Civic Skinny

April 7, 2011 |

Redistricting, Greg Geoffroy, Tom Beaumont and more!


The Legislative Services Agency has drawn redistricting maps that are so close to perfect that no one is complaining — very loudly. But that doesn’t mean the maps for the new Congressional and state legislative districts will be accepted by the Legislature.

“ No way,” says one guy. “Yes, this one will pass,” says another guy. Both have spent hours going over every nuance. But one man’s nuance is another’s deal-killer.

Two things are clear: One, the LSA did a great job. Two, the maps tend to favor the Iowa Democrats in Congress, though it’s unclear which party wins in the remapping of the Iowa Legislature.

First, the congressional map. The Census dictates that Iowa lose one of its five Congressional seats, and since all five incumbents want to stay in office, someone will get screwed. At the moment, that someone looks to be Tom Latham but it could end up being the man no one thought could ever lose — Steve King. The new map, which divides Iowa into quarters roughly along the lines of Interstates 35 and 80, strives for districts with an ideal population of 761,589. The actual populations vary by just 76; that is, the 1st district, in northeast Iowa, has 41 people fewer than the ideal; the second, in southeast Iowa, has 35 people more than the ideal.

The maps all but assure that Democrat Bruce Braley can be re-elected in 2012 from northeast Iowa. He picks up Linn County and keeps all his strong Democratic counties; in 2004, John Kerry carried this new district with 53 percent. In, 2006, Chet Culver won by 58 percent. In 2008, Barack Obama won with 59 percent. And last year, Culver, who got swamped by Terry Branstad state-wide, took 49 percent of these counties. Braley is safe.

Dave Loebsack will have to move from Linn County if he wants to continue to represent southeast Iowa, which he does want to do. But even giving up his home county, he could be an easy winner in 2012. The past numbers: Kerry, 53 percent; Culver in 2006, 59 percent; Obama, 58 percent, Culver in 2010, 48 percent. The complicating factor for Loebsack: Christie Vilsack. She has made it clear she wants to run for Congress, and she could argue — plausibly or not — that the new southeast Iowa district has no incumbent. It’s her home territory — she’s from Mount Pleasant, though she now lives in Des Moines and Washington — and she’d give Loebsack a run for his money in a primary. But, still, it would be taking on an incumbent, in fact if not in geography, and that would irritate a lot of party members and party bigwigs.

Leonard Boswell ends up with a redrawn district all to himself. Most people thought that the new district would include Ames, where Latham lives, and that the two would face off in 2012. But Story County was thrown into Steve King’s western Iowa district, leaving Latham homeless. Earlier, he had moved to Ames, and if he moves again the Democrats could make much of that, even though Boswell himself moved a decade ago to keep his seat. But two moves is twice the fodder of one. Still, the district isn’t as safe for Democrats as some assume. It runs from Des Moines to Council Bluffs and encompasses 16 counties, most of which Boswell has represented at one time or another, but Kerry — probably the best gauge from the past — won only 47 percent there. It’s not a lock for the aging Boswell, who says he is running again. (“There is a “Draft Kent Sorenson for Congress” Facebook page started,” e-mails a local political junkie. “The opposition research and campaign by Boswell would make the Boswell/Zaun race look like they were pillow fighting.”)

Steve King lost his southwest Iowa counties and picked up a bunch of Latham’s district in the north central part of the state; the new district has 39 counties and a perimeter of 818 miles. Even with the addition of Story and some marginally Democratic counties, the district remains heavily Republican. Even Obama lost it, with 49 percent of the vote in 2008. A Latham-King primary would be costly and destructive — and it’s unclear who would win — but it’s what Christie Vilsack should hope for. She could move to Ames and run, but it still would be an uphill fight against either Republican.

The Legislature can vote yea or nay on the map, and legislators — being who they are — will vote on the basis of their own interests, not those of their Congress people. The maps probably are as good as the Democrats can hope for, so if the plan is defeated it probably will be done in by the Republican-controlled House. And at the moment there’s no one there screaming and yelling about it.

