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Lawmakers laud Iowa’s nonpartisan redistricting process
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Lawmakers laud Iowa’s nonpartisan redistricting process

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The Iowa State Capitol building Friday, July 31, 2020, in Des Moines.

CEDAR RAPIDS — Like many of his colleagues, Sen. Bill Dotzler is generally supportive of the redistricting plan released by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency Thursday, but he has some concerns about his own Waterloo Senate district.

“This one is the most perplexing. It doesn’t make sense,” he said about the horseshoe-shaped District 30 that might put him in the same district as fellow Democrat Sen. Eric Giddens of Cedar Falls. Dotzler’s concern was that the new district might it fit the goal of compactness in constructing new district boundaries.

Fifty-four incumbents would find themselves in districts with at least one other incumbent under the first redistricting plan.

Lawmakers will meet in special session Oct. 5 to address the plan. If they don’t approve it — without changes — the LSA will draw a second plan.

“I’m going to go with whatever the first plan is, in my view, whether I like it or not,” Dotzler said. “I’ll just take it as it comes, I guess.”

“I believe in looking at the collective whole so I’m not going to say I wouldn’t vote for it even though I would say it isn’t the best for me,” the Waterloo Democrat said.

He’s not sure everyone will feel that way.

“There are going to be a lot of people pissed off and there are going to be some happy people, so we’ll just see how it goes. The best thing to do is not get too crazy right away,” he said.

The day the redistricting plan is released can be tense for lawmakers who hope to be in a district where they are familiar with voters and voters are familiar with them.

“Kind of like a kid with Christmas. You don't know what you're going to get," House Speaker Pat Grassley, a Republican from New Hartford, told Radio Iowa.

Democrats who reacted to the plan were generally supportive. Some more than supportive.

Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville: “We’d be stupid not to approve Map 1. I really think you can see fairness and lack of gerrymandered districts. It also accurately reflects the growth or better put, the movement of people.”

Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton: “I'll be a ‘yes’ on this map and on any of the three maps drawn by our non-partisan LSA staff. If the majority party rejects all three of LSA’s maps and chooses to draw their own extremely partisan map, I'll be a ‘no’ on that nasty piece of gerrymandering. But I'm sure that won't happen because I'm sure all of my colleagues — Rs and Ds — want Iowa to remain one of the few states that has been able to keep politics out of redistricting.”

Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City: The LSA takes “great pains to assure as equitable a map as possible. I believe this first map follows those guidelines.”

As a group, Democrats expressed support for a fair, nonpartisan and transparent process.

Rep. Kirsten Running-Marquardt, D-Cedar Rapids: “The fair and balanced process our nonpartisan Legislative Service Agency uses when providing the Legislature maps based off census data must remain in place. Messing around with this important process or drawing your own politically motivated map lines erodes Iowans’ faith in our government. If you want to mess with lines. go part your own hair.”

Others need more time to reach a decision.

Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque: “I am still digesting. Iowa has the Gold Standard for redistricting … where partisan gerrymandering is not the norm. It needs to remain fair, transparent, independent with no partisan amending.”

Sen. Claire Celsi, D-West Des Moines: It’s way too early for anyone to know anything yet. It’s going be a long process. I’m just hopeful it will be fair and that the Republicans will not gerrymander the districts to their advantage.”

Republicans will do their “due diligence” and review the LSA plan “to ensure it is a fair set of maps for the people of Iowa,” Grassley said.

Rep. John Wills, R-Spirit Lake: “We are looking at the maps … looking at the pros and cons and looking at what is best for all of Iowa.”

Political scientists noted the significant changes in the shape of Iowa’s four congressional districts.

University of Northern Iowa political scientist Chris Larimer: “The geographic change and accompanying size of the number of new constituents for both Miller-Meeks and Hinson are notable. Particularly for Miller-Meeks, there is a short window to introduce yourself to that many new voters. For Hinson, it will certainly be different with Johnson County, and whether those river counties are actually swing counties. I anticipate that Johnson County will be key, particularly for Liz Mathis as a challenger.

“In short, while the geography of the districts has certainly changed, I still expect the 1st and 3rd districts to be extremely competitive, and the 2nd District increasingly so,” Larimer said.

University of Iowa political science professor Tim Hagle: “At least from the politics side of things there seemed to be some shifting around of the (congressional) districts in terms of the strengths of one party or the other.

“There’s no doubling up like we’ve had the past couple of times where one of the representatives would have to move to represent a different district, so in that sense I suppose it’s good for them. I think the last time around the map didn’t look all that great for Republicans but there was a concern that it could be worse.”

Drake University political scientist Dennis Goldford: “If the congressional maps tell us anything, we see the continued thinning out of population in rural and small-town Iowa. What that may do, given the way they draw the districts for the Statehouse, it may if anything increase representation for rural and small-town Iowa in the state Legislature, which of course is more Republican now.”

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