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,

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Did Iowa House Republicans commit to nonpartisan map in 2021?

As bad-faith political arguments go, it would be hard to top a headline from a recent Iowa House Republican newsletter, amplified on Twitter: “Congressional Democrats Plan to Overturn Nonpartisan Redistricting in Iowa.”

U.S. House Resolution 1 was designed to ban gerrymandering nationwide “by requiring independent commissions instead of state legislatures to draw congressional maps.” But in the Iowa GOP’s fun-house-mirror view, the federal bill would “inject politics into an already nonpartisan redistricting process.”

The good news is, this stunt puts House Republicans on record opposing any change to the system in use since the 1980s. “There’s no reason to change a process in Iowa that is respected throughout the country and is working well,” the newsletter argues.

The next step is getting top lawmakers and Governor Kim Reynolds to promise not to exploit a little-known provision in state law to enact a gerrymander in 2021.

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Iowa House Majority leader commits to preserving non-partisan redistricting

Iowa House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow is committed to preserving Iowa’s “great system” of having a non-partisan commission draw new political maps following each ten-year census, he told Bleeding Heartland on February 25. Iowa’s redistricting process has been a model for the country since the 1970s. I’ve been concerned that during the next few years, Republicans might use their political power to enact a new redistricting law. Following the 2010 census, gerrymandering gave the GOP airtight state legislative majorities in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, and several other states.

Since the majority leader controls which legislation reaches the Iowa House floor, I asked Hagenow after a February 25 public forum in Clive whether he would ever consider supporting a bill to change Iowa’s redistricting process. “No, we’re not doing that,” he said emphatically. Would he consider such legislation in 2019 and 2020, if Republicans still control both chambers? “No, I don’t want that. We have a great system.”

I noted that everywhere Republicans have had the trifecta during the last decade, they have gerrymandered. Hagenow responded, “We have not had that conversation. I think we’ve got a great system. I think that we should continue with that system.”

Even if Republicans retain the governorship and Iowa House and Senate majorities in 2018? “Yes. We’ve got a great system.”

A few minutes later, I put the same question to Republican Senator Charles Schneider, who serves as Iowa Senate majority whip. “I will never support that,” he said without hesitation. You will never support gerrymandering? “Nope, never.” Even if Republicans control the legislative and executive branches after 2018? “Never. What we have right now is fair.”

I will follow up with House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds, to see if they also will unequivocally promise to protect non-partisan redistricting in Iowa. The more Republican elected officials we can get on the record now, the better. In November, staff for Governor Terry Branstad did not respond to my e-mails seeking comment on whether the governor would rule out signing a bill that replaced the current system with rules allowing the political party in control of the legislature to draw new legislative and Congressional districts.

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