Iowa debuts second redistricting proposal

By: - October 21, 2021 1:46 pm

State Sen. Nate Boulton, right, and legislative staff look over the second redistricting proposal. (Photo by Katie Akin/ Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa’s second round of redistricting maps came out on Thursday, giving lawmakers one week to review the proposal before convening for a special session.

This is the second proposal from the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency. Republican lawmakers in early October voted against the LSA’s first proposal, arguing that the districts could be more compact and have more evenly balanced populations.

If legislators vote against this set of maps, the LSA will create a third and final proposal. Only after rejecting that third proposal would legislators be allowed to directly edit the maps, a process that Democrats warn could lead to gerrymandering.

But several steps and several weeks remain before that could happen. Here’s where the process stands now.

What do the new maps look like?

The LSA draws three maps for each proposal: a congressional map, and maps for the state House and Senate.

Detailed versions of the latest maps are available online, as well as an interactive map to find your proposed legislative district.


Will lawmakers vote in favor of this proposal?

Republicans were reticent about the maps Thursday morning, releasing brief statements thanking the LSA for the second proposal and promising to review it carefully. 

“I appreciate the work LSA has done to quickly attempt to address the concerns the Senate expressed with Plan One,” Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said in a statement. “Plan Two is a regular part of the process outlined in Iowa law. I look forward to reviewing the map and its adherence to the criteria established in Iowa law.

Meanwhile, Iowa Democrats were vocal about their support for the maps, as they were for the initial proposal. Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls told reporters that Democrats would vote in favor of the proposal, and he called on Republicans to do the same.

“Just like the first map, this second map is fair and meets the legal and constitutional requirements,” Wahls said. “It addresses all of the purported concerns of the Republicans from the first map.”

Shortly after receiving the maps, Sen. Tony Bisignano said that the Senate districts looked “very similar” to the first proposal. 

“I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t (vote in favor),” said Bisignano, D-Des Moines. “Once I step away from voting for map one (and) map two that were nonpartisan, then we start getting into the mess. I don’t want to get into that mess.”

Democratic leaders emphasized Thursday afternoon that lawmakers are expected to consider the maps without partisan or personal considerations. 

“There are a lot of political implications and fallout from the maps for both sides at the congressional and state legislative level, but because this map is fairly drawn and was drawn using a fair process, that’s really our only consideration when going into voting for this map,” said House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights.

But Bisignano said he had “been around here way too long” to believe that legislators weren’t thinking about their political careers when discussing the proposals.

“Survival is the first order of business in politics,” he said. “If you’re not here, you have no effect. The first thing you look at when they hand you this packet is yourself.”

A major personal concern for lawmakers is new districts that put them in opposition with other sitting representatives. If lawmakers live in the same district as one another, they either have to move, retire or compete for the new seat.

Legislative staff determined that 38 House incumbents would be districted together under the second proposal, including two districts where three representatives would be in opposition.

In the Senate, there would be 20 incumbents districted together.

What would these maps mean for Iowa’s congressional delegation?

One of the most significant changes between the first and second proposals is the makeup of Iowa’s congressional map.

“It appears to be a more dramatic reshuffling of those congressional districts than for most of the legislative districts,” observed Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines.

Iowa currently has three Republicans and one Democrat in the U.S. House. The first, rejected proposal would have created a new district that included both Linn and Johnson counties — population centers and, traditionally, Democratic strongholds in the state. The second proposal puts Linn and Johnson in two different districts, removing the potential for a safer blue seat. 

Even so, that doesn’t mean this proposal would be smooth sailing for Iowa’s Republicans in D.C. The map puts Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks in the 3rd District, where Rep. Cindy Axne currently serves. If these maps are approved, Miller-Meeks would either need to challenge Axne or move into the newly drawn 1st District. 

Will anything else come up in next week’s special session?

In the first special session on redistricting, lawmakers stayed focused on voting down the new maps. But there remains a possibility that the Republican majority could bring up additional issues when legislators reconvene on the Capitol next Thursday.

Last week, Gov. Kim Reynolds did a radio interview about potential legislation to combat federal vaccine mandates. Host Simon Conway asked her whether lawmakers could do something during the special session, to which Reynolds replied she was having “great conversations” and discussing various options with lawmakers. She did not say whether those conversations would materialize before the regular session begins next year. 

When asked whether the vaccine mandate issue would come up next week, a spokesperson sent along a statement from House Speaker Pat Grassley that said the federal mandate was “an alarming level of federal government overreach.” Grassley also did not say whether Republicans would introduce legislation on the issue during the special session.

“The Iowa House is working hard to address this issue. But we want to do it right, and ensure our solution will protect Iowans’ personal freedoms without unintended consequences,” Grassley, R-New Hartford, said in the statement. “When we have a solution, we will move forward.”

Whitver’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday, but Whitver told reporters after the first special session that it could be tricky to legislate against federal mandates.

“To solve that is a really difficult thing to do from the state capital. I mean, these are really federal issues that override state law,” he said. “While there’s concerns, there’s a process that’s probably going to happen in the courts to try to solve the vaccine mandates coming out of the Biden administration.”

Konfrst, a Democrat, said she was hearing “plenty of rumors,” but that she knew nothing official about other policies coming up during the special session. She urged Republican leadership to consider just redistricting. 

“There’s plenty of time to talk about lots of issues that the legislature should or should not consider in January,” she said. “This is designed to address redistricting.”

If Iowa did consider legislation against the vaccine mandates, it would not be the only state to do so: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Thursday that he would convene a special session on the issue.

Do you have questions about the redistricting process? Email reporter Katie Akin at [email protected].

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.