No organized case against Iowa maps at public hearings (updated)

A pathetically small crowd of about a dozen people turned up for the final public hearings on the first redistricting plan for Iowa last night. As was the case at the previous hearings, few people stood up to criticize the plan, and the complaints raised were not cohesive.

The low turnout and lack of consistent talking points suggest that neither political party mobilized supporters to pack these hearings. That in turn suggests neither Democratic nor Republican leaders believe this map clearly puts them at a disadvantage. More details about the hearings and the next steps in the redistricting process are after the jump.  

Bleeding Heartland covered Monday night’s public hearing in Council Bluffs here. Opponents of the new maps mostly objected to Pottawattamie County landing outside Representative Steve King’s district, but that criticism is not germane. Iowa law forbids the Legislative Services Agency from drawing political maps based on where incumbents live.

At the second night’s hearing in Bettendorf, only eight members of the public commented on the map, in a crowd of about two dozen. Two speakers objected to splitting the campus of St. Ambrose College in Davenport into two separate legislative districts, and another speaker felt the new second Congressional district (which would contain Scott County) would stretch too far west.

Wednesday night in Cedar Rapids, about a dozen people spoke at the public hearing.

“We’re trying to brand ourselves as one area – Cedar Rapids and Iowa City,” said Adam Wright of Cedar Rapids. “It would be Loebsack and Braley with two different ideas on how this branding of the two counties will work. With one representative, he’s the glue holding the area together.”

Another attendee said he hoped the corridor would eventually pursue a property tax sharing plan like the one in Minnesota’s Twin Cities area. Splitting the area into separate districts would hinder a plan like that, he said.

“Nobody can be sure whether having a congressional district boundary in the middle of the economic development corridor between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids will hinder future development, but this is one example of my concern,” said Clark Rieke, a real estate agent in Cedar Rapids.

However, at least one person speculated that dividing the corridor might give the area more sway in Washington.

“Split into two districts, you actually get two representatives to be pushing for your development in the legislature,” Janet Durham said from Dubuque. “I don’t think that’s as big of a problem by having it split.”

In 2001, the first redistricting plan likewise drew some criticism for putting Linn County and Johnson County in separate districts. I am sympathetic to the view that it’s better for “communities of interest” to be contained within a single Congressional district, but that argument is not going to outweigh other considerations, such as minimizing population variance between districts.

At the final public hearing in Des Moines Thursday night, few substantive objections to the maps emerged. One former state legislative candidate wondered why some Des Moines districts become smaller in the new configuration, and pointed out that his new district won’t have an incumbent. Former State Senator Maggie Tinsman, who chairs the Temporary Redistricting Advisory Commission, explained,

“The easy answer is Polk County and Des Moines, you have grown.” And the existing senators will remain his until the next election, and at that point voters might choose new ones, but the district still has representation, the committee told Walters.

Another speaker wondered about the confusing numbering of legislative districts:

Ed Cook of the Legislative Services Agency said the numbering system is significant for Senate elections. Senators in even-number districts are up for re-election in 2012, those in an odd-numbered district in 2014. The LSA numbered the new districts to minimize the number of senators who must face re-election next year. They tried to make the the numbers somewhat consecutive, he said.

Another speaker suggested that it would be better not to require that each Iowa Senate district contain two House districts, but he was told that Iowa Code requires that configuration.

By April 11, the commission must submit a report to the legislature based on the public comments. That shouldn’t take long to write. The only objection that would require some research to discuss came from James Davis of Bettendorf. Davis sent members of the Temporary Redistricting Advisory Commission as well as some journalists and bloggers a report nearly 20 pages long. Davis charges that the Legislative Services Agency “exceeded its legal authority by selectively applying redistricting standards to produce the current map.” In particular, he says the LSA wrongly interpreted the “convenience” standard from the Iowa Code and only considered “population equality” and “respect for political subdivisions” when drawing up the Congressional districts. Davis believes the mapmakers wrongly and unfairly made “compactness” and “convenience” subordinate to population equality. His report recommends that the state legislature reject this redistricting plan and “instruct the LSA to analyze each redistricting standard set forth in Iowa law” when drawing up the second set of maps.

I had never heard of James Davis before receiving his report. A James Davis living in the same Bettendorf zip code contributed $500 to Ben Lange’s Congressional campaign against Bruce Braley in 2010 and $500 to Mike Whalen’s Congressional campaign in 2006. Ed Tibbetts reported for the Quad-City Times that Davis is a former Scott County Republican Party chair, and that Lange’s campaign manager Cody Brown helped him draw up the report on the Iowa redistricting. Lange told Tibbetts he wasn’t involved with the report.

Davis said the standards have been applied unevenly in the past. And he was especially critical of how the convenience requirement is interpreted.

