Sunday, December 21, 2008

Repositioning for Iowa Redistricting

Repositioning for Redistricting: Beat Latham in `10, Retire Boswell in `12

It's an unspoken truth of Iowa politics that we're losing a seat in Congress in the 2010 census. (As a blogger, it's my job to say rude, uncomfortable, yet true things). That sets up the ultimate in hardball politics, since five members don't go into four districts.

As a partisan, I want to come out of the carnage with a 3-1 Democratic split. We can do it, but it's a two-cycle process:

1) Take out Tom Latham in 2010.

2) Get Leonard Boswell to retire in 2012.

Follow my logic.

Iowa redistricting is more unpredictable than anywhere else in the country. A little refresher course: The Legislative Service Bureau draws a map, based solely on census population. The Legislature gets an up or down vote and can't amend anything until three maps have been submitted. In 1991, they took the first map; in 2001 they rejected one and went with the second.

Still, simple population math indicates there will be two eastern Iowa districts, a Polk County dominated seat, and a Republican western district.

Would I like to see Steve King gone? Sure. But there's X number of Republicans in the state, they're geographically concentrated in the west, and it'll take a primary to get rid of King. And I'm a firm believer that it's up to a party to choose its own candidates. Republican primaries are not Democrats' business and vice versa.

Besides, all the base are belong to him. And King is crazy but not stupid. He'll keep saying outrageous things in floor speeches and on Fox News, and stay in the House rather than risk it all on a statewide run. He's the Republican we love to hate, but in this drama he's a distraction.

I think the post-Vilsack buzz about a Bruce Braley Senate run is all wrong. Look at his Washington moves: a big role in the Waxman-Dingell fight, rewarded with a seat on Energy and Commerce, and starting the Populist Caucus. Bruce is settling in for a House career.

Dave Loebsack, despite GOP fantasies about Mariannette Miller-Meeks, is also comfortable in the general southeast section of the state. And the last time Black Hawk and Linn counties were in the same congressional district was back when we had two districts-—at statehood.

So that leaves Tom Latham and Leonard Boswell.

I've long been arguing it's time for Leonard Boswell to retire, that's no secret. But Leonard has made it clear, announcing for 2010 on Election Night 2008, that he's never leaving on his own. He'll run till he drops dead or till he's beaten.

Leonard's a nice enough guy, and I'm not going to bash him on age and health. Ted Kennedy's old and ill, but I want him in there fighting as long as he can. I won't trash Boswell's down-home style, either; he is what he is. And a lot of my friends have worked for Boswell and I respect that. He's been a good mentor to many over the years.

The problem is the issues and the record. Leonard Boswell represents an urban-dominated district (by Iowa standards), yet he votes like he's still in his old rural state senate district. I want better, and I think better can win.

The primary challenge nudged Boswell a notch to the left, but he still needs to move about two more notches to match Loebsack and Braley. I'm open to that, but frankly I'm not expecting it from him this far into his career.

I really wish Boswell had stayed put on the farm in 2002; he was mapped into the very Republican 5th District, but was probably the only Democrat who could have held it. Tom Harkin and Berkley Bedell used to win on the same tough turf.

A Blue Dog would be fantastic as an alternative to Steve King, but Des Moines shouldn't have to settle. And the worst part is, Boswell's damn proud of it, with that annoying “Conservative Democrat” logo on his web page. Boswell made it hard for us eastern Iowans to make the case against Jim Leach, when Leach actually had a better voting record than Boswell. Dave Loebsack eventually made that case, but till then we sure heard about it a lot, especially in 2002 when Harkin and Boswell voted yes on the war while Leach voted no.

Uncomfortable yet, Democratic readers?

