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ERIN MURPHY: New Iowa redistricting maps may be the ones

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If an end to the decennial redistricting process is the treasure you seek, LSA’s new maps may contain the ‘X’ that marks the spot.

The Iowa Legislative Services Agency, the Iowa Legislature’s nonpartisan legal and fiscal agency, this week published its second proposal for new political maps for the next decade.

It’s all part of the redistricting process, in which states every 10 years redraw their political boundaries to reflect population shifts and changes. Redistricting this year has been slowed by delayed federal census results due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Majority Iowa Senate Republicans rejected LSA’s first proposal. Once those maps were published, it immediately felt likely that Republicans would do just that.

But this set of maps feels different, and it feels like Republicans may feel comfortable enough to accept and adopt them. We’ll find out Thursday, when the Iowa Legislature returns for a second special session to consider and vote on the new proposal.

It’s not that this second set of maps is more favorable to Republicans than LSA’s first proposal, although one could probably argue that. It’s more than that.

For one, LSA did everything asked of them when Senate Republicans rejected the first proposal. Republicans told LSA they rejected the maps because there was too much deviation in the population of some districts, and that some districts were not sufficiently compact, geographically speaking.

According to LSA’s calculations, the second set of maps contains congressional and statehouse districts that have smaller population deviations and are more geographically compact. Check and check.

And the newly proposed congressional maps would have a much less chaotic political impact.

Republicans insisted the potential political impacts of the congressional maps in the first proposal did not influence their decision --- they have to say that, because legislators are instructed by state law to not make political considerations when voting on the maps --- let’s say just for argument’s sake the congressional maps in that first proposal did cause some Republicans some heartburn. After all, they would have made eastern Iowa’s 1st Congressional District a virtual Democratic lock, which giving Republicans more of an edge in southeastern Iowa’s 2nd District.

Under the newly proposed maps, Iowa’s 1st, 2nd and 3rd Congressional Districts all would remain politically competitive, going by the latest state voter registration numbers. All three districts’ Democratic and Republican voter registration numbers would be separated by fewer than 3 percentage points.

Western Iowa’s 4th District would remain a Republican stronghold.

Yes, there are still roughly 60 incumbent state legislators who would be drawn into districts with each other. But that’s clearly unavoidable. There were roughly the same number in LSA’s first proposal. Clearly that number is not coming down in any significant way; legislators are going to have to make their peace with that.

So it would seem like these are maps that Republicans, with their majorities in both the Senate and House, could accept. House Republicans were ready to approve the first maps, so it’s hard to imagine they’ll have an issue with this new proposal. The key lies within the Senate Republican caucus.

Statehouse Democrats are once again, as they did in Round 1, urging Republicans to approve these maps and complete the redistricting process.

To be fair, if Republicans reject these new maps, that’s still fair game and does nothing to sully the reputation of Iowa’s widely praised redistricting process. Iowa legislators have, in the past, taken the process to the third set of maps.

But one can also understand why statehouse Democrats have been sounding the alarms. While some of their claims have been hyperbolic, statehouse Republicans have, since gaining full control of the state lawmaking process in 2017, not shown much of an inclination to ease into their agenda. Simply put: if they’ve wanted to do something, they’ve done it, no matter who and how many howled. So it’s not difficult to see why Democrats are calling on Republicans to stop short of going to a third set of proposed maps and enacting Republican-drawn amendments.

That, while not illegal, absolutely would place a partisan stain on the sterling reputation of Iowa’s generally nonpartisan process.

A vote this Thursday to approve these new maps would make all of those concerns disappear. And these seem like just the maps to do it.

 

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

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