Davis said the Legislative Services Agency improperly measured it this year by using the total perimeter of congressional districts.

The agency said Thursday that was not accurate.

There is no definition in state law for what constitutes “convenient contiguous” territory, only that it doesn’t mean areas meeting only at the points of adjoining corners.

At The Iowa Republican blog, Craig Robinson posted LSA Director Glen Dickinson’s more lengthy response to Davis’ report. (Robinson then asserted unconvincingly that Dickinson “may have violated state law” by answering media inquiries seeking comments.)

I can see why a Lange supporter wouldn’t like this map. Bruce Braley nearly lost to Lange last year; under this proposal, Braley’s district loses Scott County while gaining the more Democratic-leaning Linn County, as well as Poweshiek, containing Grinnell and Braley’s home town Brooklyn. However, the Davis report is unlikely to convince lawmakers to reject the plan. Iowa GOP leaders don’t appear to share the Bettendorf Republican’s concerns about the redistricting process. On the contrary, House Majority Leader Kraig Paulsen told IowaPolitics.com on April 7 that he expects legislators to approve the maps: “Haven’t been given a good reason to turn it down yet, or a strong reason. Obviously, we have had contact from Iowans on both sides.” Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley, also a Republican, said, “I’ve not heard any real negative comments […] You have a lot of legislators thrown in together which can be problematic, but to problems there are solutions and I think those are working themselves out.”

Democratic leaders in the Iowa House and Senate have previously indicated that they are inclined to accept this redistricting plan.

Members of the Temporary Redistricting Advisory Commission believe the plan will be approved:

“My sense is it will pass,” said commission member Matt Paul, one of five Iowans who heard generally favorable comments on the new redistricting plan this week at public hearings in Council Bluffs, Bettendorf, Cedar Rapids and Des Moines.

Commission chairwoman Maggie Tinsman, a former GOP legislator from Bettendorf said the relatively low turnouts at this week’s hearings were are indication that “people must be pretty satisfied with the plan. Panel members noted that no organized opposition materialized during their four-day road trip and Tinsman said “I would be surprised if it’s not unanimous” when the commission members prepare their report and recommendation to deliver to the Legislature on Monday.

House Study Bill 235 is the redistricting bill, which may be debated as early as Thursday, April 14.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

Final note: Representative Steve King told IowaPolitics.com on April 7 that he had not talked with Representative Tom Latham yet about their future plans.

“I plan to be on the ballot in 2012,” King said. “I need to have a conversation with Tom Latham.”

King noted that Latham has represented lot of northwest Iowa in his previous district, the old 5th Congressional District, which included 30 counties in northwest Iowa. When asked why he hadn’t yet spoken with Latham, he noted his efforts to stop funding to federal health care reform as a federal government shutdown looms.

“I’m just so busy trying to undo Obamacare,” King said. “I’ve put on the back burner something that has so many implications for the longer-term future because of the urgency of what’s going on here.”

Maybe King put off that conversation because he, like everyone else, realizes that Latham is going to move to the new third district to run against Leonard Boswell.

UPDATE: House Speaker Paulsen and Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal discussed the maps on Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program over the weekend:

Paulsen:  I would not say that it’s a done deal. We’ll make those decisions next week.  Let the commission finish their work, and then we’ll come back and see what they have to say.  I will say this:  as I look at the House map, I see a pathway to Republican control;  I can also see a pathway to Democratic control.  So that tells me maybe there’s a heightened level of fairness.  

Glover:  So you kind of like what you see.  

Paulsen:  We’ll make that decision next week whether we like it or not.  

Gronstal:  I’d actually say the opposite.  We kind of both don’t like what we see but don’t figure there’s a way to get a better map.  If it was actually stacked pretty well for Democrats, I’m pretty sure Speaker Paulsen is going to take it down in the House and vice versa.  So we both look at the map and see no guarantees, but we both see a pathway. And that is —  

Glover:  Well, let me ask you this —  

Gronstal:  — And that is — that is kind of the essence of a fair map.  

Glover:  Let me ask you this.  There was discussion earlier that whichever chamber was probably going to beat this map would take it up first.  Who’s going to take it up first, Senator Gronstal?  

Gronstal:   We haven’t decided that yet.  And like I said, we are going to wait and see what the Temporary Redistricting Advisory Committee recommends, so we’re going to — we’re going to wait till we get that report from them and we’ll make that evaluation.  

Glover:  Senator Paulsen, you haven’t had any discussion with who starts this thing?  

Paulsen:   No.  We’ll figure that out.  I’m not sure — I guess it matters if we’re going to not take it.  I’m not sure it matters if we are.  

Glover:  I was going to say it matters if you’re not going to take it because the chamber that’s going to beat it is going to take it.  What I’m hearing is neither chamber is going to beat it.  

Paulsen:  Well, we’ll make that decision next week.

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