn’t happen, it’s unclear how – or if – the courts will intervene, although everyone agrees the lines drawn in 2011 would be unconstitutional for the August primary in 2022.

State Rep. Trish Gunby, a Democrat, has had a front-row seat to what she calls “dysfunction.” She is also trying to overthrow Wagner and says the redistricting process is unlike anything she has seen or expected in her legislative career.

“I started serving during the pandemic,” says Gunby. “I thought it was going to be the weirdest time. We came back last year – still weird. We thought things would normalize. And I’ve spoken to people who have been in the building longer than I have. . [have]. They’ve been around for about 20 or 30 years, and they say it’s the biggest malfunction they’ve ever seen.”

/ Brian Munoz/St. Louis Public Radio

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Brian Munoz/St. Louis Public Radio

Governor Mike Parson delivers the State of Missouri address during a joint meeting of the House and Senate Wednesday, January 19, 2022 at the State Capitol in Jefferson City, Mo.

Malfunction Junction

Like every other state, Missouri was slow to redraw its eight congressional districts thanks to delays in U.S. census data. But as of this week, Missouri lawmakers still haven’t come up with final lines for a host of reasons — from disagreements over where to put military bases, to a scuffle among Republicans over how the GOP leans. to develop the overall plan.

The biggest fight, however, is what to do with the 2nd congressional district, which contains parts of the St. Louis metro area. Some want to keep the mostly suburban district, while others want to add rural counties that have voted heavily for Republicans in recent years.

Ben Samuels is also running for the 2nd District as a Democrat. He’s raised more than $1 million, hired staff and is trying to connect with voters in a decidedly suburban neighborhood that’s relatively evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.

Trish Gunby, Democratic congressional candidate for MO-02, speaks to Mickie Dissett, 83, while soliciting support from voters in Glendale, Mo.

/ Brian Munoz/St. Louis Public Radio

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Brian Munoz/St. Louis Public Radio

Trish Gunby, Democratic congressional candidate for MO-02, speaks to Mickie Dissett, 83, while soliciting support from voters in Glendale, Mo.

Like Reed and Gunby, Samuels is puzzled as to why Missouri is such a latecomer when it comes to completing the redistricting.

“The craziest part of this whole process is that no one is paying lip service to ‘let’s do something that’s best for voters,'” Samuels said.

Due to the impasse, candidates across the state must visit places that may not be on the final version of the Congressional voting map.

State Rep. Sara Walsh is running for a heavily Republican district that encompasses parts of central and western Missouri. She was recently at a Lafayette County GOP rally, though there’s no guarantee Republicans will have a chance to vote for her in the 4th District.

“Just like the story of my life, you work very hard,” Walsh said during the reunion.

GOP state Sen. Rick Brattin, who is also seeking the 4th District seat, said the redistricting impasse similarly affects his campaign for Congress. Walsh and Brattin are both campaigning in a district that, however shaped, will be larger than the state of Connecticut.

“You just need to widen the location of the lines,” says Brattin. “I try to use the current 4th Congress as a guide.”

State lawmakers are trying to jump-start the process by moving an alternate map through the legislature, but the proposal is still likely to draw opposition from both sides, especially as it splits a number of counties.

Republican State Rep. Dan Shaul says he hopes lawmakers can pass a map before adjourning the session.

“I think there’s motivation … on both sides of the aisle to control what the map looks like — to fulfill our constitutional obligation,” says Shaul, who heads a House committee overseeing redistricting. of Congress.

The Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City, Mo.

/ Brian Munoz/St. Louis Public Radio

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Brian Munoz/St. Louis Public Radio

The Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City, Mo.

Cloud resolution

If lawmakers don’t pass something by May 13, there’s no doubt that Missouri would be violating state and federal guidelines on how congressional districts should have equal populations.

What is the remedy for this problem, however, is not so clear.

There have been lawsuits at the state and federal level over lack of progress in redistricting Congress. But Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, a Republican, notes that nothing in the Missouri Constitution gives judges the power to draw lines in Congress. (In contrast, there is very specific language indicating that a panel of appellate judges draw state legislative maps if the state Senate and state House committees are deadlocked.)

“They don’t just decide we’re going to do something that we don’t have the power to do,” Ashcroft says. “I can’t decide that I have the power to stop people like I’m a highway patrolman. I’m not.”

Ashcroft says there is precedent for federal judges to redraw congressional districts. But he argues there’s a good chance they’ll leave the current map in place due to a legal precedent known as the Purcell principle. This is when judges do not intervene in election-related matters near the date when voters go to the polls.

“If we don’t get a map that’s passed, neither the state courts nor the federal courts have the authority to change it,” Ashcroft said. “And we would just follow [federal law] which says “if you don’t offer a new map, you just follow the old map”. ”

But Purcell’s principle may not apply in the Missouri case, according to Travis Crum of the University of Washington at the St. Louis School of Law. Unlike other states in which it has been invoked, such as Alabama, Missouri lawmakers have not produced any sort of map. He says the likely outcome is that a panel of federal judges or a “special master” will eventually draw the lines.

“What would happen in a state like Missouri is that the judges would draw a ‘least modified’ map,” Crum said. “They would look at the map. They would make very minor adjustments to achieve population equality, and they would let that map fall into place.”

Trish Gunby, Democratic congressional candidate for MO-02, and her communications director, Kyle Gunby, solicit support from voters in Glendale, Mo.

/ Brian Munoz/St. Louis Public Radio

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Brian Munoz/St. Louis Public Radio

Trish Gunby, Democratic congressional candidate for MO-02, and her communications director, Kyle Gunby, solicit support from voters in Glendale, Mo.

Electoral uncertainty

Whether the map remains the same since 2011 or is changed slightly, the 2nd congressional district (Wagner’s district) would still be quite competitive, meaning the winner of the Democratic primary could have access to national resources after August. If lawmakers come up with some sort of deal, it’s likely the 2nd District will be relatively safe for the GOP.

For her part, Wagner said in a statement that she hoped the Legislature “could come to an agreement and do its constitutional duty which is to draw a map of Congress as it is supposed to do in conjunction with taking the census every 10 years”. Wagner won in 2020 against a leading Democratic opponent by more than 6 percentage points in 2020.

“I am a nominated candidate for Missouri’s 2nd congressional district,” Wagner said. “I will run, I will win, I am happy and honored to serve in whatever district the Missouri Legislature decides to draw.”

The candidates are not the only ones irritated by the absence of a redistricting resolution. Election officials like Rick Stream say they are facing tight deadlines ahead of the Aug. 2 primary — including the June one to mail ballots to foreign military personnel.

Stream says the lack of clarity not only makes it difficult to let candidates know which constituency they are in — it’s also a disservice to voters.

“I don’t know what the legislature is thinking when they have candidates in their own legislature running for office in their own congressional districts,” Stream said. “It’s just going to make it even more of a mess and delay it even more.”

Copyright 2022 St. Louis Public Radio

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