Press "Enter" to skip to content

Senators miffed at colleagues running for Congress jumping into redistricting process

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — As the congressional redistricting process dragged on this week, entering the 31st hour of what was warned to be a record filibuster, frustration among senators reached a crescendo. 

Senators hadn’t agreed on much throughout the redistricting process, but many did coalesce around the notion that those who are actively running for Congress shouldn’t be participating in filibusters to try to draw their own districts, multiple legislators said, both the record and on background. 

Senate Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden, too, said that was a frustration voiced by members of the upper chamber. 

“There are three senators who have announced they are running for Congress and are right in the middle of the filibuster,” Sen. Sandy Crawford, a Republican, said in an interview. “I believe that’s a conflict of interest, and their work should be at arm’s length at best.” 

Sens. Eric Burlison, Rick Brattin, and Mike Moon have launched congressional bids. All three men are members of the Conservative Caucus, and all held the floor during the filibuster, including in the wee hours of the morning when the chamber remained largely empty. 

“As a state senator, I hold transparency as most important to the operation of our democratic system,” Sen. Mike Cierpiot, a Republican, told The Missouri Times. “Transparency should be at work in our process from committee work to our work on the floor. The redistricting process is a perfect example — we should strive to be transparent with our motives during this debate. Efforts to influence maps to benefit a particular candidacy should be avoided.” 

At least one of the three senators-turned-candidates had previously informed his Republican colleagues he would recuse himself from the redistricting debate, sources said. 

Brattin said his opposition to the map proposals isn’t related to how his potential congressional district would be drawn but rather regarding the process itself. In an interview, he said he is working to ensure “we have the best map possible.” 

“Redistricting is a responsibility of the legislature. Every legislator has an opportunity to provide input on the congressional map changes. Oftentimes, during the redistricting process, a state elected official intends to run for a federal office,” said Sen. Mike Moon. “That is the case now. A small handful of Missouri legislators have publicly announced an intent to run for the U.S. House.”

“Does the election official’s intent to run for an office affected by the redistricting process nullify their ability to advocate for or against proposed congressional district maps? Absolutely not,” he continued. “It appears to be the belief of some, though, that legislators who intend to run for a congressional seat should recuse themselves from the process. The fact is, though, filing for office does not begin until February 22, 2022. A legislator’s first priority is to advocate for those in their legislative districts. Whether or not the legislator running for an office, it is their responsibility to participate in the legislative process. The drawing of legislative district maps is a vital part of the responsibilities placed upon the legislator.”

Sen. Bob Onder debates congressional redistricting maps during a marathon filibuster. (PROVIDED/SENATE COMMUNICATIONS)

Sen. Bob Onder, noting candidate filing had not yet closed, also called those frustrations “cynical and absurd.” 

“We as Missouri legislators are charged by both the state and federal constitutions with drawing congressional district maps. If the founders of our country or the drafters of the 1945 Missouri Constitution wanted to exclude people running for Congress from that important duty, they would have said so,” Onder, a Conservative Caucus member, said. “I think that’s an utterly absurd position. They’re just trying to get a handful of senators out of the debate.”

Onder specifically pointed to Rowden and Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz — noting the former could still launch a congressional bid and the latter is running for U.S. Senate — and questioned if those frustrated by the three Conservative Caucus members also think they should recuse themselves from the redistricting debate. 

A move to sleep on it

After about 31 hours — with floor debate vacillating between Conservative Caucus members and Democrats arguing against the proposed redistricting maps — the Senate abruptly adjourned shortly before 12:30 a.m. Wednesday. 

The Capitol was eerily quiet as senators were in the midst of their sleep schedules — and it was clear there was no consensus to be had. So leadership made the decision to call it quits for the night and come back in a few hours. 

The Senate returned at noon Wednesday.

Rowden said the objective now is to find a path forward on a map that will get a bipartisan number of votes, pointing to the initial success he had Tuesday afternoon with a standing vote on a 6-2 proposal. 

Crawford said if the Senate can’t pass a map, it will inevitably end up in court. That’s not a path she prefers, but it is an option, she said. 

For the Democrats, the goal is to pass a fair map, Minority Leader John Rizzo said Wednesday morning. 

“You can’t really concede to these Conservative Caucus guys at this point,” Rizzo said, noting he wants to see “a fair map that comes to fruition amicably” without the Senate reaching its breaking point. 

A precipice that seems to be quickly nearing. 

Breaking down the issues

There are two issues that have come to the forefront during the redistricting fight. 

The conservative faction has been adamant they want a map that favors Republicans 7-1. But the biggest issue seems to be St. Charles County. Sens. Bill Eigel and Bob Onder have been clear they want St. Charles County to remain as intact as possible to become a congressional stronghold. 

And then there’s Sen. Denny Hoskins who staunchly maintains Fort Leonard Wood and Whiteman Air Force Base should remain in the same congressional district. 

But despite some social media posts, it’s not just Conservative Caucus members filibustering the map that came over the House. 

Senate Democrats have also held the floor, led by Sen. Steven Roberts who wants CD 1 to be redrawn to include more northwest portions of the St. Louis area. The 1st congressional district is a Voting Rights Act (VRA), minority-majority district. Roberts has said his changes follow population data and would ensure it remains in compliance with the VRA over the years. 

Lawmakers warned this filibuster could break the 39-hour record set in 2016 over a religious freedom bill. Adjourning after midnight also gave the demographer a chance to rest. 

The filibuster was peppered by countless quorum calls, often raised by Onder.