JEFFERSON CITY — Clean Missouri is headed back to the ballot.
The Missouri House on Wednesday gave final approval to a plan asking voters to reverse changes they made to the redistricting process that Republicans fear will cost them seats in the coming decade.
Before the 98-58 vote, Rep. Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, said the plan would give voters a second chance to reject a system pushed by out-of-state billionaires to help Democrats.
“(Clean Missouri) is a partisan train wreck," Plocher said.
If approved, the plan would reverse two key changes voters authorized with 62 percent of the statewide vote in 2018.
The first empowered a new, “nonpartisan” demographer to take the first crack at new maps rather than the usual panels of political appointees.
Under Clean Missouri, the half-Republican, half-Democratic panels would still review the maps, but they would need seven of 10 votes to make edits to ensure changes have significant bipartisan appeal.
The second changed the map drawers’ priorities.
In the past, they’ve focused on drawing compact shapes. Under Clean Missouri, that takes a back seat to making districts as competitive as possible and better aligning the overall makeup of the legislature — where Republicans hold supermajorities in both houses — with the outcomes in statewide elections, where the parties have been more evenly matched.
The Republicans' plan would put the usual bipartisan commissions back in command and shift concerns about competitive races to the backburner.
They say if voters don't do that, new districts drawn after the current census will stretch from Democratic-heavy cities to Republican-dominated rural areas to promote competitive races without regard for the idea of legislators representing their neighbors.
"I think it's imperative that our legislators live among those they represent," Rep. Allen Andrews, R-Grant City, said.
Clean Missouri backers have said that won't really change, though.
Sam Wang, who runs the Princeton Election Consortium, said in 2018 that the math in the text indicated a fifth of seats would have to be competitive and that the dominant party would still hold majorities in the legislature.
The Republicans' move may still be good politics, though.
An Associated Press analysis found Republicans won 13 more House seats in 2018 than would be expected based on their share of votes for House candidates statewide, a disparity the changes are designed to reduce.
Democrats, for their part, said Plocher's plan is an insult to voters who wanted an end to partisan gerrymandering combined with an attempt to make it worse.
It would do that, they said, by removing a longstanding provision from the constitution that requires map drawers to count everyone in a district when they're making sure they're roughly equal.
Without that phrase, the logic goes, map drawers could ignore immigrants, children and people who don't vote in their counts, which could punish cities and suburbs where Democrats tend to do well.
“This is a way to guarantee districts are drawn in a more Republican manner," Rep. Tracy McCreery said.
Republicans largely brushed off those concerns, saying they were just trying to make sure citizens are counted.
The resolution's passage met with immediate condemnation from Democrats and the Clean Missouri campaign, which has been making preparations to defend its victory for more than a year now.
House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said Republicans should be ashamed of themselves for taking up the idea instead of plans to help people who are sick and out of work.
“House Republicans again proved today that the only thing they care about is clinging to political power," she said.
The campaign itself predicted it wouldn't matter much, though.
"If this amendment survives legal challenges and appears on the ballot later this year, voters will once against deliver a clear mandate for fair maps by rejecting the politicians' gerrymandering scheme," a statement said.
The campaign had roughly $48,000 in cash-on-hand as of April 15, but it has proven the ability to raise more.
It took in millions of dollars for the 2018 effort, with a number of big checks coming from labor unions and other progressive organizations based in Missouri.
The Missouri National Education Association gave roughly $500,000, and a St. Louis region Planned Parenthood’s campaign arm gave $100,000.
There was out-of-state help as well, though. The National Education Association in Washington D.C. gave $500,000, and more than a $1 million came from the Houston-based Action Now Initiative started by natural gas billionaires John and Laura Arnold.
That initiative has since donated roughly $250,000 more.
Austin Huguelet is the News-Leader's politics reporter. Got something he should know? Have a question? Call him at 417-403-8096 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.