By BOB MILLER and ERIN RAGAN
SEMO News Service
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. -- Missouri's laws for replacing members of Congress who leave in the middle of a term require that teams of political activists bypass a traditional primary election. Instead of voters-at-large determining who the next Republican or Democrat nominees will be, 86 Republicans and 68 Democrats -- and a handful of Libertarians -- will offer names that will appear on a special election ballot.
All of these political representatives have been chosen as chairs and vice chairs of their respective committees at the county or legislative-district level. The members of the county and House district committees that make up the 86 Republicans are not evenly representative of the 8th District's population -- at least not when comparing vote ratios within county borders -- an analysis by the Southeast Missourian has found.
The analysis shed light on which counties carry the most weight based on county population determined by the 2010 census.
Cape Girardeau County, for example, has the largest population of the 30 counties inside the 8th District, but it has only the third-most votes on the 8th District committee with six, compared to 12 votes in Jefferson County, which reaches into the urban masses near St. Louis, and seven in Phelps County, where Rolla is located. Jefferson County -- the only county split by the 8th District border -- has a higher overall population than Cape Girardeau County, but it has some 15,000 fewer people who live within the 8th District. Each vote there represents about 5,000 people.
When measured by population per vote, people in sparsely populated Carter County and neighboring Reynolds have the most representative clout in the selection process. Each of the three votes in Carter County represents 2,088 people; in Reynolds County, each vote represents 2,232 people. [Carter County will be the location for the nomination vote because of its central location within the district.]
By comparison, Howell County, with a population nearly 10 times that of Carter and Reynolds counties combined -- has fewer votes, two, than either Carter or Reynolds counties. Howell County has the lowest population representation per vote in the district. Two votes there will represents 20,200 people each.
Cape Girardeau County ranks near the bottom of the 30 counties in terms of the population-per-vote ratio. Each vote will represent 12,627 people. Put another way, Cape Girardeau County's population makes up about 10 percent of the population in the 8th District, but it accounts for 6 percent of the votes in the selection process. Carter and Reynolds counties combined make up 0.5 of a percent of the population and carry the same voting weight as Cape Girardeau County.
The population of the 8th District is about 749,000.
Five counties in the 8th District have populations of 39,000 or more, which account for nearly 40 percent of the population and 32 percent of the vote on the committee. There are roughly 487,000 registered voters in the district.
If history repeats, the 8th District Republican Committee will nominate the next member of Congress. Republicans have held the seat since Bill Emerson defeated Bill Burlison in 1980; the GOP has won landslide victories in recent 8th District general elections.
Rural vs. suburban
Most of the 8th District can be considered rural, and the candidate who emerges likely will make agriculture a priority to reflect his or her constituency. Other priorities for areas considered suburban, like most of Jefferson County, Cape Girardeau County and Butler County, include transportation by road, river and rail. Most other areas, at least in Southeast Missouri, don't differ much but have those same interests on a smaller scale, said Chauncy Buchheit, executive director of the Southeast Missouri Regional Planning and Economic Development Commission.
"River counties have their own level of commerce associated with the interstate and the Mississippi River, and that would include Ste. Genevieve, Perry and Cape in this region," Buchheit said. "Then when you get over to the more western part -- Bollinger, Iron, Reynolds counties -- they have a bit of a different economy and some different needs than we would have on the eastern side. But all the counties in the district are pretty closely tied in that they all need jobs; you know, everybody's wanting some economic development."
In addition, Buchheit said, "everybody needs transportation money, and they need to keep the interstate up, and keep the economy growing that way. Everybody's also looking for some infrastructure projects."
Buchheit pointed to agriculture as the district's largest economic driver but questioned its importance in Jefferson County, which has a lot of pull in the selection of a nominee.
"Jefferson County does come in with strong votes," said Bruce Valle, a Jefferson County committee member who lives in De Soto, Mo., and will cast two votes for a nominee.
"But in Jefferson County we do have some agricultural concerns -- we have some farmers here, and we also know that being part of the 8th that ag is a big part of it down there," Valle said.
Committee members in Jefferson County, he said, also are looking at all candidates' takes on maintenance for and growth near the interstate and other roads, ports on the Mississippi River and job creation in the district.
