Staff Columnist

Iowa lawmaker plans move to friendlier district

Hagenow: It's 'unfounded' that shift is to smooth reelection

House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow speaks Jan. 8 during the first day of the 2018 Iowa Legislative Session at the Capitol in Des Moines. He faces reelection but will move to a district that includes a larger ratio of Republican voters. That district now is represented by Rep. Ralph Watts, who plans to retire. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow speaks Jan. 8 during the first day of the 2018 Iowa Legislative Session at the Capitol in Des Moines. He faces reelection but will move to a district that includes a larger ratio of Republican voters. That district now is represented by Rep. Ralph Watts, who plans to retire. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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The move is not unusual after the decennial process of redrawing legislative boundaries, after which incumbent officials sometimes get drawn into having to face a peer.

But for an official to physically move into a different legislative district for any other reason is much rarer.

So eyebrows were raised last week when Chris Hagenow, a Republican from suburban Des Moines and the Iowa House Majority Leader, announced he will seek re-election in a different district.

Hagenow said he is moving for family reasons; skeptics suggest he is doing so to avoid a tough re-election campaign by moving into a more solidly Republican district.

Hagenow told reporters that notion is “unfounded.”

“This is all about family,” he said, saying his family spends more time in the western district to which he plans to move.

Whatever the motivation, Hagenow’s decision gives him a much better chance to win re-election this fall to a sixth term in the Iowa House.

It also may lead his current district to flip to the Democrats.

Hagenow since 2009 has represented a legislative district that covers the western Des Moines suburbs of Windsor Heights and Clive. Hagenow and his family — he and his wife have three children — live in Windsor Heights.

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In seeking re-election this fall, Hagenow will run instead in a district that covers roughly half of Dallas County in the area just west of the Des Moines suburbs. That district includes the small communities of Dallas Center, Adel, De Soto and Van Meter.

The incumbent in that district, Republican Rep. Ralph Watts, is retiring, leaving the seat open for Hagenow to run there. He will have to move to the district at least 60 days before the November election, per state law.

Hagenow’s current district is nearly perfectly politically balanced: as of Thursday there were 7,092 registered, active Democratic voters and 7,004 Republican voters, with 5,816 no-party voters.

The district in which Hagenow will run this year has 9,794 registered, active Republican voters and just 5,309 Democratic voters. There are 9,817 no-party voters in the district.

In his last election, Hagenow won by just 3 percentage points, or roughly 600 votes. Watts, meantime, won his district in the same election by 21 percentage points.

So while nothing is guaranteed, Hagenow faces — mathematically, at least — an easier road to re-election in the new district.

But Republicans now are likely to face a tougher challenge to keep the seat Hagenow will vacate.

The suburban district is the exact kind that nationally has been trending toward Democratic candidates in special elections held since the 2016 presidential election. And the Democratic candidate in the district, Jennifer Konfrst, ran there in 2016. So she brings some name recognition into this year’s race.

That all adds up to a top pickup opportunity for Democrats.

Moments after Hagenow made his move official, Michael Boal, a lawyer from Windsor Heights, announced he will run for the seat Hagenow is vacating.

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Michael Boal is the son of Carmine Boal, a former state legislator and current Iowa House chief clerk.

We’re No. 1

Gov. Kim Reynolds was able to take a highly visible victory lap last week after Iowa was named the best state in which to live.

Iowa topped the “U.S. News and World Report” annual rankings of the best states, scoring high in categories including quality of life, health care, education, opportunity and infrastructure.

The report was published late Monday, and the next morning Reynolds was on national television talking about the report and Iowa on CBS-TV’s morning news program, “CBS This Morning,” from the network’s studio in New York.

Reynolds had been in Washington, D.C., for a meeting of the National Governors Association.

“What an honor, to recognize Iowans that are making a difference in communities every single day all across our state,” Reynolds said. “And Iowa truly is a place where if you work hard, dream big anything is possible. And I’m honestly a product of that.”

Reynolds’ election campaign team produced a digital ad using clips from the CBS interview. The video can be seen on YouTube.

Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government. His email address is erin.murphy@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.

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