116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — After hearing nothing but praise for Iowa’s redistricting process, a panel gathering public input on a map for new congressional and legislative districts heard from critics of the plan.
Iowans who participated Wednesday in the third and final virtual public hearing as well as an online commenter raised a few concerns about the initial redistricting plan produced by the Legislative Services Agency. Still, the number of comments in favor of Iowa’s nonpartisan process for drawing new political boundaries based on population changes found in the decennial census far outweighed the criticisms.
Many of the concerns expressed to the Temporary Redistricting Advisory Commission were about what commenters called the concentration of legislators in more urban areas that would lead rural Iowans having less representation at the Statehouse.
Noting that the proposed map has 24 House districts in the Des Moines metro area, Steve Woodhouse said he doesn’t think it’s in the state’s best interest to have a quarter of the representation to be located in such a small geographic area.
“Could there be a better way to ensure that rural Iowa can have a meaningful voice in our state Legislature and not be overlooked due to low population?” Woodhouse asked during the hourlong hearing. “These areas still need state services and representation. Iowans should not be overlooked, overruled, dictated to or forced to compromise their lives to the whims of metropolitan representatives because they choose to live in rural Iowa.”
“It’s only fair and democratic” that the maps reflect the population and migratory patterns over the past 10 years, MacKenzie Bills of Altoona told the commission.
“Polk, Linn and Johnson skyrocketed numbers, while many districts in west and southern areas decreased,” she said.
The 2020 census found that 68 of the 99 counties had population losses in the previous 10 years. As a result, the LSA’s plan would create a 26-county 2nd Congressional District and a 44-county 4th District.
That would create a “geographic challenge” for U.S. House members in those two districts, Gary Capps wrote.
“I strongly feel an Iowa representative should be able to advocate for both urban and rural interests equally,” Capps said. That could be achieved with slight modifications to the plan “while still providing a good, if not perfect, numerical balance.”
Former state Sen. Maggie Tinsman of Bettendorf was concerned with the large number of legislators who would be in districts with at least one other incumbent.
“Since this plan proposes to have 60 legislators run against one another,” according to Tinsman, who chaired the redistricting commission in 2011, “I humbly request that the Legislature ask the (LSA) for a second map.”
However, Susan Petra of Ames said there’s little the LSA can do about the migration of Iowans from rural to urban areas. LSA’s plan meets the standards of population equality among districts, keeping political subdivisions such as counties and cities intact as much as possible, contiguity and compactness.
Lawmakers should not to put their own political futures above maintaining Iowa’s “fair and nonpartisan process,” Petra said.
Iowa politicians, especially rural Republicans, must face a hard reality that rural population is falling, said Thomas O’Donnell. “Less population means bigger districts. Bigger districts mean more legislators landing in the same ones.”
Libertarians raised a concern that stems from both the population loss in rural areas and a change in state law made by the GOP-controlled Legislature this year. Congressional candidates now must get their petitions signed by at least 47 people in half the counties outside their home county. Chad Brewbaker of the Dallas County Libertarians said that means a candidate in the proposed 4th District would need twice as many signatures next year as in previous elections. That would be 987 signatures — 47 in each of at least 21 counties.
That violates Iowa Constitution, Article I, Sections 6 and 20 regarding equal protection and freedom of assembly/petition, Brewbaker said.
Lindsay Maher of Polk County agreed, calling it “a bit peculiar that so many cities are the doughnut holes in entire counties, almost appearing intentional to separate the rural voters from the city voters.”
“Is this actually in the best interest of the process and of Iowans having their voices heard or is this showing bias for representatives/senators to only have to represent those who are like themselves?” she wrote.
Three speakers raised concerns about the proposed Senate 1 and House 2 legislative districts in Sioux City. The proposed map would continue to split the Morningside University campus, Valerie Hennings said. It’s not uncommon for students to move from one dormitory to another during the school year. That means they may move from one legislative district to another, which presents a challenge, especially for first-time voters, she said.
And one speaker delivered her remarks in rhyme.
“In our state there is no place for partisan pandering,” Ellen Johnson said. “Each district’s border’s just a bit meandering, but they’re pretty compact, so I hope you’ll quickly act, so in Iowa we can avoid gerrymandering.”
The commission has until Sept. 30 to make its recommendation to the Legislature. It has scheduled a meeting at 4 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 23, to consider the input from the public hearings. It could make a recommendation at that time.
Commission members did not indicate whether they support the plan, but thanked all those who commented at the virtual hearings and online, especially “the people I could see in my mind sitting there with their spreadsheets going through each of these districts trying to figure out how the numbers go,” David Roederer said.
Jazmin Newton echoed the sentiments of many of the participants that “Iowa really is the gold standard for redistricting.”
“We have a process in place by our constitution and our Iowa Code that allows for redistricting that is going to be fair and equitable,” she said.
Lawmakers will meet Oct. 5 to begin consideration of the plan. If lawmakers approve the first plan, it will go to the governor for her signature. If the plan is rejected, the LSA will draw another map that again is subject to a yes-or-no vote without any changes. If that is rejected, the LSA will draw a third that can be amended by lawmakers.
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