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On 2nd try, lawmakers OK new election boundaries

On 2nd try, lawmakers OK new election boundaries

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On 2nd try, lawmakers OK new election boundaries

Few Republicans oppose plan seen as GOP-friendly for elections

Turns out that the second time was the charm.

After months of political and pandemic-related delays, and the rejection of the first plan for establishing new congressional and legislative election boundaries, the Iowa Legislature approved a redistricting plan Thursday for the next decade.

On a 48-1 vote, the Senate approved Senate File 621 to create new congressional and legislative districts. The House followed suit 93-2, with five legislators absent.

The overwhelming bipartisan support for Plan 2 was well-deserved, said House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, because “the way we do it here is right.”

“I’ve learned that the cliché about Iowa’s redistricting process being the gold standard is well-earned,” Konfrst said. Because the maps are drawn without political consideration, “these aren’t our seats. These seats belong to Iowans who choose who represents them here.”

Senate Republicans earlier this month had rejected the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency’s first attempt. State Government Committee Chairman Roby Smith, R-Davenport, said Plan 2 was an improvement.

“LSA did not address every concern raised,” he said, but “the overall improvements on compactness and population deviation seen in Plan 2 align with the standard set in the state constitution and statute.”

Although the consensus is that the plan is GOP-friendly, Senate Democrats said they backed it because it meets the requirements of Iowa law and state constitution.

“The decision we make today is going to be with us for the next 10 years,” said Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque. “Redistricting has an immense impact on our democracy. It influences who wins elections, who is at the table when laws are considered and what laws actually pass. It sets the stage to ensure that every vote counts equally.”

Sen. Ken Rozenboom, R-Oskaloosa, was the lone senator to oppose the plan. In the House, GOP Reps. Jon Jacobsen of Council Bluffs and Tom Jeneary of Le Mars voted “no.” Plan 2 has “drawn and quartered” Pottawattamie County because under the plan it would be carved into five House districts, Jacobsen said.

How much the plan favors the GOP is yet to be seen, but approval of Plan 2 by Republicans, who have majorities of 60-40 in the House and 32-18 in the Senate, suggests the party sees it as advantageous.

Based on 2020 presidential election results, only 18 of 50 Senate districts and 37 of 100 House districts in Plan 2 were carried by Democratic President Joe Biden. Plan 2, according to some redistricting analysts, should protect the Republican majority for the next 10 years. One speculated it’s possible Republicans could achieve a supermajority, meaning the Legislature could override a governor’s veto.

Konfrst downplayed that, saying, “Predictions are a dangerous game.”

The plan keeps four congressional districts but reconfigures them. Republicans now represents three of the four current districts. Based on 2020 presidential election results, Republican Donald Trump would have carried all four of the newly drawn districts.

Despite that, Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, called Plan 2 “a win for all Iowans who care about our government.”

“As Democrats said throughout this process, Iowans deserve fair maps, without partisan interference, and without political amendments,” he said.

Despite some senators “spreading a false narrative of gerrymandering,” Smith said, Republicans “upheld our role and responsibility … to ensure congressional and legislative districts meet both constitutional and statutory standards.”

Democrats warned the majority party planned to create their own map to gain an electoral advantage by forcing the issue to a third attempt. But it turned out that the nonpartisan approach delivered the advantage.

However, that doesn’t mean the plan is without concerns for the GOP. Plan 2 creates 56 House and Senate districts with two or more incumbents. In the Senate, that includes five Republican-on-Republican matchups; two Democrat-on-Democrat contests; and three Democrat-versus-Republican pairings. In the House, there could be 36 incumbent pairings, all but three involving two or more Republicans.

“That happens all of the time,” Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, said. “Obviously, there are winners and losers, but at the same time, it is so much better than other places where they do use the maps to determine whether they will or won’t be will be elected again.”

Many of those pairings are in rural areas — almost exclusively represented by Republicans. As population has dropped in 68 of Iowa’s 99 counties, according to the 2020 census, rural legislative districts have expanded geographically to maintain equal populations. The ideal Senate district population is 63,807 and the ideal House district population is 31,904.

The changes are warranted by the population changes, Masher said.

“That’s why we do redistricting every 10 years,” she said.

It is not unusual for redistricting to trigger turnover as some incumbents retire and others lose primaries. Sometimes, lawmakers move to be in a district they see as more friendly to their re-election.

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