Iowa likely to lose seat in U.S. House
So, before Dave Nagle has even gotten over losing his seat in Congress, we're losing another district.
An anecdote about what's happened to Iowa's population and representation over the years: John Kyl the elder represented an Iowa District in the house. His son Jon Kyl the younger (yes they spell it differently) is an Arizona senator, and probably represents a fair number of his dad's former constituents.
I've been through two redistricting cycles: 1991 as a journalist, 2001 working in the auditor's office. There's not much point in speculating about exact lines yet. The key players, at the congressional and state legislative level, will all be different. The one thing that's certain is Polk County will dominate one district because it's the only county in the state that's bigger than half a congressional district. If you want to crunch the numbers yourself, here's a link to census population estimates by county
Iowa's plan is held up as a model for the nation since it takes politics out of the mix as much as possible. A little too much in my opinion, but at least we don't have the works of modern gerrymandering art you see in other states.
Here's the nitty gritty details of how it works.
The Legislative Service Bureau, which is the nonpartisan research arm of the legislative staff, draws a map in deepest darkest secrecy in a bunker 500 feet below the Capitol. Congressional districts can't cross county lines; legislative districts are supposed to keep counties and cities together where possible. Senate districts consist of two whole house districts, and under the current plan Senate districts stay together in congressional districts. (That will have to change: five congressional districts equals 10 senate districts per congressional, but fifty senate districts divided by four CD's equals 12 1/2.) They're specifically prohibited from considering incumbent's addresses or party stats. Despite the growing Hispanic population, the state is still homogeneous enough that Voting Rights Act provisions requireing "majority minority" or "minority influence" districts don't kick in. The process is ruled by population, population, population.
The map comes out and the legislature gets an up or down vote with no amendments allowed. If they vote it down, or it the governor vetoes, the Legislative Service Bureau goes back to the dungeon and writes Plan B. Lather, rinse, repeat. If Plan B loses, we go to Plan C. If Plan C loses, then and only then the legislature can amend the map.
We've never gotten that far. In `91 they approved the first map. In 2001 they rejected Plan A
and approved Plan B
. The rejection of Plan A was GOP driven; there was a lot of rhetoric about the "urban-rural mix" or congressional districts but the reality was the wrong key legislators (and I can't even remember who) were burned.
Which leads me to the the important point: the congressional map doesn't mean squat for final approval. It's the LEGISLATIVE map that matters, because it's the legislators who are voting. No matter how much you try to sanitize the process, ultimately redistricting is a political decision.
I learned this the hard way in 1991 when I looked at the congressional map, put on my News Analyst hat, and boldly broadcast that the plan was doomed to lose. The press, to the extent they're looking at all, are looking at congressional districts. You can get your head around four or five congressional districts, and people have at least heard of the key players. Even the party activists can't really grasp the legislative map beyond their own backyards (I've tried).
But the legislators looked at their own seats, figured "better the devil we know than the devil we don't," and passed it. Only the political pros can really get a handle on the legislative district map. And they have the most self-interest in doing so. And when you think about it, a legislative district is a pretty artificial construct anyway. I live at the corner of one - my across the street neighbors in three directions are in Mary Mascher's district but I'm in Vicki Lensing's. I can say from experience as a journalist, candidate, and staffer that the overwhelming majority of folks have no idea what state legislative district they're in.
Which brings us back to the real problem with any districting process: no matter how transparent the process is, it remains invisible except to insiders.Patriot Skullface
writes today too.