The Missouri House came back to work this week, in the midst of an international pandemic that’s overturned millions of lives and shuttered thousands of businesses across the state. Now more than ever, our elected leaders in Jefferson City have an obligation to do everything they can to help Missourians. Instead, they’re trying to diminish our democracy to their benefit, overturn our vote, and gerrymander our state.
As I wrote in a previous article, politicians in Jefferson City have spent the past 18 months trying to overturn the results of the November 2018 election. That’s because in that election, the people of Missouri approved Clean Missouri (also known as Amendment 1), which cleaned up our state politics so that entrenched politicians and enabler lobbyists could no longer gerrymander our state. More than 1.4 million Missourians voted for Clean Missouri — 62 percent of the electorate — but politicians in Jefferson City want to claw back the reforms we made so they can continue to abuse our democracy.
Before Clean Missouri, state House and state Senate districts were drawn by a group of Jefferson City power brokers hand-chosen by party leaders in secret backroom deals. The gerrymandered districts they produced were designed to give Republicans a baked-in advantage. In 2018, the same election we approved Clean Missouri, Democrats won 43 percent of the votes for Missouri House but only 29 percent of the seats. To me, that is the epitome of unfair. Jefferson City politicians altered the system so they could effectively ignore the will of the people and evade democratic accountability. That’s wrong. Missourians know it’s wrong. That’s why a huge majority of us voted for Clean Missouri.
The Missouri House, apparently, does not know right from wrong. They are actively working to advance their plan to overturn the will of the voters, called SJR 38. It would completely undo the redistricting reforms we approved in Clean Missouri. And then it would go even further. It would increase the power of the partisan politicians’ hand-picked redistricting board. It would hide some of the data they use to draw maps from public view. After the partisan board secretly draws politically favorable districts, it would make it almost impossible for Missourians who care about democracy to successfully challenge the maps in court. We should call SJR 38 exactly what it is: an undemocratic power grab and an insult to the voters.
There is no “right time” for the Missouri House to try to diminish our democracy, overturn our votes, and corrupt the system to entrench their own power. But to do all that during an unprecedented international pandemic is, frankly, outrageous. Millions of Missourians need help from the state government right now. The legislature should focus on serving the people instead of serving its own partisan interests. The first step lawmakers should take to show they’re serious is dropping SJR 38 from consideration.
Karl Skala is the Ward 3 Councilman for Columbia.