Saturday, April 06, 2013

A Bad Idea That Won't Go Away

The conservative giant William F. Buckley ran a no-shot candidacy for New York Mayor in 1965. In one debate he famously declined a chance for a rebuttal, saying "I am satisfied to sit back and contemplate my own former eloquence."

That's pretty much how I feel about the Republican's revived effort to petition for supervisor districts in Johnson County, I wrote about this at great length in mid-February, noting:

Part 1. This is in large part an effort to change the rules because the Republicans don't like the outcome. Specifically, they're trying to gerrymander out the two most liberal supervisors, Janelle Rettig and Rod Sullivan, who happen to live near each other.

Since then, of course, John Etheredge proved the "can't win" argument wrong by, well, winning. It was a low turnout special election, the Democrats were asleep at the switch, and a single issue dominated it. But, fair and square, he won.

The dynamic will be very different in November 2014, in a general election environment with a national spotlight open seat senate race. Democrats may not have bothered to vote for a supervisor, but the line is already forming for a chance to vote against Steve King. Even though they undercut their own case by winning an at-large race, Republicans still see districts as their best if only way to re-elect Etheredge.

2. There is no historic pattern of rural under-representation on the Board of Supervisors. If anything it's the opposite. The present is the only time we've ever had three out of five city of Iowa City supervisors, which is roughly what the population is. As late as 2000, all five supervisors were rural.

I've thought since I wrote that and I've come to conclude that the history is part of the problem. It's what social scientists call relative deprivation, "a negative discrepancy between legitimate expectations and present actualities." Rural voters, with about 1/6 of the county population, may feel under-represented on the board because historically they've had 80% or 100% of the supervisors. They don't have a city council like us townies do and they feel that, numbers aside, the supervisors should be rural dominated.

If that's what they want, districts are exactly the wrong way to get it… 

3. The census numbers in Johnson County do not make a rural-dominated district possible.  The law says cities can't be split into more than the smallest number of parts. Read the math if you want but we'd get three seats dominated by Iowa City, one that was dominated by Coralville, and one that was half in North Liberty. The rural townships would have to be split up and appended to these. There can't be an all-rural "doughnut" seat like Linn County has.

With the Newport Road battle still going, here's another thing to think about: in a district system, only one supervisor has to worry about what Newport Road thinks. You could consider that a good thing or a bad thing.

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