Leaving a Missouri state House seat in suburban Kansas City vacant is unfair

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More than 35,000 residents in and around Lee’s Summit have been without representation in the Missouri House of Representatives since April 21. That’s the day members expelled then-Rep. Rick Roeber for allegedly abusing his children.

Gov. Mike Parson has yet to call an election to fill the seat, House District 34, and it remains vacant to this day. That should be fixed, as soon as possible.

“Every day that goes by without representation is a day too long,” says Bob Johnson, a veteran of the Missouri legislature and now a member of the Lee’s Summit City Council. He’s right.

Parson should take some time off his sightseeing tour and immediately call a special election to fill the empty seat. While it’s far too late to hold that election in August, it’s still possible to hold the election this year, and Parson should make that a goal.

The call must come quickly, however. If the special election is held in November — the most cost-effective date — the ballot has to be certified by late August. The political parties have 21 days after the call to pick their nominees.

In 2019, Parson called six legislative special elections for November, including four called on August 1.

Leaving Missouri legislative seats vacant is an old, and disturbing, tradition. We were outraged when Parson gave full-time state jobs to two senators from the Kansas City area in early 2020, leaving the seats open. That left two-thirds of Kansas City virtually unrepresented in the state Senate for a year.

That was unacceptable. And it’s just as wrong for the 34th District to lack full representation now.

The Missouri House spent this year debating important issues such as Medicaid expansion and police reforms, and may meet again this year to discuss other important concerns. All voices must be heard in those debates, and when votes are cast.

Voters in the 34th District have more reason to complain than most others. Roeber was elected in November 2020, but because of credible allegations of his abusive behavior with his now-grown children, House leaders denied him committee assignments and barred him from the Republican caucus.

For most practical purposes, he was a legislative ghost even before he was expelled.

His predecessor in the 34th District seat was his wife, Rebecca, who died in 2019 from injuries suffered in a car crash.

“Parts of Lee’s Summit and Greenwood have not had the fundamental right to their needs, voices and concerns being represented in our state legislature for the majority of the last three years,” Johnson says.

Some Missourians will argue that a single vacancy isn’t important in a House with 163 members. That’s simply wrong. All Missourians deserve representation in both houses of the General Assembly. That’s how small-r republican government works.

But it’s even more important as the legislature debates new districts in the state House and Senate, once the 2020 census numbers are made public. The 34th District will likely change. The people of the current 34th District should play some role in that discussion.

This editorial board broke the news about the allegations against Roeber, and strongly supported the House’s decision to expel him. But that in no way means that his seat should go unfilled until 2022.