SUBSCRIBE NOW
99¢ for the first month
SUBSCRIBE NOW
99¢ for the first month

Judge strikes GOP’s summary of Clean Missouri do-over plan

Austin Huguelet
Springfield News-Leader
Columbia Daily Tribune

This fall, Missouri Republicans will ask voters to reverse changes they made to the state’s redistricting process on the 2018 ballot with their 2020 ballots.

But they won’t be asking the question the way they wanted.

Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce ruled Monday that the language lawmakers wanted above the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ bubbles failed “to even allude to” the most controversial part of the plan and needed replacement.

The language approved by Republican lawmakers in a resolution carried by Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, was as follows:

“Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to:

Ban all lobbyist gifts to legislators and their employees; Reduce legislative campaign contribution limits; and Create citizen-led independent bipartisan commissions to draw state legislative districts based on one person, one vote, minority voter protection, compactness, competitiveness, fairness and other criteria?”

Joyce took issue with seemingly every word of the summary, but began her criticism by noting it left out the measure’s “central feature,” which ballot summaries must include: “the wholesale repeal of voter-approved rules for redistricting and replacing them with prior redistricting rules designed to benefit incumbent legislators.”

Joyce was referring to the part of the GOP plan specifically aimed at a part of the constitutional amendment known as Clean Missouri that changed the redistricting process.

Prior to 2018, maps were to be drawn by commissions appointed by the governor who focused on drawing compact shapes.

Clean Missouri created a new state demographer position to draft districts aimed at producing more competitive elections and an assembly that better reflects the statewide vote, where the two parties are often more evenly matched than they are in the Republican-dominated statehouse.

The half-Republican, half-Democrat commissions still review the maps, but they need seven votes to make changes.

Republicans’ plan would scrap the demographer and put concerns about competitive elections on the backburner.

But Joyce said they had to tell voters that.

“Instead, the General Assembly's statement does not mention the change at all," Joyce wrote. "It is insufficient, unfair and must be rewritten."

She also took the legislature to task for what they did write.

Joyce said the first bullet — “Ban all lobbyist gifts to legislators and their employees” — was “objectively untrue” because it doesn’t ban gifts from unpaid lobbyists and lobbyists related to a legislator within the fourth degree.

The second bullet — “reduce legislative campaign contribution limits — was merely misleading by comparison.

She indicated it should have said it reduced “senatorial” campaign contribution limits because it doesn’t touch the House.

She also found a number of errors with the third bullet, saying it falsely suggested to voters that the measure would introduce a number of new features when most of them already exist and the measure actually reduces the importance of several.

She noted, for example, that the constitution already protects minority voters and that the GOP plan would actually eliminate protections for “language minorities.”

Overall, Joyce characterized language as an attempt to “to entice voters to adopt the measure by misleadingly overstating a modest reduction in allowable lobbyist gifts and a $100 reduction to Senate campaign contribution limits.”

In its place, Joyce wrote:

“Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to:

Repeal rules for drawing state legislative districts approved by voters in November 2018 and replace them with rules proposed by the legislature; Lower the campaign contribution limit for senate candidates by $100; and Lower legislative gift limit from $5 to $0, with exemptions for some lobbyists?”

The Clean Missouri campaign that backed the 2018 proposal and is fighting this year's repeal effort exulted in the victory.

"Politicians may lie to our faces about what they're trying to do with Amendment 3, but they can't lie in what appears on the ballot," campaign director Sean Soendker Nicholson said in a news release.

It was not immediately clear whether the legislature will appeal.

Chris Nuelle, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, which defends the legislature in court, said Monday afternoon that the office is “reviewing the decision and deciding on next steps.”

Attempts to reach Hegeman, the senator who sponsored the measure in the legislature, were not immediately successful Monday.

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 ahuguelet@news-leader.com.