Valle understands why there was concern in the 8th District when 2010 brought new boundaries to include the southern part of the county, but he sees that area as having needs reflected elsewhere in the district.
"We pretty well have the same issues that people down in Cape Girardeau and in Butler County and all the rest of them have," he said. "Even though we are the farthest north, we still have those very concerns, and hope that we get a person in there to help the whole 8th Congressional District. We understand, and that's what we're a part of up here, is to make our district a great district, and to continue to make our state a great state."
The 86 members of the 8th District will cast 100 votes. Fourteen members may cast more than one vote if they hold leadership positions in a county and house district.
In Cape Girardeau County, for instance, Wayne Bowen represents the 147th Legislative District Committee and the Cape Girardeau County Committee. He holds the vice chairman position on both. Another local example is Annie Marie Cookson, of Morley, Mo., who is the chairwoman of the 148th District Committee and the Scott County Committee.
Several 8th District committee members are married couples. There are eight couples in the district in which partners will help determine the congressional nominee.
The two most powerful couples come from Carter and St. Francois counties.
In Carter County, three votes will come from the same Van Buren residence of Thomas and Gail Cox. Thomas Cox is the chairman of the county and 153rd District committees, while Gail Cox is the vice chairwoman of the county committee.
Calls, emails and letters from candidates inundated the Coxes after Jo Ann Emerson announced her resignation.
"It has not been boring, to say the least," Gail Cox said.
Gail Cox said the couple has attended related meetings in Carter County and elsewhere, and frequently talk to each other about the candidates and the nomination.
"A new twist on what somebody said comes in, and we talk it through," she said.
But just because they are talking does not necessarily mean their votes will go together come nomination time, the Coxes said.
"We have three votes, and they may go to three different people," Gail Cox said.
"Actually, when my wife goes in to vote, I haven't a clue as to how she is going to vote," Thomas Cox said. "I do not attempt to tell my wife how to vote and she doesn't attempt to tell me. I gave up telling my wife what to do years ago."
A couple from Farmington, Mo., has three votes between them.
According to a story recently published by The Associated Press, 25 of the 100 votes will come from 10 households.
Two counties, Pemiscot and Iron, have no voting representatives since no county committee was formed to establish chairs and vice chairs; no one on the House district committees live within those county boundaries. There were four House district committees that did not vote to elect chairs and vice chairs, including the 143rd District, which includes Oregon, Shannon and Dent counties and a small part of Reynolds County; the 149th District, which covers New Madrid County and portions of Mississippi and Pemiscot counties; the 150th District, which includes Dunklin County and a portion of Pemiscot County; and the 154th District, which includes most of Howell County.
Votes outside of district
Because several legislative districts expand outside the borders of the 8th District, a handful of those deciding the next nominee for Congress live outside the 8th District.
One voter's Osage County address is much closer to Jefferson City than it is the westernmost edge of the 8th District. She is one of two Osage County residents -- both of whom represent the state's 62nd House District -- who will help decide the next nominee. Osage County is one county removed from the 8th District, but the 62nd District touches part of Phelps County. Individuals casting four other votes -- two from Franklin County and two from Jefferson County -- live outside the 8th District, making a total of six votes, the same representation coming from Cape Girardeau County.
Eddy Justice, chairman of the 8th District Republican Committee, provided a list of committee members along with addresses and ZIP codes to the Southeast Missourian. The newspaper obtained a list from Democrats that included names and their committees, but no addresses or telephone numbers.
The Southeast Missourian asked Monday for the Democratic district committee to provide members' ZIP codes for a similar analysis. On Tuesday afternoon, the committee provided addresses with no names attached.
What the list of names shows is that Bollinger County did not form a county committee and will have no representation. Democrats also have no representation from 18 house districts that did not organize. Sixty-eight Democrats will cast 72 votes for the Democratic nominee.
State law requires each county and legislative district that makes up the 8th District committee appoint one man and one woman to chair and vice chair positions. The Southeast Missourian identified two counties -- Scott and New Madrid -- that voted for two men as leaders. It is not clear what, if any, ramifications a reduced female representation may have on voting eligibility of the members from those counties.