New political action committee could unravel parts of Missouri’s redistricting amendment

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A new group could undo part of a new law Missouri voters overwhelmingly supported in November.

Amendment One, dubbed "Clean Missouri" aims to put limits on lobbyist activity and also sets new standards for how legislative districts are drawn.

"That was what a lot of people were voting for the idea that this amendment would take the politics out of the process of redistricting and try to actually create some competitive districts," said Matt Harris, Park University political science professor.

Amendment One designates the state auditor to pick a non-partisan map maker, who then gets approved by the legislature to draw new districts. This has to happen following the 2020 census.

Right now, Missouri's districts are decided by a commission with both Democrats and Republicans.

"The thing with the current structure was not that it was overtly Democratic or Republican, but that it was very protectionist of the incumbents and drew a lot of safe seats. We can see that if we look at Sam Graves' district, Emmanuel Cleaver's district, you can see that here in Kansas City," Harris said.

But just a couple weeks after the election, the Missouri Republican party gave $150,000 to a new political action committee called Fair Missouri.

State documents show the group's purpose is for ballot "measures to reform Missouri redistricting" in November 2020, which could ultimately gut the amendment voters just approved.

"It really stops the idea we've had since Missouri become a state that you represent a discrete area that everybody can identify and replaces that with you represent a party and we don't think that's what voters actually wanted," said Eddie Greim, Graves Garrett LLC partner.

Greim is an attorney for "Fair Missouri." He insists voters were duped by Amendment One and says the measure doesn't guarantee districts will be physically connected, despite language in the amendment that says new districts should be "continuous" and "compact." All of that, Greim said will make the redistricting process more political, not less.

"We're going to have elongated districts that try to mix Democrats living in the middle of cities with Republicans living out in rural areas. You have to do that to satisfy their mathematical formula," Greim said.

Greim said a new ballot measure to fix alleged flaws in Amendment One, getting the legislature involved, or a lawsuit are all options "Fair Missouri" may consider.

But experts say there's danger in trying to unravel any ballot measure.

"I think for voters it's like, 'This is what we said this is what we want.' Then to sort of have that stripped away or taken back, or not put into effect is frustrating for voters and I think it can be bad for our perceptions of democracy," Harris said.

Whether Amendment One stands firm, or if any changes are made, we won't see the impact until after 2020. When the new census is complete, that triggers the process to re-draw district maps and whatever new version is created would first be used for elections in 2022.