Plan 2 shows Iowa Democrats need more than cities, suburbs

Iowa’s nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency released the second redistricting plan on October 21.

Although Republican leaders have not signaled their intentions publicly, I anticipate they will accept this package. Not only does it give the GOP a shot at sweeping all four U.S. House districts, it appears to solidify the party’s majorities in the state House and Senate for some time. Former lawmakers and longtime Iowa politics watchers have uniformly told me that lawmakers are more concerned with the legislative maps than the Congressional plan.

Bleeding Heartland will cover the new maps in more detail if the legislature approves them during the October 28 special session.

For now, a quick review of the big picture: as expected, the House and Senate maps create some opportunities for Democrats in growing urban and suburban areas. But as Evan Burger predicted early this year, that’s not enough to get the party to legislative majorities without winning back some ground in smaller counties or mid-sized cities where Democrats used to perform well.

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A tale of two 60-40 Iowa House Republican majorities

Republican Jon Dunwell won the October 12 special election in Iowa House district 29 by 2,820 votes to 1,890 for Democrat Steve Mullan (59.9 percent to 40.1 percent), according to unofficial results. The outcome was expected, for reasons Bleeding Heartland discussed here. Nonetheless, Democrats will be demoralized to lose yet another state legislative seat containing a mid-sized city that used to be a Democratic stronghold.

Once Dunwell is sworn in, Republicans will hold 60 of the 100 Iowa House seats, the same number they held in 2011 and 2012. But ten years ago, that lopsided majority could be viewed as a high-water mark following the 2010 GOP landslide. Democrats had a net gain of seven Iowa House seats in 2012 and were only a few hundred votes away from regaining the majority.

The current GOP majority appears to be more durable in light of an Iowa political realignment. To illustrate how different these two majorities are, I’ve broken down each party’s caucus in 2011 and 2021 by the type of House district each member represented: rural/small-town, “micropolitan,” suburban, and urban.

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Iowa House district 29 preview: Jon Dunwell vs. Steve Mullan

Voters in Jasper County will elect a new state representative on October 12 to replace Democrat Wes Breckenridge, who stepped down last month to become assistant director for the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy.

Although this district looks relatively balanced on paper, Republicans go into Tuesday’s election favored to pick up the seat, which would give the party a 60-40 majority in the state House. A Democratic win would keep the balance of power at 59 Republicans and 41 Democrats. That may not sound significant, but GOP leaders were unable to get several controversial bills through the chamber this year, so every additional vote in their caucus could be important during the 2022 session.

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House Ethics panel deadlocks over Heritage Action complaints

Voting along party lines, the Iowa House Ethics Committee failed to take action October 5 on two complaints relating to possible undisclosed lobbying by the national conservative group Heritage Action.

Democratic State Representative Todd Prichard filed the complaints in May after a leaked video showed Heritage Action’s executive director Jessica Anderson boasting that the group had worked “quickly” and “quietly” with Iowa lawmakers to help draft and pass a new election bill. In the complaints, Prichard asserted that Anderson and Hans von Spakovsky, manager of the Heritage Foundation’s Election Reform Initiative, violated the Iowa legislature’s lobbying rules by not registering as lobbyists.

Key Republican lawmakers have denied that Heritage Action influenced the new election law’s provisions.

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How Republicans could tank Iowa maps without full chamber votes

The Iowa House and Senate will convene on October 5 to consider the first redistricting plan submitted by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency (LSA).

When the maps were published on September 16, I agreed with the conventional wisdom that the GOP-controlled legislature would reject the proposal, because it creates a Democratic-leaning Congressional district in eastern Iowa and keeps Dallas County with Polk County in the third district. However, as the special session approaches, Republican sources increasingly expect the Iowa House to approve the plan–if it comes to a floor vote.

That’s why the Iowa Senate seems poised to reject the proposal, possibly without letting it reach the floor in either chamber.

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Redistricting commission opts not to advise lawmakers on Iowa map

Iowa’s Temporary Redistricting Advisory Commission reported to the Iowa legislature on September 27 about public feedback on the first redistricting plan offered by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency.

In contrast to the last four redistricting cycles, the five-member commission did not recommend that state lawmakers accept or reject the proposal when they convene for a special session on October 5.

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