State Sen. Brian Nieves is taking a wait-and-see approach to a recently redrawn Senate map that places Franklin County with most of western St. Louis County.
But the Washington Republican said he would be more than comfortable representing a bigger piece of St. Louis County in the Missouri Senate.
Under a tentative plan drafted by a bipartisan commission last week, Franklin County would only be paired with a bigger slice of St. Louis County – mainly encompassing more of Chesterfield.
Currently, the 26th District consists of Franklin County, Warren County and parts of western St. Louis County. Under the new plan, Warren County would be placed into the 10th District, which encompasses a swath of eastern and central Missouri counties.
In an interview, Nieves said he would be “extremely comfortable” representing and potentially running for re-election in a district that includes more of St. Louis County.
Nieves – who grew up in Pacific – noted that he spent a great deal of time around western St. Louis County when he was younger.
He also said from an initial analysis, it would still be possible for a Franklin County candidate to prevail in an election.
“I think that district would probably lean in a direction of having a senator from Franklin County,” Nieves said. “Obviously none of us have had a chance to absolutely just crunch this all the way down to the fine, fine, fine numbers. But at least at first glance and with every little bit of research, it looks like the likelihood would be that it would kind of lean in the direction of having a senator from Franklin County.”
Still, Nieves added that the process is far from finalized. The commission, for example, could change the map or the new plan could be subjected to a lawsuit.
“Even after the 15-day period when the commission takes the second and supposedly final vote on the whole thing, then there’s still the possibility on a number of different kinds of lawsuits,” Nieves said. “I don’t know when this whole thing is going to be final.”
“I’m afraid we’re a long way from being done,” he added.
Nieves’ cautiously optimistic approach is in stark contrast to other sitting senators affected by the changes.
Because the new version of the 26th District incorporates most of Chesterfield, it means that Sen. Jane Cunningham’s residence is now in Nieves’ district.
Cunningham currently represents the 7th District, which is being moved to Kansas City. And since even-numbered districts aren’t up for election this year, Cunningham’s most immediate option is running in a GOP primary against Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, in the 15th District or running for another office altogether. If she stayed in her residence, she could also hypothetically run against Nieves in 2014 when the 26th District is up for election.
Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, told the St. Louis Beacon earlier this week that her main focus was trying to get the commission to change the map. She also spent time last week on the Senate floor denouncing the plan as hurtful to the St. Louis region, calling the plan a “travesty.”
“They have taken pretty much of all of West County and put it into Franklin County,” Cunningham said. “As much as I appreciate the senator from Franklin County – that is not a community of interest.”
Sen. Jim Lembke – a Lemay Republican who was drawn into a more of a Democratic district – said on the Senate floor that the new map amounted to a “stab in the heart” for the St. Louis region. And both Schmitt and Sen. John Lamping, R-Ladue, told the Beacon that the new map could hurt the region’s ability to be represented in the Senate.
Mixed Assessment From Griesheimer, Hillhouse
Franklin County Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer said he was “shocked” that the commission decided to pair Franklin County with St. Louis County. It could result in making it harder, he said, for a candidate from rural Franklin County to win.
“I really did not have a sense that they were going to combine just St. Louis County and Franklin County,” said Griesheimer, who represented the 26th District as a Republican senator for eight years. “All the talk in the past has been that Franklin County would be continually moved to the west. And that’s what we thought. But then all of a sudden, it certainly changes the dynamics of anybody running for the Senate I think.”
“At least from my perspective, obviously you’re going to have to pay a lot more attention to St. Louis County with St. Louis County issues,” he added.
Griesheimer echoed Cunningham’s contention that the municipalities within the pending district don’t have a lot of commonality. In addition to Chesterfield, the reconfigured 26th District would include Eureka and Wildwood.
“I was lucky to have represented Warren County for the last eight years. That was a good fit with Franklin and Warren County,” Griesheimer said. “The problem is the district is too diverse. It goes from strictly urban to rural. There’s no in-between. And really … we are in the same metropolitan area for planning and that – so we have something in common there. But really, the two districts are pretty diverse and there are a lot of differences between the two counties.”
But Ed Hillhouse – a former Franklin County presiding commissioner who now serves as executive director for East-West Gateway – said there could be some benefit in the new configuration.
“The St. Louis region really is the economic engine, if you will, is the economic engine of the state of Missouri,” Hillhouse said. “Having a senator that represents Franklin County and a portion of St. Louis County may contribute to helping the region and having a better understanding of having a positive working relationship.”
Since St. Louis County encompasses a sizable portion of the district’s population, Hillhouse said any senator will have to pay attention to both areas. Hillhouse – who considered running for Congress in 2008 and state Senate in 2010 – said someone like himself would have to give “serious thought” about possibly running for the seat in two years.
In any case, Nieves said he’s been continually happy with the way the 26th District has been drawn.
When the previous map, drafted by the appellate court panel, was presented, it included a 26th District which included all of Franklin, Warren, Gasconade and Crawford counties. At the time in December 2011, Nieves said the then-proposed district was a dream map.
But he added the twists and turns of the process have been harrowing.
“Just from a personal, human being standpoint, this obviously is the first and only time I’ve gone through redistricting,” Nieves said. “It’s been a roller coaster ride. Fortunately for me, I’ve been in a very, very unusual position where I’ve actually been pretty darn happy about all five versions of the maps. I’ve been pretty happy each time. It just seems like every time I kind of figure in my mind ‘OK, this is what my new Senate map looks like,’ every time I resolve to that – then boom! Something happens and it changes.”
“I’m not only cautious, but actually a bit frustrated about the whole process,” he added. “I just want some finality to who is it that I represent and what region do I represent. And then let’s get down to business.”