SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — High school football rivalries, specifically the Webb City Cardinals football team, was a point of discussion during Southwest Missouri redistricting hearings Monday morning in Springfield.
Krista Stark, who lives in Webb City, was speaking to the 10 Republican and 10 Democrat commissioners focusing on the redrawing of state House districts in the wake of the 2020 census.
She said House District 162, which currently encompasses a sizable portion of Webb City, northern Joplin, the Joplin Regional Airport, Airport Drive as well as Duenweg, is bookended by districts 161 and 163, which not-so-neatly encompass the remaining portions of Joplin, Webb City, Carterville and Carl Junction, along with their respective school districts and swaths of rural Jasper County. Even more confusing, each district has its own representative — Republicans Bob Bromley for District 162, Cody Smith for District 163, and Lane Roberts for District 161, she said.
Calling the current layout of the three House districts an example of “extreme gerrymandering” — a term that describes the manipulation of a district’s boundaries to favor one party or class over another — Stark urged commissioners to redraw the Jasper County-based districts to encompass entire cities and their respective school districts, and to not break communities into sections. That ties residents of one community to a representative living in a neighboring, or rival, community, which may or may not best serve their needs.
Because of football rivalries, you might have a resident living in Webb City “who doesn’t want to call (their representative) in Carthage because Carthage beat Webb City in a football game this year,” said Stark, who is executive director of Southwest Missouri Democrats.
Several commissioners chuckled at her statement. “I’m not kidding you,” she said. “That’s happened.”
“If you have these (redistricting) barriers between constituents and their representatives, they (may) feel like those people don’t represent them because they living in towns that are their football rivals,” Stark said. “I’ve literally had these phone calls.”
The next speaker was Carthage resident Karen Riley, who urged commissioners to keep entire school districts within a single House district. Currently, she said, the Carthage School District is split between House districts 127 and 133.
They were among dozens of Southwest Missouri residents who spoke to the assembled commissioners throughout the day Monday. Each commission, one for the House and the other for the Senate, is composed of 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats. A vast majority of the residents who spoke did so about Springfield-area issues and needs. Stark and Riley were two of the few Joplin-area residents in attendance at the meeting at the University Plaza Hotel.
The two commissions are meeting in Missouri’s six major cities this month to reconfigure, if deemed necessary, the 163 House districts and 34 Senate districts. Hearings will be conducted in Kansas City and St. Louis this week, and in Jefferson City, Cape Girardeau and Kirksville next month.
Redistricting takes place every 10 years after new census data is released. Legislative district boundaries could be kept the same, require expansion or require reduction depending on whether populations stayed the same, expanded or declined.
While Stark pushed to end gerrymandering and for district boundaries to be drawn in a way to give everyone an equal voice and vote, she said she was speaking on behalf of both her fellow Democrats as well as the Republicans from the Joplin area.
“Every single representative I work with in my area are Republicans, and we work well together,” Stark said. “While we disagree politically, what we don’t disagree about is to provide for the people in our districts.”
“I understand where you are coming from completely,” said Alan Griffin, one of the 10 Republicans on the House redistricting commission and who serves as chairman of the Jasper County Republican Central Committee. During Stark’s comments, he nodded his head a few times in agreement. While disagreeing with Stark’s gerrymandering reference, he did agree with her when it comes to redrawing district maps to stop cutting towns and cities into pieces.
His No. 1 goal as a member of the commission, he said, is “to fight to keep towns intact” when district maps are redrawn later this year, and to not split cities like Webb City and Joplin.
“There are some communities where one person is in one district and someone across the street is in another,” Griffin said. Examples of this can be found in Carterville, his hometown. “That’s one thing I’m going to fight for, and I’ve already made that clear to the other commissioners.”
A final redistricting plan requires 70% approval from each commission before Dec. 25. If a bipartisan consensus can’t be reached, which has happened in the past, a panel of appellate court judges will step in to draw district boundaries.
Griffin said he also hopes his 20-person House commission “will be the first one to come to a decision (and) not to have judges make that decision” for them.
During the Senate redistricting hearing that followed Monday afternoon, Stark spoke before another commission of Republicans and Democrats, urging them to keep Jasper and Newton counties together under Missouri Senate District 32. Under the current configuration, Jasper and Newton County lie within the same district, along with a portion of Dade County. Due to population increases over the past 10 years, Jasper and Newton counties have sufficient numbers — 181,400 residents — to become a Senate district unto themselves.
Speaking on behalf of her fellow Democrats as well as area Republicans, Stark urged commissioners not to cut off portions of the two counties and attach them to more rural neighboring counties.
“Keep Jasper and Newton counties together,” Stark said.