The first public hearing on Iowa's proposed map of political boundaries took place last night in Council Bluffs. Judging from news accounts, the speakers didn't raise arguments compelling enough to stall the momentum behind the redistricting plan on the table.
Between 40 and 50 people turned up in Council Bluffs, but fewer than a dozen of them spoke to members of the Temporary Redistricting Advisory Commission. Pottawattamie County Republican Chair Jeff Jorgenson was among several Republicans who suggested the redistricting proposal put his county in too balanced a district:
"The maps as redrawn now don't serve Pottawattamie County at all," said Jeff Jorgensen, chairman of the Pottawattamie County Republican Party. "I think we have a very strong voice here in western Iowa. It's a conservative voice. It's a Republican voice."
Moreover, Jorgensen said, he believes Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, favors the plan.
"That's all I need to know," Jorgensen said. "I cannot support this."
Jorgenson also said he does not want Pottawattamie County to be "the forgotten step-child again," as he suggested had happened during the 1990s, when Iowa's fourth Congressional district stretched from Polk County west to Council Bluffs. Another Republican speaker vowed never to take his Steve King bumper sticker off his car, while a third told commission members
"I'm concerned that Pottawattamie County will be losing Steve King," [Michael] Patomson said. "More importantly, I'm concerned that Steve King will be losing Pottawattamie County."
I'd be upset too if I landed outside a beloved representative's district, but keeping districts as similar as possible to current shape isn't among the criteria the Legislative Services Agency are supposed to use in drawing maps.
Very few Iowans showed up at three satellite locations where the public hearing was simulcast. In Mason City, Democratic State Senator Amanda Ragan's husband was one of only two attendees. Mike Stiles of Sioux City was the only person to comment from outside Council Bluffs, saying
he was concerned that the four newly drawn congressional districts had a common point in central Iowa with Des Moines, Ames, Newton, Grinnell, Marshalltown, Pella and other metro areas with a 45-mile radius that potentially could spawn congressional representation in all four districts representing "a central Iowa coalition with a central Iowa agenda."
Public feedback on the first redistricting plan offered in 2001 was almost the mirror image of last night's comments. Ten years ago, many Republicans objected that the proposed fifth district was too large and that the map lacked enough urban-rural balance within Congressional districts. I would have expected similar criticism if the Legislative Services Agency had produced a map this year with a huge, heavily Republican western Iowa district and a smaller Democratic-leaning Des Moines metro area district.
Whereas Stiles worries about central Iowa concerns potentially dominating all four Congressional districts, some public comments in 2001 suggested that splitting up "communities of interest" would dilute their representation in Congress.
The Temporary Redistricting Advisory Commission holds hearings in Bettendorf tonight, Cedar Rapids tomorrow and Des Moines on Thursday. Commissioners will submit a report to state legislators by mid-April summarizing the public input.