Civic Skinny

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March 24th, 2011 |

More than you want about redistricting;

And it doesn’t really matter much, anyway


This just in: The McDonald’s on Grand Avenue — the one all but next door to the international headquarters of Cityview -- sold 456 Shamrock Shakes on St. Patrick’s Day. Neighboring fast-food places were probably green with envy. ...

All state government in Iowa will come to a screeching halt on Thursday morning of next week. That’s when the nonpartisan Legislative Service Agency releases its first try at a map that redraws the state’s legislative districts, a map that could mean political life — or political death — for a legislator. The map cannot be amended by the Legislature, and no matter how fair and how close to perfect it is, it will be rejected. The LSA then will have 35 days to draw a second map, which will be just as fair and just as close to perfect and just as nonpartisan. In all likelihood, that map will be accepted by the Legislature; if it isn’t, the LSA is allowed one more shot at it — and if that fails, the Iowa Supreme Court then will draw a map that must become law. Legislators generally don’t want to take that risk, which is why they’ll avoid a third map that could conceivably be defeated, a key legislator told Skinny.

So if a legislator ends up being screwed by the first map — all of a sudden, his home town is no longer in his district or all of a sudden she and a fellow legislator live in the same district — that legislator will despair, but not panic. But if a legislator is screwed in the second map, panic will set in. A handful of legislators may end up moving, another handful retiring, another handful facing unexpected primary elections against fellow incumbents.

In the end, though, neither party will benefit much in the redrawing of the state districts. That’s the consensus of a big-time Democrat and a big-time Republican — both of whom are as close to the process as they can get — that Skinny talked to last week. Both think that the population shift from rural Iowa to the cities simply means that the seats the Republicans lose in the country will be offset by Republican victories in new seats created in the suburbs. “It will be a wash,” one of them said.

Iowa’s plan, first used 30 years ago following messy court challenges in the 1970s, is unique among the states and is widely praised for its nonpartisanship. In drawing its plan, the LSA is not allowed to consider past election results, the addresses of incumbents or party registration figures. It also can’t look at ethnic makeup. The LSA tries to draw districts as compact and close in population as possible, though the law allows a deviation of up to 5 percent from the norm. In 2000, the final plan had a deviation of just 1.89 percent for Iowa House seats and 1.46 percent for Iowa Senate seats. Ideally, each new House district will have 30,463 people in it, each Senate district 60,926. And boundaries must be similar; that is, every Senate district must contain two House districts. At least three public hearings must be held before the Legislature can vote on the first plan; four have been scheduled. The one in Des Moines will be on April 7. Oddly, no public hearings are required for a second or a third plan.

The hearings must be conducted by a five-person Temporary Redistricting Advisory Commission. The Democratic and Republican leaders of each House pick a member; the fifth is chosen by the other four and serves as chair. Former legislator Maggie Tinsman of Davenport is the chair. The four who chose her are Matt Paul and Eric Turner of Des Moines, Lance Ehmcke of Sioux City and Rose Brown of Council Bluffs.

The Legislature must pass the redistricting plan by Sept. 1, and the Governor must sign it by Sept. 15. If that doesn’t happen, the Court must provide one by Dec. 31. Ten years ago, the Legislature passed the second plan on June 19, and Tom Vilsack signed it into law on June 22, 2001. The House vote was 78 to 18; the Senate vote was 37-13. In 1981, the Legislature rejected the first two maps but accepted the third; in 1991, the Legislature passed the first version. ...

The map released next week will also redraw the state’s congressional districts, which will have far more impact that the state-legislature maps. Iowa will lose a Congress member — we’ll have four instead of five — and as Skinny has written several times in recent weeks, this could have a huge impact on Reps. Leonard Boswell, Tom Latham, Dave Loebsack and Bruce Braley as well as probable challenger Christie Vilsack. The person least likely to be affected — unless his district reaches into the Des Moines suburbs and unless Vilsack decides to take him on — is Rep. Steve King of western Iowa. He’s kind of nuts, but he’s well-liked in his district.

Besides, being nuts doesn’t disqualify a person from serving in Congress. ...

Skinny joins those in mourning the death last week of Margaret Swanson, a good citizen and a lovely woman.CV