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Iowa Congressional Candidates Say They're Focused On Current Constituents As Redistricting Plays Out

Photo by Bjoertvedt. Creative Commons license.
The first proposal for redrawing Iowa's congressional districts would mean significant changes for the seats. Candidates say they're waiting for the process to play out before making major decisions.

Candidates running for Congress in Iowa say they’ll remain focused on their current constituents as they wait for the state’s redistricting process to play out. The proposed maps released by the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency on Thursday would mean major changes for the seats, if the plans are approved.

Under the first proposal released this week, all of Iowa’s incumbent members of Congress would remain in their current districts, but the counties they represent would change considerably. The redistricting process plays out every 10 years, as nonpartisan officials work to redraw political maps to reflect changes in the state's population.

Notably, the 1st District would include Johnson and Linn Counties as well as parts of southeast Iowa and would become much more Democratic, according to an analysis by Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report.

Meanwhile, the 2nd District would stretch from nearly the Missouri state line over to central Iowa and all the way up to the Minnesota state line and would become much more Republican.

The 3rd District would include both Dallas and Polk Counties and a portion of south central Iowa and would remain a toss-up.

The 4th district would cover 44 of the state’s 99 counties, covering a broad swath of western Iowa stretching into the northeast corner and would remain reliably Republican.

Speaking to reporters Friday, current 1st District Republican Rep. Ashley Hinson declined to say whether state lawmakers should approve the first round of maps, saying it’s their decision.

“The Legislature is going to do their job. I’m focused on serving my district, not drawing it. And I’ve been completely focused on doing the job Iowans elected me to do,” Hinson said.

The Des Moines Register reported that Wasserman of the Cook Political Report said the proposed configuration of the 1st District, combining the Democratic-leaning population centers of Johnson, Linn and Scott Counties, is “probably a deal breaker” for Republicans.

Hinson told reporters it’s too early on in the process to say how the proposals could affect the 2022 election cycle.

“I’m not going to get into hypotheticals as the process plays out because again that’s the legislators’ job to figure that all out with the maps. And I’m focused on the 20 counties that I represent today, Hinson said. “Obviously I just finished another 20 county tour and that’s what I’m focused on.”

In responding to reporters’ questions, Hinson referenced the “partisan decisions” at play in redistricting; a spokesperson later said that the congresswoman misspoke and didn’t mean to call Iowa’s process partisan.

Iowa’s redistricting process, which charges nonpartisan legislative staff with drawing lines and prohibits the use of political data, is considered a model for other states.

Under state law, legislators can vote to approve or reject the first round of maps but cannot make changes to them. If rejected, the Legislative Services Agency would draft a second round of maps, which again would go to lawmakers for an up or down vote with no changes. If a third round of maps is needed, lawmakers can then amend the district lines themselves or approve them as is.

Other congressional candidates have highlighted Iowa’s reputation for “fair” and “nonpartisan” redistricting, and said they’re looking forward to seeing the process play out.

“Iowa is a national model for creating fair and representative maps through a straightforward and nonpartisan process,” reads a statement from state Sen. Liz Mathis, a Democrat running against Hinson in the 1st District. “I look forward to finalizing our new districts so that all of our elected officials and candidates can spend time connecting with the Iowans they hope to represent after the next election.”

If state lawmakers approve the first round of maps, Republican Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks would see her 2nd District become much safer, after winning the seat by a mere six-vote margin in 2020.

“I look forward to seeing the reapportionment process continue in Iowa’s traditional nonpartisan manner and, upon its completion, I will be eager to get to know the people, businesses, communities in the new Second Congressional District,” Miller-Meeks said in a written statement. “In the meantime, my focus remains on serving the constituents of the current Second Congressional District to the best of my ability.”

Democratic state Rep. Christina Bohannan would face some difficult decisions if the proposed maps are adopted; she’s challenging Miller-Meeks in the 2nd District. But under the proposals, her home of Johnson County would move into the 1st District. In a statement, Bohannan noted that the process has only just begun.

“Fair electoral maps are essential to our democracy. Iowa's nonpartisan process ensures that the people get to choose their representatives, not the other way around. This map was fairly drawn according to the best nonpartisan redistricting process in the country,” Bohannan’s statement reads. “However, this is only the beginning of a long process. Our campaign is full speed ahead as the process continues.”

Iowans will have a chance to weigh in on the first round of maps ahead of a special legislative session next month. The first virtual public hearing is slated for Monday, Sept. 20, followed by online forums on Tuesday, Sept. 21 and Wednesday, Sept 22.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter