Number of uncontested state legislative seats has remained high over the years
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Number of uncontested state legislative seats has remained high over the years

Date: December 16, 2014
By: Steven Anthony
State Capitol Bureau

Intro: 
42 percent of Missouri's legislative seats went uncontested in 2014, continuing a disturbing trend in the nature of the Show Me State's elections over the years
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OutCue:  SOC

Wrap: The United States democratic process is built on political parties competing against each other locally, statewide, and nationally.

However, the trend of competitive state legislative elections in Missouri has decreased sharply over the years, with the numbers fluctuating every two years. 

In the past two elections, 74 Missouri House seats and 9 Senate seats went uncontested by either Republicans or Democrats.

Those numbers do not account for those running under the labels of Green, Libertarian, or Constitution.  

Those two years mark the highest number of uncompetitive legislative elections going back to 1996.

University of Missouri political science professor Marvin Overby says this is not surprising.

Actuality:  OVERBY11.WAV
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Description: "Part of this is sort of an ongoing cultural phenomenon, if you will that Americans who have the ambition that's required to get elected to office, to hold elected position, they also have other venues in which they can exercise that ambition, particularly the marketplace."

Another factor that could explain the high number of uncompetitive legislative elections is the term limits initiative Missouri voters approved in 1994.

Term limits took effect in 2002, and they prevented 73 House members and 12 senators from running for reelection.

Overby says states with term limits don't recruit good candidates for the state legislature.

Actuality:  OVERBY44.WAV
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Description: "I think it makes a difference, right, in part because you don't get as many people deciding they're going to make a career at the state legislative level."

The way states draw their legislative and even congressional lines can also make a difference.

More than 30 state legislatures redraw their own district lines every 10 years, but Missouri is not one of them.

Missouri uses a specially appointed commission to redraw the legislative lines.

But if the commission cannot agree on a suitable map, the Missouri Supreme Court appoints a special appellate commission to complete the process.

These commissions are supposed to be nonpartisan, but Overby says that's not really the case.

Actuality:  OVERBY.WAV
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Description: "I think a lot of times what we think of as nonpartisan is actually, when you peel back a couple of layers, is actually reasonably partisan in nature."

Incoming Speaker of the House John Diehl was a key player in pushing through the resdistricting maps of Missouri's congressional delegation in 2011.

He says that having gone through the process, nothing is perfect.

Actuality:  DIEHLRE2.WAV
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Description: "One thing going through the process you find is that there isn't any perfect system because there's people involved. So no matter... Each system has its pluses and its minuses. I don't have a particular problem with how it's done now."

Overby says computer technology is partly to blame for districts being drawn to favor one party or the other.

Actuality:  OVERBY22.WAV
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Description: It's easier than ever, right, for people to sit down and draw district lines that are going to yield a consistently Republican or consistently Democratic electorate."

The popular HBO show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver looked at state legislative races around the nation just before the November election and found nearly 25 percent of candidates were running unopposed.

As for Missouri, 42 percent of candidates ran unopposed in 2014 and 2012, compared to just 27 percent in 2006.

The next round of redistricting takes place in 2021 and whoever the Missouri governor appoints will have the job of drawing the lines of 163 House districts and 34 Senate districts.

Reporting from the state Capitol, I'm Steven Anthony.    


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