JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Six state appeals court judges will soon begin closed-door deliberations toward settling the thorny political issue of legislative redistricting.
The judges must submit final maps of Missouri's 34 state Senate districts and 163 House of Representatives districts before Dec. 28. The new boundaries, which must be redrawn to reflect population changes revealed in the 2000 Census, will be used for the next 10 years.
The judicial panel was selected by the Missouri Supreme Court after two bipartisan commissions, one for each legislative chamber, became mired in political bickering and failed to finish the job.
The judges held four public hearings around the state to gather input, the last being in Springfield on Thursday. The remainder of their work will be done in private.
Both the state Democratic and Republican parties have submitted preferred Senate maps. Democrats also filed a favored House proposal. A GOP House plan wasn't immediately available.
During testimony at the public hearings, each party's representatives assailed the other's proposals as unfair.
At stake is political control of the General Assembly. Republicans outnumber Democrats 18-16 in the Senate for a one-seat majority. Democrats have a narrow 87-76 advantage in the House, where 82 votes are needed to pass legislation. Districts favorable to one party or the other could tilt the political balance in the Legislature.
Democrats offered plans they said would preserve the partisan split in the Senate while giving Republicans an 84-79 House majority based on recent voter history in each proposed district.
The projected political performance of the GOP proposals wasn't available, but various Republican plans considered by the bipartisan commissions called for around 20 Senate seats and 90-plus House districts favoring the party.
The Democratic House plan would significantly shift district lines in Southeast Missouri.
Republican state Rep. Jason Crowell's 158th District would expand slightly to encompass all of the city of Cape Girardeau. Two other districts would divide the remainder of Cape Girardeau County, instead of just one as at present.
The 157th District, held by state Rep. David Schwab, R-Jackson, would move north to Perry County and northeastern Cape Girardeau County. The bulk of the new district would be in territory represented by state Rep. Pat Naeger, R-Perryville. Both Schwab and Naeger are barred from re-election by term limits.
State Rep. Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, would lose most of the area in his 156th District, but his home county of Bollinger, now divided three ways, would be unified. However, Jetton's district would move east to take in a significant portion of Cape Girardeau County, including Jackson.
That would potentially pit two Jackson Republicans -- Donna Lichtenegger and Scott Lipke -- against a GOP incumbent in the August primary. Lichtenegger and Lipke entered the race hoping to claim Schwab's vacant seat.
Among the other proposed changes in Southeast Missouri:
Stoddard County, in one district save for its southwestern corner, would be separated into three. The 159th District served by state Rep. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, would include only the northwestern third of the county, while picking up most of Wayne County and eastern Butler County.
The 160th District of state Rep. Peter C. Myers, R-Sikeston, that covers the bulk of Scott County would lose much of that territory and include only Sikeston and its outlying areas in Scott County. It would claim northern New Madrid County from state Rep. Lanie Black, R-Charleston, and the northeastern third of Stoddard County from Mayer.
The rest of Scott County -- including Scott City, which is split in two -- would be in Black's 161st District, along with Mississippi County.
Instead of including Poplar Bluff and eastern Butler County, the 154th District would have the city and western Butler County. That seat is held by term-limited state Rep. Mark Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff.
Dunklin County would be unified in the 163rd District, held by state Rep. Phillip Britt, D-Kennett.
The 162nd District of state Rep. Denny Merideth, D-Caruthersville, would lose the southern tip of Dunklin County and gain the southern third of Stoddard.
During the redistricting hearing on Nov. 1 in Kansas City, Jetton assailed the plan for allegedly packing Republican voters into districts while spreading out Democratic voters to give them slight advantages in more districts.
"It is clear there has been an effort to overpopulate the Republican districts to make room for more Democratic districts," Jetton said, according to the hearing transcript.
In the Senate effort, Republicans offered what they dubbed the "minimum change" plan, which they said would leave districts as close to their configurations as possible while still ensuring all have roughly equal populations as constitutionally required.
Under that proposal, Southeast Missouri's three Senate districts would be largely unchanged.
The 27th District of Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, wouldn't change at all. Poplar Bluff Republican state Sen. Bill Foster's 25th District, which includes the Bootheel, would add Ripley County from the 20th District. That district, served by state Sen. Danny Staples, D-Eminence, would also lose Oregon County to an Ozarks' based district while adding Washington County to the north.
The Democratic Senate plan calls for greater changes to the area. Foster would still add Ripley County but swap Wayne County with Kinder for Mississippi County. Such a move would make Foster a more attractive target for a Democratic challenger. Mississippi County is strongly Democratic while Wayne County is strongly Republican.
Staples' old district would be carved in two, with the new 20th District moving north. Rolla Republican state Sen. Sarah Steelman's 16th District, which takes in one county north of the Missouri River, would instead move south to the Arkansas border with the addition of many of Staples' constituents.
That change would pit state Rep. Don Koller, D-Summersville, against Steelman next year. Koller, whose home in Shannon County would move into the 16th District, had hoped to replace the term-limited Staples, his cousin, in the 20th District.