Thursday, April 14, 2011

Redistricting and Iowa Senate Terms

Redistricting and Iowa Senate Terms

Now that our redistricting map is a near-certainty, it's time to ponder one of the few glitches in our clean, clean system: the fate of mid-term senators.

First thing to understand is: Even numbered seats run in the presidential cycle; odd seats are up in the gubernatorial year. I repeat myself for clarity below, but keep this factoid in mind as you read.

My guess, based just on the way it shook out, is that the district numbering is probably the very last thing the Legislative Service Agency does and is probably NOT blind to incumbent addresses. Of the seven now-empty new Senate seats, six are even numbers and only one is odd, which doesn't seem quite random. There also aren't any sorry-them's-the-breaks races where someone who got elected last fall just happened to draw an even number and has to run early for no other reason than the even-odd rule. (It's the lines themselves that are the sorry-them's-the-breaks factor.)

Normal Senate terms are all four years, so everyone who got elected in 2008 has to run again no matter what the district number. But the people who got elected in 2010 for four year terms find themselves in different districts mid-term. Since they were elected to a four year term in 2010, senators elected from old odd districts can just hold over, unless there's two (or in theory more, though there's no three senator seats this time) incumbents in a district. In that case they face off, with the winner getting two years.

Thus, one change I'd make in Iowa's process: I'd make all 25 of the Senate terms in the zero year two years. Then, in the new-map election year ending in 2 I'd elect the whole Senate, half for two years and half for four. Just seems more fair. Every Senate seat would get two four year terms in a decade, with a two year term at the beginning or end of a decade.

A couple states do it like that; a couple others elect the whole Senate to four year terms one cycle, then no senators the opposite cycle. And with its wacky "nonpartisan" unicameral Senate, the less said about Nebraska the better.

But let's deal with what Iowa actually does. At the end of the redistricting bill is the same language we saw ten years ago. Each senator declares an address by February 1, 2012. If there are two senators in an odd district, one of them has to retire by February 15, or else it goes on the ballot for a two year term. (Again, the even number presidential cycle seats are up anyway.)

So who can move where? The code language is a bit convoluted for a layman, but basically if you want to hold over there has to be some old-new turf overlap and you can only move within the old district. So, to pick an example, Matt McCoy can't move from Des Moines to Clinton and just stay in office with no election.

There's no way to figure it all out without help from Deep Blue the chess supercomputer, but between me and redistricting consultant Jerry Mandering we've found some sales leads for the Iowa Association of Realtors.

The most likely two-incumbent, two-year, two-party matchup is in new Senate District 1, where veteran Democrat Jack Kibbie, of old district 4 and thus up anyway, is paired with Republican David Johnson of old 3 on decidedly Republican turf. Kibbie supported the map in committee but is openly pessimistic about his own chances. But if the 82 year old Democrat retires, Johnson simply holds over without an election.

In new Senate 9, Republicans Nancy Boettger and James Seymour are paired. Boettger, who lives on a family farm, has said she won't move. She was just re-elected from old District 29. Seymour is in old District 28, on the presidential cycle. He was unopposed in 2008, when dirty laundry emerged late in the cycle. My bet is Seymour quietly doesn't run and Boettger holds the seat till 2014.

Senate 21, solidly Democratic, is resolved. Republican Pat Ward, last elected in old District 20 in 2008, has said she will move into the redder turf of open District 22. (This is one of those "my district, just not my house" things that Iowa's mapping process creates.) Democrat Matt McCoy, re-elected last year, will hold over till 2014.

Things are messier in new Senate 25, where Republicans Robert Bacon and Bill Dix are paired in a solid Republican district. Both just knocked off Democratic incumbents in 2010 in odd number districts, so one or the other could hold over. Dix is a fundraising powerhouse who came up short in the 2006 1st Congressional District primary. Unfortunately for him, his turf is part of that eastward extension of the new 4th CD.

Also unfortunately for the GOP, this is the same area where Annette Sweeney and Pat Grassley are doubled up in House 50. It's critical for the Republicans to resolve this and take care of Grassley the Younger, who has to land on his somewhere for the next four years until, as per the fiendish plan, he's old enough to replace Grandpa in the 2016 Senate race.

(I keep saying this. No one ever denies it.)

Is this the area where we see the fratricidal primaries? There's always one redistricting pair that a party just can't get worked out. (Last time, in 2002, it was a House race in Lee County between Democrats Phil Wise and Rick Larkin.)

Democrats Tom Hancock and Tod Bowman are paired in new Senate 29, but there are options. Bowman says he and Hancock are talking. Open new district 28, just to the north of Hancock's current seat, leans a little Republican and thus is less appealing. Bowman, just elected from old District 13, could move just a few miles closer to Flavor Flav's Fried Chicken into the open new Senate 49, the one odd Senate seat with no incumbent, and hold over. It's a bit less blue than the solidly Democratic new 29, but overlaps much of his old Clinton-based turf. Another "my district not my house" deal. Or if Hancock doesn't run, Bowman could stay put and hold over.

If Bowman does go south, Hancock could stay in new 29 and run for a two year term. Yes, it's odd-numbered, and yes, it would have one and only one incumbent senator, but Hancock was elected out of old district 16 in 2008. No one gets a six year term for free. It is, however, possible for a voter to go six years without seeing a state senator on the ballot, another argument for having the whole Senate run in remap years.

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