Commissions drawing Missouri Legislature districts meet -

Commissions drawing Missouri Legislature districts meet

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Fresh from reshaping the state's congressional districts, Missouri lawmakers turned attention Thursday to their own seats and sought to sway bipartisan commissions responsible for drawing new borders in the Legislature.  

Several state lawmakers asked for features of their districts to remain, while others suggested ideas for adding people when necessary or lopping off communities in fast-growing areas. Other lawmakers watched as commissions responsible for redistricting in the state Legislature held their first public meeting at the Capitol.  

The commission responsible for drawing House districts ended its hearing with disagreement about a proposed map presented by two Democratic commissioners. Republican commissioners objected and said that it was premature to present a map. One Republican questioned the motivation for offering it.  

The proposal, offered by Trent Skaggs and Marlene Davis, was displayed on an easel while they testified as witnesses. They said they were not necessarily seeking to preserve districts of incumbents.

The map was allowed to be submitted by the commissioners as individuals but was not considered a proposal from the panel. 

"This is not a gospel. This is not the last chance for anything. This is just a starter map," Davis said.  

Ann Wagner, a Republican who is the panel's vice chairwoman, said commissioners should have waited until after several planned public hearings.  

"It's premature for a map of this sort to be presented and especially by two commissioners prior to full public hearings. That's my strong objection," Wagner said.  

The commission chairman, former Democratic Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell, said he did not have input into the proposal. Maxwell said it was reasonable for commissioners to suggest maps and that others also could submit them.  

"When a map was presented that reflected more than one district, it did cause a lot of consternation among the commission, but I feel OK about that. We've got to start somewhere," Maxwell said after the meeting. "And hopefully, I think that will probably prompt another map at the next hearing."  

In Missouri, two state commissions represented evenly by Republicans and Democrats redraw the boundaries for Missouri's 163 House districts and 34 Senate districts. Both redistricting commissions have several months to draft new legislative boundaries, which must be approved by a 70 percent vote in each. Otherwise, the districts will be redrawn by a panel of six appeals court judges. 

Over the past decade, Missouri has grown by about 7 percent, but the growth has not been equally distributed. The southwest corner of the state and the outer St. Louis suburbs have been among the fastest-growing areas. St. Louis County and St. Louis city have each lost population since 2000.  

Among those who testified during the hearing focused on senatorial districts were two Republican House members with plans to run for the state Senate. The lawmakers -- Reps. Don Wells and Darrell Pollock -- each submitted proposals for a home Senate district that they said were designed to keep together a largely rural swath of south-central Missouri.  

"There's a good, even flow to it," said Wells, of Cabool. "All these counties are real similar in nature." 

Besides lawmakers, a central Missouri county official called for a senatorial district focused on the popular tourist destination of the Lake of the Ozarks. And the recently formed group Let Missourians Decide urged the commissions to draw as many competitive districts as possible. Bob Johnson, the group's president, said many state legislative races are essentially decided before the November elections. 

"Missourians don't want politicians dictating the terms of their own re-election," said Johnson, a former state lawmaker. He said the organization is supported by the AARP, League of Women Voters and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.  

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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