Even as the House and Senate struggle to reach agreement on a new map of congressional districts, questions remain about an oddity that is sure to stay.
The 5th, the strangest looking congressional district of them all, is the least likely to change in negotiations between the House and Senate.
Rep. Chris Kelly, a Democrat from Columbia, has an idea. Kelly contends the current occupant, Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, a Democrat from Kansas City, has made a deal with 6th District Congressman Sam Graves, a Republican from Tarkio.
“We are satisfying political, rather than map drawing, constitutional concerns,” Kelly asserts. “Which I don’t mind, but we shouldn’t be confusing people into thinking that this is not simply a political exercise in which both parties sink to the lowest common denominator as quickly as they can.”
The proposed 5th begins in Kansas City. It stretches east in Jackson County, but then dodges a portion of the county to pick up three rural counties: Ray, Lafayette and Saline.
Kelly says it would make more sense to keep the 5th totally in Jackson County and shift the three rural counties to the 6th Congressional District, which would stretch across the northern third of the state under maps proposed in both the House and Senate. Kelly says the 5th, as proposed by both the House and Senate, gives Cleaver the parts of Jackson County which tend to vote Democratic, avoids the parts that lean Republican while adding three rural counties which cannot possibly make much of a difference in an election.
House Redistricting Committee Chairman John Diehl, a Republican from Town and Country, says to change the 5th, means to change the entire map. Diehl says the committee has tried to avoid dividing counties. He points out that Missouri counties aren’t squares, but follow natural boundaries.
“We have things like rivers in this state that you try to follow, the lines to be natural boundaries for districts,” Diehl responds. “So, yes, things aren’t going to always look as pretty as they can be when you have to consider all the different factors.”
Diehl has steadfastly denied that the maps reflect political considerations or that the members of Missouri’s congressional delegation have drawn the boundaries. Missouri lost a congressional district due to the 2010 Census.
Negotiations between the House and Senate redistricting committees have failed to reach a compromise on new boundaries for Missouri’s eight congressional districts. They didn’t break down over the lines drawn in the 5th, but those lines marking the 2nd and 3rd, in particular how St. Charles and Jefferson County are divided. Negotiations likely will resume when the legislature returns from its Easter break.