Missouri lawmakers have already begun the process of dividing up our state into the eight congressional districts allocated to our state after the 2020 census and reapportionment. Under the Voting Rights Act and U.S. constitutional law, racial minorities are protected from disenfranchisement during the redistricting process. One important group denied the same protections in this process are Missouri’s military veterans: men and women whose unique experience and insights are now at risk of being drowned out at the ballot box.
Our state is home to two of our nation’s major military installations: Whiteman Air Force Base in Johnson County and Fort Leonard Wood in Pulaski County. Historically, leaders in Jefferson City have recognized the benefit of keeping both of these national security installations within the same congressional district. The value to Missouri has been enormous: Former Congressman Ike Skelton represented Missouri’s military members and veterans for over 30 years, ending his tenure as the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler has taken up the mantle as well, ably serving as the top Republican on the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces. As Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) closed other major bases across the country, our voice in Congress amplified Missouri’s role in national defense. Missouri remains a leader in defending our nation with a representative strengthened by two bases in one congressional district. Lawmakers must not abandon this legacy of leadership.
Now, with the next round of redistricting, rumors swirl that Fort Leonard Wood and its military veteran population could be split from Whiteman Air Force Base’s similar community. While this would benefit power brokers in Jefferson City, it weakens the voice of Missouri’s military population and our veterans. United, these military communities provide a larger platform for Missouri’s representatives to speak about unique issues affecting military families. Divided, our military communities become nothing more than staged photo ops for non-veterans running for office.
The issues facing military families and veterans are unique — interstate licensing reciprocity for spouses, military housing, military health care, family support systems for deployed service members, veteran education, training, post-military employment, mental health issues, and the list goes on. When military and veteran communities are divided up by politicians for political gain, our small voice (fewer than 7 percent of Missourians are veterans) is further drowned out by special interests. Consider this: It’s been more than a decade since Missouri last elected a combat veteran to represent our state in Congress. Is it any wonder Jefferson City politicians have little incentive to protect veteran voices while they jockey for their next promotion?
Missouri’s veterans stepped up to serve, selflessly, and defend the freedoms and values that make America great. With each passing generation, fewer and fewer of us take the oath, yet the things we stand for are the things that make our country special. Missouri’s legislators should also step up during this year’s redistricting process to ensure our voice is heard loud and clear in the halls of Congress. Missouri’s military bases must remain united.
Taylor Burks is a U.S. Navy combat veteran, having served in Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Inherent Resolve, and Operation Spartan Shield. The views expressed here are his own, and not endorsed by the U.S. Department of Defense or Department of the Navy.