JEFFERSON CITY — A Missouri appeals court panel cleared the way Friday for voters to decide a November ballot initiative that could shake up of the state Legislature by requiring districts to be drawn to achieve "partisan fairness" and imposing new lobbying limits.
The ruling overturned a decision issued a week ago by a state judge who said the so-called Clean Missouri initiative violated the state constitution by addressing multiple topics.
The Western District appeals panel disagreed, ruling that the "multiple provisions all relate to a single central purpose: regulating the legislature to limit the influence of partisan or other special interests."
Republican-aligned attorneys for those opposing the measure said they would appeal to the state Supreme Court. But time is running short. Missouri law sets a Tuesday deadline to make changes to the Nov. 6. ballot. The state's high court previously turned down a chance to hear the case in place of the appeals panel.
As it stands, the measure would appear on the ballot as Constitutional Amendment 1.
"We hope this brings an end to it and that the people can vote in November on whether they want to adopt these changes," said attorney Chuck Hatfield, who represents Clean Missouri.
The initiative has been opposed in court by the president of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry and a Republican voter who was represented by the law firm of Missouri Republican Party Chairman Todd Graves.
"Our concern is that people think they're voting for ethics reform," Graves said Friday. "That's certainly a small part of this measure, but what they're really voting for is a radical change in the way that we draw legislative districts."
Missouri's state House and Senate districts are redrawn after each census by bipartisan commissions whose members are appointed by the governor from nominees submitted by the Democratic and Republican parties. The ballot initiative would create a new position of a nonpartisan state demographer to propose maps to commissioners that reflect the parties' share of the statewide vote in previous elections for president, governor and U.S. senator. The criteria of "partisan fairness" and "competitiveness" would rank ahead of more traditional criteria such as geographically compact districts.
While supporters contend that their goal is to prevent partisan gerrymandering, opponents say the initiative would essentially require the gerrymandering of oddly shaped districts to try to mirror statewide voting trends.
Redistricting has been a hot topic across the country . Measures revamping the process also are on the ballot this November in Colorado, Michigan and Utah. Though the details vary by state, all are designed to limit partisan influence on redistricting. Colorado's measure also would require districts to be drawn to "maximize the number of politically competitive districts." Michigan's would prohibit districts that provide a disproportionate advantage to any political party. Utah's prohibits the consideration of partisan voting records when drawing districts.
National Democratic and Republican groups also have increased their spending for the 2018 state legislative elections as they seek to win control of as many chambers as possible ahead of the next round of redistricting.
Republicans currently hold commanding majorities in the Missouri House and Senate, as well as most of the statewide executive offices. Democrats have won some urban legislative districts by large margins while generally losing throughout much of the rest of the state. Democrats typically have run closer to Republicans in statewide elections.
Although some Republicans support it, the campaign for the Missouri initiative is run by a Democratic consultant and has received big checks from groups that typically back Democrats, including labor unions.
In addition to the redistricting changes, the Missouri initiative would prohibit lawmakers from accepting gifts worth more than $5 from lobbyists. It would alter the waiting period for ex-lawmakers to become lobbyists, make lawmakers subject to the state open-records law and bar legislative candidates from raising political money on state property. Campaign contribution limits for legislative candidates would be lowered slightly, from the current $2,600 for all candidates to $2,500 for Senate candidates and $2,000 for House candidates.