Missouri State Rep. John Diehl, R-Town and Country, held a town hall meeting at the Brentwood Recreation Center Thursday night.
The Republican represents Missouri’s 87th district in the State House of Representatives. The district includes a portion of Creve Coeur, Town and Country, Brentwood, Frontenac, and Ladue, among other municipalities.
With all of the changes to St. Louis area congressional districts likely coming, and with Diehl chairing the house committee which has designed a new map, one might think that redistricting would dominate the meeting. However, the subject matter of the town hall was largely decided by his constituents and they wanted to discuss puppy mills.
The meeting lasted about one hour and 20 minutes. Roughly half that time was dedicated to a back and forth between Diehl and supporters of and dog-breeding reform.
In November, voters narrowly passed the Puppy Mill Cruelty Act, otherwise known as Prop B. It sought to toughen regulations on dog breeders, whose operations are often referred to as puppy mills, in Missouri. Since November, however, representatives from rural parts of the state have backed Special Bill 113, a bill that would change the Prop B legislation and, according to some, water it down.
Diehl was largely in agreement with those in attendance, and said he supported more regulation of dog-breeding operations. However, Diehl said that SB 113 “is going to pass,” and he wasn’t sure if Governor Jay Nixon would veto it. Ladue resident Nancy Grove said Diehl should vote against SB 113 outright. However, Diehl stated that he felt he could do more by negotiating and finding some middle ground between Prop B and SB 113.
Others in the crowd also voiced their disdain for SB 113, not so much out of a love for animals, but out of a distaste for seeing the government in Jefferson City not abiding by something that was voted on by the people and passed.
One Brentwood resident, who wished to not be named, said he felt SB 113 was like a dictator overruling the will of the people. “That’s what it feels like to me,” he said. “It’s very offensive.”
“Why bother to carry these petitions? Why bother to vote?” Margot Martin, Frontenac resident, asked.
Many in crowd wore buttons that read, “Defend Prop B For Dog’s Sake.” Others wore T-shirts saying things like “Stop puppy mills.”
“I now have my second puppy mill rescue dog,” Crystal Lake Park resident Helena Servis said. “I’m here to tell you it’s a travesty how we procure our animals.” Servis said she is not usually politically active, but Prop B is different.
Though Prop B and SB 113 dominated the meeting, other issues were addressed.
Brentwood Ward 3 Alderman Andrew Leahy voiced a concern over the new four-year term for elected officials in fourth-class Missouri cities, though fourth-class cities now have no way to recall elected officials. Leahy brought this up to Diehl because he said changing that law would require a change in a state statute.
Diehl said he supports the ability of cities like Brentwood to hold officials responsible and would look into the matter.
Leahy also asked about Diehl’s views on proposed changes to in St. Louis County that would allow municipalities with a large amount of retail to keep more of their own sales tax. Creve Coeur City Council members have discussed the issue and are scheduled to do so again Monday.
“I don’t support any of those changes,” Diehl said, though he said it is a valid discussion. “I don’t think it’s going anywhere this year, but it could be part of larger discussion.”
Rock Hill resident and teacher Amy Doyle asked a question about any forthcoming changes to tenure and merit-based pay for public school teachers.
“I would be really surprised if we get any education bills out of the house this year,” Diehl said in response.
Former Town and Country Alderwoman Barbara Ann Hughes brought up the topic of the . Hughes said she is “anti-kill” and believes that sterilization is much more effective.
“I’ll leave that to the City of Town and Country,” Diehl told Patch after the meeting. “They have my applause for addressing the issue, and I respect the decision of the aldermen and the mayor, and they can do without interference from us.”
Diehl brought with him a large map of Missouri that showed the new districts proposed by house Republicans and passed by the house as whole. Diehl chaired a Congressional redistricting committee, tasked with reducing Missouri’s nine congressional districts into eight.
As for redistricting, Diehl's committee proposal, which has now passed the Missouri House, moves the city of Creve Coeur from the First District to a new Second District. “All the districts have to get much, much larger,” Diehl said. “Ten years ago, the average size of the districts was 621,000 people. The districts we are drawing today are 750,000 people...From a state rep stand point, I have about 36,000 (constituents), so I can’t even imagine what 750,000 is like.”
Diehl said that the old First District and the old Third District lost the greatest amount of population statewide. Diehl said that all of St. Louis city will now be in the new First District along with parts of North County and the new Second District will comprise the rest of St. Louis County, as well as chunks of St. Charles and Jefferson County.
Though many in the room spoke passionately, only at one point did any tempers come close to flaring.
Many in the crowd responded with jeers when a man who would only identify himself as John from Des Peres said that he felt all the talk about Prop B was “unimportant and a distraction...a waste of time.”
Even those who criticized Diehl the loudest during the meeting still chatted with the representative amicably afterward, with both parties thanking each other for their time.