Dec 06, 2019 11:41 AM

6 apply for Missouri's nonpartisan redistricting post

Posted Dec 06, 2019 11:41 AM

Image courtesy Missouri Dept. of Administration

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — About half a dozen people have applied for an influential new job in Missouri to draw state legislative districts under a nationally unique mandate to achieve “partisan fairness” and “competitiveness” in elections.

Missouri’s “nonpartisan state demographer” position was created by a voter-approved constitutional amendment last year to try to diminish the potential for political gamesmanship when state House and Senate districts are redrawn after the 2020 census.

People interested faced a Wednesday deadline to apply to State Auditor Nicole Galloway. She said Thursday that her office will forward at least six completed applications to the top Republican and Democrat in the Senate, who can select one for the job. A seventh applicant is still under review.

“The real goal here is to get an honest broker and a nonpartisan actor who can help counterbalance the partisan interests that have driven this process in the past,” said Sean Nicholson, a Democratic consultant who led the campaign for the redistricting ballot measure.

Missouri is one of eight states where voters have enacted redistricting reforms targeting partisan gerrymandering during the past decade. About one-third of all states will use independent or bipartisan commissions as part of their redistricting process after the 2020 census. But Missouri is the only state to mandate the use of a specific mathematical formula to try to engineer fair and competitive elections.

The new nonpartisan demographer will use that formula to create proposed maps for the state House and Senate that will be submitted to a pair of existing bipartisan state commissions. Those commissions will be able make changes to the demographer’s plans only by a 70% vote.

Missouri’s districts for the U.S. House will continue to be crafted by the state Legislature, subject to veto by the governor.

Republicans currently hold the Missouri governor’s office and supermajorities in both legislative chambers, though control of all of those will be at stake in the 2020 elections. Redistricting is scheduled to occur in 2021.

Missouri’s current state Senate districts were adopted by a bipartisan commission after the 2010 census. Its state House districts were drawn by a judicial panel after a bipartisan commission failed to agree on a plan.

In the 2018 elections, Republican candidates received an average of 57% of the two-party vote across Missouri’s 163 House districts, yet Republicans won 71% of the seats. That gave them a 116-47 majority over Democrats — about 13 more GOP seats than would have been expected based on their share of the total vote, according to an Associated Press analysis that used the same mathematical formula prescribed by the ballot measure.

The AP analysis of Missouri’s new redistricting formula shows it has the potential to end the Republicans’ supermajorities and move the chambers closer to the more even partisan division that is often reflected in statewide races. But the size of the likely Democratic gains remains uncertain, partly because the formula has never been put to the test.

The constitutional amendment approved by voters requires the new demographer to be a Missouri resident but leaves specific qualifications up to Galloway, a Democrat who is challenging Republican Gov. Mike Parson. Galloway’s application form requires people to have a college degree with coursework in demographic or statistical analysis and several years of professional experience using geographic information systems and statistical software.

The auditor’s office said one applicant appeared not to have the required professional experience but could still submit documentation showing he does.

The six eligible applicants include three employees of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources — Donald Cripe, Bryan Kinworthy and Robert Zane Price; retired Air Force officer Jason Ross; city of Columbia engineering technician Damon Braidlow; and Sara Hartman, an office employee at Faith Lutheran Church in Jefferson City.

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Dec 06, 2019 11:41 AM
Kansas judge accused of bigotry, profanities in courthouse

Montgomery County Courthouse google image

By ROXANA HEGEMAN, Associated Press 

WICHITA, Kan. — A foul-mouthed Kansas judge accused of bigotry and racism who cursed at courthouse employees so often that a trial clerk kept a "swear journal" documenting his obscene outbursts is facing complaints that his conduct violates the central judicial canons of independence, integrity and impartiality.

The Kansas Commission on Judicial Qualifications will next week consider whether Montgomery County Judge F. William Cullins performs his duties with sufficient competence and diligence that he can continue on the bench.

According to a filing, Cullins is accused of mistreating employees; fostering a hostile relationship with the county attorney's office; lacking patience and decorum; exhibiting disdain toward attorneys; and treating some bondsmen with hostility. Other allegations purport he showed bias or prejudice in the courtroom based on race, sex, socioeconomic status or political affiliation, and denied some defendants or their lawyers the right to be heard.

Cullins has acknowledged that he needs "a more effective management style," according to the judicial panel's pretrial order.

Cullins declined to comment to The Associated Press on the upcoming proceedings, referring the call to his attorney, Christopher Joseph, who also declined to comment . Several attorneys and others who practice before the judge either didn't return calls or refused to talk about Cullins' behavior.

Court documents detail instances in which Cullins directed foul, derogatory language at women, as well as specific allegations of racism. In one instance, Cullins was recorded referring to an out-of-state black athlete as "not even a Kansas boy" and telling a black male resident, "you're a Kansas boy" — language that could be considered demeaning to an African American man.

Cullins argued in a filing that this was not a manifestation of racial bias and said the attorney who raised objections has since testified that it appeared no racial connotation was intended.

The judge has acknowledged that he curses frequently and "bitches at people to try to get them to correct their ways."

As his relationship with Montgomery County Attorney Larry Markle deteriorated, Cullins wrote expletives on documents sent to Markle's office and he allegedly belittled the prosecutor before law enforcement officials in open court.

Cullins has acknowledged in court filings that his communications indicate his frustration with Markle's office, but denies that his emotions affected his rulings. He contends that the county attorney's office has failed to file charges in a timely manner against jailed defendants and misused subpoenas.

Markle also declined to comment to The Associated Press on the upcoming proceedings against Cullins or his dealings with the judge.

Cullins was elected in 2006 to the bench in Montgomery County, a mostly rural area dotted by small towns that is home to slightly more than 32,300 people. Cullins served as the county's chief judge from 2015 until last year and remains on the bench. Before his election to the judgeship, he was in private practice for more than a decade and was the city prosecutor for Independence and city attorney for the small community of Cherryvale.

The five-day public hearing is scheduled to start Monday in Topeka, and could feature as many as 37 witnesses and more than 58 exhibits that lay bare the tumultuous justice system in the rural southeast Kansas county.

If the judges and lawyers on the panel find the charges are proven, they can admonish Cullins, issue a cease-and-desist order or recommend the Kansas Supreme Court discipline the judge or require him to retire. Discipline can include public censure, suspension or removal from office.

Three former court employees said Cullins' demeanor contributed to their decisions to quit their jobs. One of them, Lance Carter, was the clerk who kept the swear journal that is now an exhibit.

Cullins argues that his speech is protected by the First Amendment and that his cursing does not diminish his integrity or keep him from performing his judicial duties with impartiality and competence.

Joni Pratt said she left her job as a courthouse clerk for a new position elsewhere at a lower salary. After she resigned, as she walked from the judge's office, Pratt said Cullins "shouted 'yahoo' or 'yippee' (or some similar expression) loud enough for others in the courthouse to hear."

The filings do not identify who filed the original complaints against Cullins, but only those allegations that investigators determined merit further action will be included in the formal proceedings.