Carpetbagging at the congressional level seems to be OK in Iowa, going back at least to the 1981 map when Tom Harkin successfully moved. We had the luxury of an open seat in 2002, with no loss of a district and Greg Ganske running against Harkin. Des Moines Dems quietly grumbled when Boswell moved from the difficult 5th CD into the more Democratic 3rd (Matt McCoy was already up and running), but no one had the gonads to actually challenge him. Leach was also able to move without it becoming an issue, and held on for two more terms against the partisan odds, until the tidal wave and Loebsack's effective "Bush enabler" message proved too much in 2006.

Leonard's campaign skills have atrophied in recent years. He dodged debates in 2008, and the primary campaign against Ed Fallon degenerated into a despicable bout of Nader-bashing. Yet, with all his negatives and too little money, Fallon still took about two out of five votes. That may be the base against Boswell in a primary, but it may be the max, too.

No, Boswell won't lose a primary. When he loses, it'll be to a Republican in the general. He has consistently underperformed the rest of the Democratic ticket throughout this map cycle. And Tom Latham has already made his move, relocating to Ames a couple years back.

Last time Iowa lost a seat, in 1991, the Legislature accepted a “fair fight” district that paired Jim Nussle and Dave Nagle. Inexplicably, voters chose grandstander Nussle over hard-working, leadership track Nagle. (1992 was just a weird year; my take is that the Perot vote went Republican in all the down-ballot races.) Nussle never broke 60 percent in the old 2nd... but he never lost it, either.

Let's say we get a fair fight district again in 2011. Odds are the members who'll get paired are the two who are geographically closest together: Latham and Boswell.

It the map came out today, Democrats would theoretically control the whole process. But even assuming we keep the trifecta into 2011, that doesn't assure passage of a congressional map favorable to Boswell—or to anyone, for that matter. Legislative votes on the map aren't really about congressional districts or even parties. They're about legislator's own districts.

In the current alignment, a hook of suburban 4th District counties wrap around Polk County, anchor of the 3rd District. There was a lot of Republican noise in the debate on the first 2001 map about getting districts with an “urban-rural mix.” That was just smoke for public consumption. But in any case, the crux of the fight was a proposed central Iowa, seven county district: Polk, Dallas, Madison, Story, Marshall, Boone, and Greene. That failed, but back in the 1980s alignment, when we had six districts, Neal Smith had a six county district: Polk, Dallas, Jasper, Story, Boone, Hamilton.

If the map produces a similar district next time around, with Latham and Boswell paired in a compact, fair fight seat centered on Des Moines, the suburbs, and Ames, the noise might be different. Because in a race between a low-key, kind of generic Republican versus an aging good ole boy Democrat with atrophied campaign skills, the Republican just might win.

"So, Deeth, you're saying Latham could beat Boswell?"

That's exactly what I'm saying, exactly what I think would happen, and exactly what I want to avoid.

Which is why Democrats need to take out Tom Latham in 2010 with a Democrat who's more progressive than Boswell. (A woman would be nice, too. Becky Greenwald was a serious underperformer; I'm open to suggestions.)

Let's say we go into 2011 with a 4 to 1 Democratic delegation: King, Braley, Loebsack, Boswell, and New Hotshot Who Just Knocked Off Latham. And she(?)'s from, say, Indianola or Ames. The new map gives us that compact fair fight district.

Who's a better fit: Good Ole Boy or Hotshot? If she's a she, do we toss the first Iowa congresswoman out after only two years? Who's a better bet for Iowa seniority in the long run: Good Ole Boy or Hotshot? Who's a better candidate against Latham: Good Ole Boy or Hotshot? Who's a better House floor vote: Boswell, Hotshot... or Latham?

But if we don't take Latham out in 2010, we're stuck with Boswell as the candidate. Democrats have been chicken about challenging incumbents in primaries since Ted Kennedy ran against Jimmy Carter. Only someone with nothing to lose and few friends on the inside, like Fallon, will take it on. I swear, people would rather lose the seat to a Republican than hurt Leonard's feelings.

So. Knock off Latham, then ease Boswell out. Sounds like the plan to me. But for it to work, we need to find Hotshot NOW. The floor is open for nominations.

No comments: