(The Missourinet Newsroom. Friday, April 22) — It probably is not a good idea to compose a blog under these circumstances because fatigue can lead to poor judgment in selection of words and conveyance of ideas. But while the experience of the last 24 hours of activities at the capitol are still in our mind, though not FRESH in our mind and certainly not in our FRESH mind, we’re going to offer our non-capitol friends some idea of how the failure of the legislature to meet its self-imposed deadline for drawing new congressional districts happened.
There is far more to this process than drawing new lines for eight districts where we used to have nine. Unfortunately the press and the general public plus most members of the legislature were not allowed to observe the action up close because it went on behind closed doors, often at a distance, and not in the capitol. In fact, it appears a good part of this stuff has been happening at the state Republican Party headquarters. Other reporters have reported several GOP incumbent members of congress have been seen and interviewed going into and coming out of that office in the last few days. We’ve even had sightings in the capitol.
We’ll get into this a little more later but this seems as good a time to tell you that this entry is being started about 7:40 a.m. on Good Friday, the 22nd of April. About four hours ago I was leaving the capitol after negotiations had fallen apart. Brent Martin remained behind to write the stories the Missourinet is airing this morning that let our listeners hear the chairman of the House and Senate conference committee panels blame each other for the breakdown in negotiations. The work day for me began at 5 a.m. on Thursday with the anticipation that I would be covering redistricting as the big story of the day. The day is now almost 27 hours long, and I was right. Brent’s day is a few hours shorter. Brent also is at home asleep now but soon will wander into the newsroom with half of the world’s supply of coffee in a cup, ready to begin a work day fueled with super-ethyl caffeine.
The state constitution makes the process sound so simple:
Article III. Section 45. When the number of representatives to which the state is entitled in the House of the Congress of the United States under the census of 1950 and each census thereafter is certified to the governor, the general assembly shall by law divide the state into districts corresponding with the number of representatives to which it is entitled, which districts shall be composed of contiguous territory as compact and as nearly equal in population as may be.
What’s so hard about that?
Well, the first thing you have to understand is that no incumbent member of congress wants a new district that endangers their continued employment with the U.S. government. All of them have their own ideas about how their new districts should look. The situation is aggravated when Missouri loses a congressional seat as we are doing this year. We’ve been through two of these episodes now, 1980 and this year, and no members of the U.S. House held up their hands in either year saying, “Sure, we’ll be glad to run against each other. Just draw a district that includes both of our homes.” Nope, they put pressure on redistricting committees to protect them. Wouldn’t you?
Sometimes this leads to some funny proposals. Somebody in the last few hours remembered that 20 years ago, then-Senator Roger Wilson came up with a district that included five incumbents. Some of us somewhere in the capitol sometime in the last 17 hours (the details are understandably fuzzy right now) opined after studying various map proposals for the last month that we could easily come up with a map that lumped Congressmen Luetkemeyer, Akin, Carnahan, and Clay — or was it Emerson? — in one district.
It’s a damned good thing they don’t let capitol reporters draw these maps … 2012 could be so much more interesting than it’s going to be if we did. You betcha.
In 1980, when he went from 10 districts to nine, freshman Wendell Bailey of Willow Springs ended up running against two-termer Ike Skelton of Lexington in a rambling district that stretched from southern Missouri to an area near Kansas City. This time the odd man out has been Russ Carnahan.
Throw in a few other factors that participants in the process certainly won’t admit might influence the lines — the political ambitions of committee members, the effort by the majority party to protect or expand partisan turf — and the job becomes more complicated. We will admit that we do not know that this kind of stuff definitely goes on but the word gets around the halls of the capitol, a place where rumor and speculation have no days off. And the process this time has hardly been as transparent as it could be.
Add in the need to protect significant ethnic voting blocs, which is required, and the need to have districts that have zero population differences, and the process gets even more serious.
So here’s how Thursday and Friday developed from the standpoint of this observer:
The goal was to pass a new map by today, Good Friday, the 22nd of April. The law requires the governor to act within a certain number of days on bills passed during the legislative session, leaving the legislature time for a veto overrides before adjournment. Anything passed and vetoed after today will have to wait for the veto session in September to be reviewed.
The House didn’t even meet yesterday. The Senate came in for its usual Thursday morning session and sent some bills to the House and then went into its holding pattern. The two committees would not be meeting until 6:45 p.m. Senate floor leader Tom Dempsey recessed the Senate until 3 p.m., expecting to learn by then if enough progress had been made to hold the Senate around for a Friday session to approve a map.
Mid afternoon arrives and Dempsey confesses he doesn’t know what’s going on. So he continues the recess until 6. At 6 p.m., the word went around that the senate would not meet until after the 6:45 joint committee meeting, which started at 7:06.
A fundamental misunderstanding by those of us who are observers (as Dempsey was) became clear immediately at that meeting. Instead of a map that had been worked out during the day that could be reviewed by the committee and sent to the House and Senate for their approvals, the House chairman presented his map and the Senate chairman presented his. The committee decided to stand “at ease” for an hour while each side reviewed the other side’s work. We don’t know who had been working during the day on the House map but Senate chairman Scott Rupp apparently had been the one working on the senate map — we kept an eye out for the other senate members so we’d know if there was a committee meeting going on and they all seemed to be present at the capitol, except for Rupp.
At 8:25, we assembled back in the House Lounge for a resumption of the meeting. A spokesman for House chairman John Diehl told us the at-ease status was going to last “at least another hour.”
Rupp had told us his goal was to have a map that could pass the senate and he didn’t think the new House map — which basically split the population differences between the two committees’ versions of splits in St. Charles and Jefferson Counties — met that qualification.
What we had, then, was the Senate (whoever the “Senate” was in this circumstance) and the “House” (whoever the “House” was at this stage of the game) were at their own ends of the capitol sending maps and criticisms to each other. They never got together and worked on the project. One “side” was behind closed doors at one end of the building and the other “side” was behind closed doors at the other end.
In between were reporters, legislative employees, and legislators wondering what in the world was going on.
1:45 a.m. this morning. The quorum chime — which sounds just like the NBC chimes if you remember them — went off summoning people to the senate chamber. I grabbed my recorder and went up to the chamber, there to be met by Sen. Rob Mayer, the President Pro tem, who told me there was no deal and the senate was going to call it a night. I dashed down to our office two floors below and tweeted that negotiations had fallen apart, grabbed my equipment bag and headed to the senate so I’d be there when it came into session to adjourn until Tuesday and was intercepted in the hallway by some staffers on their way to the House end because there actually had been a deal struck. Halfway there, I met a gaggle of fellow reporters, staffers, and Rupp coming toward the Senate.
Well, maybe there hadn’t been a deal after all but there wouldn’t be a meeting of the senators because the newest offer from the House had to be reviewed. Rupp disappeared into Mayer’s office.
I wandered into the nearby office of the Senate’s long-time Senate secretary, where I found her and several of her employees waiting for somebody to do something that would end this whole tedious experience. They were looking for a word to appropriately describe this event. I suggested there was a hyphenated phrase that I could not utter in mixed company but the first half of it was “cluster.”
They all laughed and admitted they had thought the same thing when it was just talk among the girls.
Somewhere about now it appears somebody took another offer from Rupp to Diehl. I heard something about wanting an answer in ten minutes.
Apparently Diehl wouldn’t deal.
About 3 a.m. the senate ended the recess that Dempsey had called about 11:30 the previous morning, convened, announced the House had officially declared its work day done, closed its journal, and had sent its employees home. There wasn’t going to be a deal. The senate adjourned its Thursday session on Friday morning. We interviewed Rupp who blamed the House. Brent interviewed Diehl who blamed the Senate.
So much for a “conference” committee.
There hasn’t been any “conferring.” These 12 people haven’t sat down in the state demographer’s office and worked on a common map. Problems haven’t been solved. Three weeks remain for these people to accomplish something. You can understand, perhaps, why few of us look forward to three more weeks of this “conferring.”
One additional note: We checked with our friend Marc Powers, the King of Arcania, a small room-sized area within the capitol, about some redistricting of the past. He reported a little while ago, “In the last 40 years, the legislature produced maps that were signed into law in 1991 and 2001 but failed to do so in 1971 and 1981, and the job got kicked to the courts.”
The people responsible for drawing the maps this year don’t want that to happen because they’re afraid of what those dastardly “activist” judges will do. As opposed to what the altruistic “activist” legislators might do, we suppose.
So here we sit, now sometime after 10 a.m. because we’ve had to write news about people who actually have done good or bad things and do newscasts telling those stories since we started this record, hoping what we’ve written makes some sense of these gymnastics and gyrations because there is a strong feeling in the capitol by the survivors of this Thursday-Friday cluster that the gymnastics and gyrations made little sense themselves.
But maybe I’m just tired.