Coming in September: Iowa Redistricting

Lake Macbride State Park, Summer 2019

Like most Iowa political activists, I’ve been looking forward to new political districts to be created during the decennial, non-partisan redistricting process. Republican legislators repeatedly asserted they wouldn’t change the law and didn’t.

While door-knocking in Wilton during the first election in our current districts, a voter asked where I was from. When I answered, they said, “that’s too far away. I don’t want to be part of that district.” I suspect there was a lot of that going around.

Because the Trump administration botched the U.S. Census (intentionally, most agree), we’ve been waiting for final numbers so a special session of the Iowa legislature can be called and the matter put to rest before the September deadline. On Wednesday, Katie Akin with Iowa Capital Dispatch reported the new census numbers should be released Aug. 16. She laid out the redistricting process in her article, which can be read here.

Most voters don’t care as much as I do about new districts, and the shortage of congressional and state house candidate activity this summer is evidence careers are on hold until redistricting is finished by Sept. 15 when the governor is required to sign the law.

One assumes Iowa Republicans are no different from in other states and want to redistrict in a way that increases their hold on government, or at least solidifies present advantages. How far will they go?

The measure of monkey-business is whether the map prepared by the Legislative Services Agency will be accepted by Republicans on the first or second vote. If it isn’t, that’s a sign trouble is afoot. Laura Belin at Bleeding Heartland has been following and writing about the process and I defer to her granular detail, which can be read here.

In 2011, only two legislators voted against the first map and it was adopted without fanfare. The best Democrats could hope for in 2021 is something similar.

Politico makes the case Republicans are weighing “cracking ” cities to maximize the number of members of congress in each state. As Mount Vernon attorney Nate Willems posted on Twitter, “Fortunately it would be unconstitutional to try to divide Polk County into two congressional districts.” If Polk County could be divided, that would put current congresswoman Cindy Axne at a disadvantage during her re-election campaign. While Iowa Republicans have previously violated the constitution in passing laws, to do so by dividing Des Moines into two separate congressional districts seems unlikely.

“It’s been my experience in studying history that when you get real cute (with redistricting), you end up in a lawsuit — and you lose it. And then the courts redraw the lines,” said Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.). “So my advice would be to keep Louisville blue.”

So it is for the Democratic island of Johnson County, Iowa, which is expected to gain one more state house district completely within its borders. The key element of gerrymandering is to concentrate the opposition party in fewer districts. If there is a way to do that, trust that Iowa Republicans will. I expect they will leave Johnson County alone.

For their part, Iowa Republicans have been tight-lipped about redistricting. As the last legislative session demonstrated, they can keep a secret and surprise us with things normal people wouldn’t expect. Let’s do our part to make sure the redistricting process is truly non-partisan by staying in touch with our legislators and holding them to account. I know I will.

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