In the Des Moines area, state Sen. Pat Ward of West Des Moines loses out, being tossed into a combined district that incumbent Democrat Matt McCoy will easily win. But if Ward moves into a new district that rolls into Dallas County, she’s a sure winner. And the map carves out a new Senate district that House Democrat Janet Peterson could win pretty easily, if she wanted it. Republican Pete Cownie, who keeps his safe House seat, is hemmed in a bit because the newly redrawn senate district where he lives would be hard for him to win. It’s notable that while statewide there are 13 new districts that would pit incumbents against one another — nine where Republicans would face one another, three with Democrat against Democrat and one where an incumbent Democrat would face an incumbent Republican — no Polk County House members would face one another. In that sense, all members of the entire Polk County House delegation are winners. And if this map is accepted, next session 15 House members and nine senators would have Polk County constituents.

One guy who will face serious trouble if this map is accepted: Senate president Jack Kibbie. His northern Iowa district becomes part of a huge district that also houses Republican incumbent David Johnson. It’s heavily Republican, and Johnson has no intention of stepping down. It could force the retirement of Kibbie. ...

Greg Geoffroy’s decision to step down as president of Iowa State University to enjoy life and his grandchildren is a blow to higher education in Iowa. Now 64, he took over 10 years ago from the controversial and dictatorial Martin Jischke — a superb fund-raiser who ran the place as if it were Singapore (watch what you say) or Disneyland (don’t walk on the grass). Geoffroy quietly made it a model of excellence and efficiency.

With faculty support and little note, he radically changed the budgeting system to reflect campus realities (allocating money based on today’s facts rather than yesterday’s), a massive move into the 21st century that made the university better prepared to deal with the huge funding cuts from recent legislatures. With little complaint, he skillfully eliminated the college of education, merging it into the blandly named College of Human Sciences. With vision and an innovative competition for big ideas from the faculty, he threw the university’s support behind a plan to make the university a leader in research into biorenewable and alternative energy technologies, which it has become. With political skill, he streamlined the Extension Service.

He worked hard to make the campus more diverse, and he can take pride in the fact that enrollment last fall was a record 28,682. He turned out to be every bit as good at raising money as Jischke was, pulling in a record $388 million last year, and — not insignificantly in these times — he built an athletic department that has a corner on integrity and still wins games. No university in the country can boast of more upstanding coaches than Bill Fennelly, Paul Rhoads and Fred Hoiberg. Indeed, in the Geoffroy years there has been no scandal at Iowa State — no athletic scandal, no sex scandal, no academic scandal — in sharp contrast to the situation at the University of Iowa.

He also groomed at least three people who could succeed him, though the Board of Regents probably will go through the lengthy, costly and often unsatisfying experience of naming a search committee and hiring a search firm. It’s unlikely, in these times of legislative and gubernatorial back-of-the-hand treatment of the universities, that Iowa State will attract a sitting president from another major research university. So it’s particularly intriguing to look at three insiders. UNI president Ben Allen, who was business dean and then provost during a 25-year career at Iowa State before taking over at UNI in 2006, is a first-rate administrator.

Betsy Hoffman, the ISU provost, was president of the University of Colorado for five years until she was beheaded in an athletic scandal that was not of her making; Geoffroy went out on a limb to hire her back — she had been the liberal-arts dean at ISU from 1993 to 1997 — and she has excelled.
Wendy Wintersteen, the dean of the school of agriculture, is an up-and-comer who will be president of a university some day. Iowa State has never had a female president. Wintersteen is 55; Allen and Hoffman both are 64 but could easily serve five or more years as ISU head. ...

Tom Beaumont, The Des Moines Register’s chief political reporter, has joined the Associated Press with the newly coined title of “Des Moines correspondent.” He’ll be covering the caucuses for the next year or so and then will probably spread out into broader Upper Midwest — and maybe beyond — political assignments. The job will provide some relief — whether he wants it or not — for longtime AP war horse Mike Glover. Beaumont has been at the Register for 12 years (including nine as the top guy in politics) and says that when the AP called him he realized “I couldn’t have created an opportunity” as good. He gets to branch out without having to move his family; the Beaumonts have a 9-year-old son and twin boys about to turn five. He said he was not dissatisfied with the Register, where his last day was Friday....Beaumont is the second Register reporter to leave for the AP this year. Earlier, Grant Schulte, a rising young reporter, joined the AP in Lincoln, Neb.

Beaumont may not be dissatisfied, but others in the newsroom are grumbling about a report that partly because he was so good at laying off people and making them take unpaid furloughs, Gannett CEO Craig Dubow last year had his compensation doubled, to $9.4 million. It seems immoral, or unethical, or something, a newsroom guy said in a call to Skinny. ...

Roger Wendt, the former Sioux City legislator who died last week, was a good guy. CV