U.S. House votes to preserve Iowa redistricting system

The U.S. House of Representatives amended a broad election reform bill today to exempt the state of Iowa from new rules on redistricting. Democratic Representative Abby Finkenauer (IA-01) offered the amendment, which House members adopted by voice vote. Her office said in a statement enclosed below that Finkenauer "worked tirelessly over several days to ensure the matter was addressed."

Bleeding Heartland reported on March 4 that Iowa House Republicans were depicting H.R. 1 as an attempt by Congressional Democrats to "overturn nonpartisan redistricting in Iowa." Finkenauer's amendment stipulates that the bill's section on independent redistricting commissions, which is designed to prevent gerrymandering elsewhere,

does not apply to the State of Iowa, so long as congressional redistricting in such State is carried out in accordance with a plan developed by the Iowa Legislative Services Agency with the assistance of a Temporary Redistricting Advisory Commission, under law which was in effect for the most recent congressional redistricting carried out in the State prior to the date of the enactment of this Act and which remains in effect continuously on and after the date of the enactment of this Act.

In other words, if GOP lawmakers did change the redistricting process Iowa has used since 1981, the new federal rules would apply to our state.

Unfortunately, U.S. Senate Republicans and President Donald Trump will prevent H.R. 1 from taking effect before 2021. So other states are at risk of being gerrymandered following the 2020 census. But this episode inspired Iowa Republicans to loudly praise nonpartisan redistricting and denounce any change to the system. That's no small thing, given their willingness to throw out other decades-old, successful processes, like the collective bargaining law (shredded in 2017) and merit-based judicial selection (on the chopping block this year).

The next task is to get Republican legislative leaders and Governor Kim Reynolds on record promising not to amend any map the Legislative Services Agency produces in 2021. As Bleeding Heartland discussed here, a little-known loophole allows state lawmakers to amend the third proposed map after rejecting the first two options.

March 7 news release from Representative Abby Finkenauer:

Axne, Loebsack join in protecting Iowa’s system

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Iowa’s Democratic Congressional delegation, spearheaded by U.S. Representative Abby Finkenauer (IA-01), successfully amended the For The People Act (H.R. 1) to include a provision to preserve Iowa’s current system of nonpartisan redistricting. The For The People Act, which is expected to pass the House tomorrow, included language requiring states to establish independent commissions to draw Congressional districts to prevent gerrymandering. The U.S. House of Representatives today unanimously voted to approve the amendment to exempt Iowa from this requirement and allow the state to continue to use its current system. If Iowa were to change its nonpartisan system, it would be subject to H.R. 1’s redistricting reforms.

“I will always step up for Iowa and our traditions,” said Rep. Finkenauer, who wrote the amendment. “Republicans and Democrats have disagreed on a lot, but we have always come together on our system for drawing fair districts. In Iowa, we make sure our leaders are accountable to the people who elected them – and that’s something always worth fighting for.”

Finkenauer worked tirelessly over several days to ensure the matter was addressed. The delegation succeeded in getting the amendment included in a larger amendment which was agreed to by voice vote on Thursday.

“Iowa proudly serves as a model for other states in preventing gerrymandering through our non-partisan agency to draw districts. Having spent a decade streamlining burdensome regulations at the State of Iowa, I promised Iowans I wouldn’t support duplicative or onerous policies,” said Rep. Axne. “It is unnecessary to force the state to create a commission when we already have a fair, nonpartisan approach to redistricting in Iowa. I’m proud to have worked with Reps. Finkenauer and Loebsack to ensure Iowa can continue to use our state system that has worked for decades.”

For many years, Iowa’s redistricting process has been held up as a model for the nation. Taking it out of the hands of partisan politicians and drawing the lines based on population and other, non-partisan criteria has worked well for our state and this amendment will allow Iowa’s model to continue. The old saying, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, seems very appropriate to this amendment. Why mess with a system that works for Iowans and takes politics out of the equation,” said Rep. Loebsack.

Iowa’s unique system is consistently used by fair redistricting and good government groups as a model of what the process should look like. Since 1980, the redistricting plan is drafted by the Legislative Services Agency (LSA), a nonpartisan research agency, following specific constitutional and statutory guidelines. LSA turns to an independent, bipartisan commission when statute does not provide a definitive answer and the commission also arranges hearings for public input across the state. The final plan is then voted on by the state legislature, part of the process that H.R. 1 would have changed absent the amendment.

The amendment was endorsed by Common Cause, a leading, nationally respected watchdog for fair districts.

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