Are Republicans plotting to politicize Iowa redistricting?

The Republican State Leadership Committee, a group focused on state legislative elections, hopes to win control of the Iowa House and Senate in order to “neutralize” Iowa’s nonpartisan redistricting, according to a July 2010 strategy memo of the RSLC’s “REDMAP” program. The memo (pdf) sets a goal of creating “20-25 new Republican Congressional Districts through the redistricting process.” Iowa is among 12 states targeted in the REDMAP program, because our state will lose one of its five Congressional districts after the 2010 census.

The REDMAP Political Report says in a chart on page 6 that if Republicans win the Iowa House and Senate, the “Congressional impact” would be to “neutralize the redistricting process,” since Iowa’s legislature “can override” the state’s redistricting commission. In our state’s unique redistricting system, the Legislative Services Agency prepares a map using

only population data to propose districts that are as close to equal and as compact as possible.

They are banned from considering data such as voter registration or voter performance, and they don’t have access to the addresses of incumbent legislators and congressmen until after the map is prepared.

The legislature can accept or reject the proposed map, but cannot amend it. If the RSLC is suggesting that Democrats would tamper with redistricting unless Republicans win control of the state legislature, their fear-mongering is misguided. Speaking to Mike Glover of the Associated Press last month, Democratic House Speaker Pat Murphy and Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal confirmed that they will not attempt to change the redistricting system.

Republican Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley and House Minority Leader Kraig Paulsen also praised Iowa’s redistricting process in comments to Glover. But the RSLC memo leaves open the question of whether a Republican-controlled legislature would seek to override the commission. In 2001, the Republican-controlled Iowa legislature rejected the Legislative Services Agency’s first map but accepted the second. Bleeding Heartland user ragbrai08 described the objections raised against the first 2001 redistricting proposal.

Since Iowa Republican leaders are eager to tamper with our state’s highly regarded judicial selection process, it wouldn’t be a stretch for them to mess around with our redistricting too.

The best way to prevent Republican interference with next year’s redistricting is to keep them in the Iowa House and Senate minority. I encourage Bleeding Heartland readers to volunteer for or donate to one or more Democratic candidates in statehouse districts. (It’s easy to contribute through ActBlue.) The following candidates in competitive races could especially use your help:

Democratic incumbents targeted by Republicans: McKinley Bailey (HD 9), John Beard (HD 16), Andrew Wenthe (HD 18), Doris Kelley (HD 20), Gene Ficken (HD 23), Donovan Olson (HD 48), Eric Palmer (HD 75), Nathan Reichert (HD 80), Phyllis Thede (HD 81), Larry Marek (HD 89), Curt Hanson (HD 90), Mike Reasoner (HD 95), Rich Olive (SD 5), Bill Heckroth (SD 9), Staci Appel (SD 37), Becky Schmitz (SD 45).

Democratic candidates defending open seats: David Dawson (HD 1), Chris Hall (HD 2), John Wittneben (HD 7), Susan Bangert (HD 8), Kurt Meyer (HD 14), Anesa Kajtazovic (HD 21), Mary Wolfe (HD 26), Dan Kelley (HD 41), Shari Carnahan (HD 84), Rick Mullin (SD 1), Tod Bowman (SD 13).

Democrats running for Republican-held seats: Selden Spencer (HD 10), Mark Seidl (HD 37), Dan Muhlbauer (HD 51), Andrew McDowell (HD 59), Scott Ourth (HD 74), Kurt Hubler (HD 99).

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Heads up on the next round of Iowa redistricting

Iowa’s “unique” redistricting process is about to begin, and Mike Glover provides an overview for the Associated Press.

That [non-partisan] Legislative Services Agency prepares a map of new congressional and legislative districts, and that initial map must be submitted to the Legislature by April 1. In preparing the map, staffers can use only population data to propose districts that are as close to equal and as compact as possible.

They are banned from considering data such as voter registration or voter performance, and they don’t have access to the addresses of incumbent legislators and congressmen until after the map is prepared. Once the map is drawn, they go back and figure out which lawmakers are in which district.

“Many things make the Iowa process unique, including the prohibition on the use of political data,” [Tim] Storey [of the National Conference of State Legislatures] said. […]

The Legislature can’t amend the first plan, only vote it up or down. If it’s voted down, staffers will prepare a second, also not subject to amendment. If that plan is rejected, staffers start again and prepare a third plan, which can be amended.

Bleeding Heartland will closely follow the upcoming redistricting. The new Congressional district lines will receive the most media attention, because Iowa is almost certain to lose one of its five Congressional districts. The new Iowa House and Senate district lines will alter the careers of many state legislators and could affect which party controls the upper and lower chambers after 2012.

Last year Bleeding Heartland user ragbrai08 wrote a must-read piece on the 2001 redistricting process in Iowa. That post also looked at three of the many possible ways Iowa could be drawn into four Congressional districts. The redrawn third district, containing much of the Des Moines area, is likely to be a battleground seat in 2012.

UPDATE: I forgot to link to this guest post by possumtracker1991, who tried to figure out what Iowa’s four Congressional districts might look like if we had politicized redistricting. As ludicrous as that map is, it’s no sillier than some real maps used in states like Pennsylvania and Florida.  

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