October 22, 2021

Plan proposes big changes in Iowa’s congressional districts

DES MOINES (AP) — Iowa’s four congressional districts would include two that lean heavily toward Republicans, one that favors Democrats and one that both parties would have a chance at winning under proposed redistricting maps released Thursday by a nonpartisan agency.

The Legislative Services Agency redrew the state’s political dividing lines to create a southeastern Iowa 1st Congressional District likely to favor Democrats by placing Linn, Johnson and Scott counties in one district. In south-central Iowa, the 3rd District would slightly lean Democratic thanks to the inclusion of Polk County, the state’s large population base.

The new 4th District would grow even larger, increasing from 39 counties to 44 counties, approaching nearly half of Iowa’s 99 counties. It has long been a Republican stronghold and would be even more conservative under the new map.

In northeast Iowa, the proposed 26-county 2nd District would gain Story County, home to Ames, and lean more toward Republicans.

Iowa currently has one Democrat in the U.S. House and three Republicans.

By state law, the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency is responsible for following detailed guidelines to ensure population balance among Iowa’s congressional districts and to prevent political influence in the initial drafting of changes.

The agency’s report said the ideal congressional district population is 797,592 and each of the new districts are close to that, with the 1st District having 63 more people, the 2nd District 36 under, the 3rd eight people under, and the 4th 18 under.

A five-member Iowa Temporary Redistricting Advisory Commission now has 14 days to hold public hearings to gather comment and prepare a report for the Legislature.

The commission has scheduled virtual hearings for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and the Legislature is scheduled to meet in special session beginning Oct. 5.

Republicans hold a majority in the Legislature, so they will have the power to approve or reject the first set of maps.

“Our nonpartisan redistricting process in Iowa is considered one of the fairest in the nation. After months of delays, we now have a proposed set of maps for redistricting in front of the Iowa Legislature. We will do our due diligence and review it thoroughly to ensure it is a fair set of maps for the people of Iowa,” Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley said in a statement.

Senate Democratic Leader Zach Wahls said his caucus is reviewing the plan to ensure it meets all legal and constitutional requirements for redistricting.

“We believe Iowans deserve a fair redistricting process, without interference from politicians, and without partisan amendments. We encourage Iowans to examine Plan 1 and to make their voices heard at three public hearings next week,” he said.

House Democratic Leader Jennifer Konfrst and Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn said they plans to vote yes on the first set of maps.

The maps could have a significant impact on state legislators because the new legislative boundaries place many incumbents in the same district.

It appears 24 Senators and 38 House members would be in a district with another incumbent, for a total of 62 lawmakers who would have to run against each other, move or drop out. In the House, it’s eight Democrats and 30 Republicans, including Grassley, who was placed in the same district as Shannon Latham. In the Senate, seven Democrats and 17 Republicans are paired in districts.

Wahls pointed out that it’s close to the 54 paired incumbents after the 2000 census, when lawmakers declined to pass the first map but accepted the second one submitted by the LSA. In 2011, 41 incumbents were paired together in the same district. Lawmakers that year approved the first map submitted.

Konfrst said she is reminding incumbents to not make any decisions until a map is signed into law.

“No for sale signs in the yard, no declarative statements about what they’re going to do,” she said.

If the first maps are rejected, the LSA has 35 days to draw up a second set. Lawmakers again must vote them up or down. If a second plan is rejected, the agency has 35 days to draw a third set. Only then could lawmakers amend the maps like any other legislation before approving them.

Redistricting is required every 10 years and new lines are to be redrawn based on population changes reflected in the U.S. census.

Redrawing the political lines was complicated this year by a delay in releasing U.S. Census Bureau data blamed on the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, Iowa will miss deadlines mandated by the state constitution. However, Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Susan Christensen has signed an order giving the Legislature extra time.