Radio Iowa: State now moves to second plan for redistricting

Iowa Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver (R-Ankeny). [Radio Iowa photo]

By O. Kay Henderson, Radio Iowa
The Iowa Legislature awaits a second plan for redistricting after Tuesday’s rejection of the first set of maps for Iowa’s congressional and legislative districts.

The House did not take a vote after all 32 Republicans in the Senate voted down the plan.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, a Republican from Ankeny, said Iowa law has guidelines requiring the population count to vary by less than one percent from district to district, and for the districts to be as geographically compact as possible.

“There were some positive aspects, but there were also some areas that we had some concerns — specifically the compactness of some districts and the population deviation of some districts,” Whitver told reporters after the vote, “and so that’s why we voted to turn down map one and move on to map two.”

Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls of Coralville is among the 18 Democrats who voted for the plan. “Republicans have kind of a laundry list of statistical things they mentioned, but I want to be very clear: this map was squarely in line with the plans that Iowa legislatures have approved in the past,” Wahls said.

The boundaries for Iowa congressional districts, as well as legislative districts, are redrawn every 10 years to account for population changes identified in the Census and the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency submits proposed maps to lawmakers. House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, a Democrat from Windsor Heights, told reporters she’s “hoping and expecting” Republicans will approve the second redistricting plan.

“Republicans should stop playing politics and accept the second non-partisan map without amendment,” she says, “to guarantee Iowa’s gold standard for fair representation continues.”

Wahls said he suspects Republicans are aiming to get to the third and final set of maps when they’d be able to change district boundaries.

“We know that gerrymandering is a very common Republicans strategy to try and win elections,” Wahls told reporters, “so yeah, we’re really worried.”

The GOP leader in the Senate said the first set of maps were rejected two out of the four previous times the Iowa legislature has made this decision since the redistricting law was adopted four decades ago.

“We’re also under a time constraint here. We have a December 1 deadline from the Supreme Court to have a map done,” Whitver said. “There’s that time constraint to work with and we expect to see (Plan) 2 fairly soon and we’ll just continue through this process.”

The Census data used to craft the district maps was delivered five months late, so the legislature was unable to meet the September 1 deadline for approving a redistricting plan. Under the state’s constitution, the Iowa Supreme Court now has authority over the process, but the court has told legislators they may continue through the steps outlined in state law. Whitver said the law’s requirements would be in force, even if legislators get to a third map that can be amended.

“If anyone thinks you can just come in and draw whatever you want, that’s not legal in Iowa,” Whitver said. “It’s following the process of a non-partisan map, a second non-partisan map, get to a third map — if it happens, but you still can’t throw away the Iowa law as far as the requirements of what a district should look like.”

Speaker Pat Grassley, the top Republican in the Iowa House, said the first plan for redistricting was fair, but the Senate raised “legitimate concerns” that will hopefully be addressed in the second set of maps.