If you ask the average man on the street, your average joe, many times their image of politicians is that of a bunch of fat sweaty cigar-chomping guys in dark smoky rooms in the bowels of Capitol buildings making deals and decisions that affect the people without their input. In some cases those deals are as clear as day, other times, not as much, and the deal makers are not the sweaty cigar-chompers but the people you would least suspect.
Since the birth of the nation, Americans have had a very simple distinct way of determining who and how many they send to Washington to represent them. That process has always been based on a national census taken every 10 years and is mandated by the Constitution. Based on population, Congressional districts in every state grow, shrink, or even disappear depending on the number of its citizens.
But what if something else had happened? What if Congressional districts were determined not just by elections, but a lack of an election? What if the sweaty cigar-chompers decided amongst themselves where they would aggressively campaign and where they would not, basically affecting the outcome of an election?
Take Missouri for instance, and why wouldn’t we? Missouri is an interesting place for many reasons. Like many other states there are the urban population centers and there are the rural areas. But when you look at a map of Congressional districts is where it gets really interesting. Again, like many other states, much of the big cities garner more Democrat votes and the rural areas tend to lean more Republican and Conservative and get those votes. But in Missouri, a very sharp, clear line has been drawn between those areas. Has anyone bothered to ask why?
St. Louis and the surrounding area has a long history of being a Democrat stronghold. The Gateway City has not had a Republican Mayor since 1949. The first Congressional district has not had a Republican representative since, you guessed it, 1949. But at some point the Republicans simply stopped showing up for the election. Do they not owe it to the Republicans, no matter how few of them live in the district, to at least put up a vigorous fight?
One of America’s most divisive periods in its history was the 1960’s, and St. Louis was certainly not immune. The City’s foray into massive public housing complexes was the infamous Pruitt-Igoe housing complex. The experiment quickly went south and by the late 60’s it became apparent that it was going to have to be torn down. But what to do with all the tenants? Where would they go? In 1968 Missouri’s first Congressional district elected its first African-American Congressman, and in an era where it may have been quite a battle to get a black congressional candidate elected. Could the powers that be might have decided that he needed a little help? After all, a census year was approaching in 1970 and based on those numbers, new district lines would be drawn. But on an even grander scale, and in true Democrat fashion, how to ensure that that district would remain Democrat indefinitely? How do they ensure that that first black Democrat Congressman has that job as long as he wants it? Would some concessions have to be made?
It sounds like the stuff of urban legends. No one has any real proof but many have heard the story. Could one have those back-room cigar-chomping deals have been made in the form of a trade off? Democrats get the urban areas of Kansas City and St. Louis City, and the Republicans leave them alone, while the GOP would hold sway over the rural areas of the state and the Democrats would remain fairly quiet. While many show-me state political watchers would chuckle and promptly dismiss the whole notion as some black helicopter conspiracy theory, some of the most seasoned veterans of Missouri’s political battles say it is entirely possible.
Martin Baker, three-time Republican candidate for Congress in Missouri CD1 says, “As our Party has consistently failed to support any congressional candidate who challenges the status quo in the urban areas and make our Party be electorally accountable to the people of those areas, Republicans are waving the white flag of surrender each electoral cycle and also when the district lines are redrawn by the General Assembly every ten years. Under Missouri law, any resident of the state can run in ANY Congressional District, regardless of if they are a resident of that district, so easily the GOP could recruit the best and brightest to stand for nomination and election in CD1 or CD5 (Kansas City) but the GOP consistently leaves those districts to die on the vine by not encouraging a “Party All-Star” to run and then either underfunding or not funding at all those races so it does give one consideration of possible political collusion.” Robyn Hamlin, two-time Republican nominee for CD1 agrees. She says that while she does not know what the agreement might have been for the Kansas City area, she is “very positive” that it happened in St. Louis. She went on to say that she believes the major players that might have taken part in such an agreement are either out of politics or deceased.
Does concrete evidence exist somewhere that such brokering took place, more than likely decades ago? Does someone’s spouse, children, or political protégé know the real story? Will someone offer up a death bed confession? Will others decide to dig deeper and find out the truth once and for all? Good questions. But perhaps the best question of all, don’t the residents of Missouri’s first and fifth congressional districts deserve to know all the choices before them prior to an election, instead of having that election decided for them?
Don’t they deserve to know the truth?