Iowa Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver and House Speaker Pat Grassley declined on January 7 to rule out any partisan amendment to Iowa's next map of political boundaries.
During a forum organized by the Iowa Capitol Press Association, both GOP leaders promised to follow the law that has governed Iowa's redistricting process since 1980. Under that law, the state House and Senate cannot amend the first map of Congressional and legislative boundaries produced by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, or the second map if the first is rejected.
However, the third map is subject to amendment, sparking fears among many Democrats that Republicans could vote down the first two proposals, then change the nonpartisan third map to a gerrymander. Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls highlighted that "loophole" during the forum and asked the GOP leaders to commit to not amending a third map.
Whitver said Iowa's redistricting law has "worked correctly" and is "highly respected," adding,
We'll continue to use the process that is on the books, and whether that means taking the first map, or taking the second map, or going to the third map--we don't know that, we haven't seen the map. We don't even have the census data yet.
So what we say, what I say is we're going to follow the law, and we're going to make the maps accordingly, and pass the maps accordingly, to the law that's been on the books for 50 years [sic].
Grassley chimed in to object to the idea of asking legislative leaders "to accept a map that they haven't even seen," when the census data isn't here. He asserted that it was "a ludicrous question."
And in fact, I would say it's--for Jack and I to sit here and make any kind of commitment like that, I don't think we'd be doing our job. And so, no, I'm absolutely not going to make that commitment. I'm not sure how many other speakers have been asked that question, but I'm guessing it's probably zero.
And so at this point, we'll follow the process that's in place. That's what's been asked of us by the other side, to not make any changes to the law that other states wish that they had. And so no, I'm not going to make that commitment, and we're going to follow the process that's in place.
Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen probably wasn't asked about gerrymandering in 2011, because Democrats controlled the state Senate at that time. For that reason, the upper chamber could have blocked any attempted partisan amendment to a new map.
Wahls pointed out that Democrats aren't worried about the majority changing the law. The concern is that this is the first time since 1981 that Iowa has had one party in full control of state government during the redistricting process.
Frankly, we would love to stop having this conversation if people would unequivocally rule out amendments on the third map. We just want to make sure that voters know that that's a possibility, and we obviously would hope that our Republican colleagues don't amend the map if we get to a third map.
Neither Grassley nor Whitver commented further before the moderator moved on to other topics.
Earlier on January 7, Governor Kim Reynolds appeared at the press association's online forum and was asked whether she would support any changes to redistricting, or would encourage lawmakers to accept one of the Legislative Services Agency's nonpartisan maps. She replied that Iowa's process "works really well" and is "a model for the nation."
And I have full confidence that we will approve a fair and balanced map. Iowans deserve that. We've been able, I think, for the most part to get that done in either step one or step two [....]
So I think we have a really good process in place, it's worked for a long time, I think it's fair and balanced, and I believe that's the intent of the legislature to maintain that.
Since Iowa adopted its current redistricting process, lawmakers have approved the third map without amendment in 1981, the first map in 1991, the second map in 2001, and the first map in 2011.
The Legislative Services Agency normally produces the first set of maps by April 1 of the year ending in one, though that deadline could be pushed back this year if the U.S. Census Bureau provides demographic files to states later than usual.
James Q. Lynch reported on January 4,
Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, dismissed as “conspiracy theories ... simply far-left fantasies” any concerns that the GOP would change Iowa’s method to try to gain an advantage for the next 10 years. He chairs the State Government Committee where the redistricting bill will start in the House.
We all understand Republicans don't plan to change the method of redistricting. I am seeking clarification from Kaufmann on whether he will rule out any partisan amendment to a third proposed map.
Thank you for pursuing this issue...
...and if you can ever succeed in getting an actual answer, you should get a special Iowa journalism prize.