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Iowa GOP lawmakers aren't saying how they will vote on redistricting maps ahead of the special session

Iowa Capitol in the spring
Michael Leland
IPR News
State lawmakers will be back at the Iowa Capitol Tuesday for a rare special session.

12:39 p.m. Tuesday: The Iowa Senate has rejected the first redistricting plan.

State lawmakers will be back at the Iowa Capitol Tuesday for a rare special session. They will vote to accept or reject new political boundaries that could significantly change Iowans’ representation in the state legislature and in the U.S. House of Representatives.

But Republican leaders, who have full control of the state legislature, still have not said publicly how they will vote on the first redistricting plan.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, told IPR Republican senators will have a private meeting Tuesday.

“We’re going to talk through what we want to do as a team, and then we’ll go from there,” Whitver said. “A number of our members have expressed concerns with the map, other members have seen positive aspects of the map. But until we get together Tuesday, we won’t have a final decision.”

Whitver said Republican senators have some concerns about the compactness and population deviation of some of the districts. Those are two of the criteria the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency uses to draw new legislative and congressional districts based on population shifts within the state. Then, the Iowa Legislature can only vote to approve or reject the proposed maps.

House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, said recently on Iowa Press that House Republicans were still analyzing the redistricting plan. He was asked about some Republicans’ concerns that the proposed maps would create a 1st Congressional District that is favorable to Democrats.

“That shouldn’t be part of what the criteria is, but to draw a map in this state with the way the population shifts have been made, I don’t think you necessarily have an unfair map by any means for either party, necessarily,” Grassley said. “And really, you should not be passing a map based purely on political motives. That’s not one of the criteria we’re supposed to follow.”

The 2nd District would become more Republican under the first plan. The 3rd District would stay very competitive, and the 4th District would remain a Republican stronghold. The proposed legislative maps would put more than 60 current state lawmakers into newly-drawn districts with each other, meaning several would have to move, retire or run against a colleague.

House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, committed to voting for the first plan weeks ago. She explained why last week on Iowa Press.

“They were drawn using Iowa’s fair redistricting process,” Konfrst said. “I said I would vote for them before I even saw it because a map that is drawn using Iowa’s gold standard redistricting process is a fair map, and that is one that is good for Iowa.”

Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, said last week he will also vote for the first plan.

“There’s no legitimate reason for legislative Republicans to reject this first map. If Republicans vote down the first map, that is a clear signal they are planning to gerrymander Iowa legislative districts to keep themselves in power.”

Whitver, the Senate Republican leader, said Wahls’ comment is “total nonsense.”

Iowa law has several provisions to prevent gerrymandering, or the drawing of districts to keep a certain person or political party in power. The nonpartisan LSA is not allowed to consider voting patterns or lawmakers’ addresses when drawing districts. And lawmakers cannot make changes to the first and second proposed maps.

They can make changes to the third redistricting plan. Some Democrats have been worried the GOP majority would take that as an opportunity to gerrymander districts in their favor.

But the Iowa Supreme Court said redistricting needs to be done by Dec. 1. Top lawmakers from both parties have said that could make it difficult to get to the third set of maps.

“There’s a specific number of days to get to map two and map three or whatever, and so that could become a problem,” Whitver said. “But I’m not really considering that. We’re just looking at a map under the requirements that we can look at the map, or the specifications we can look at the map, and make a decision based on that, and nothing else.”

Some states—led by Republicans and Democrats—have already been sued this year over their redistricting plans. Some lawsuits allege state lawmakers purposefully diluted the voting power of certain racial and ethnic groups.

Iowa-Nebraska NAACP President Betty Andrews said the organization has not taken a position on the proposed maps yet, but she is monitoring the process.

“I did look at a couple of districts that have a high number of African Americans, and I’ve asked our branches across the state to take a look,” Andrews said. “And so far the reports are pretty good.”

Joe Henry, political director for the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa, said the group supports the proposed maps.

“I believe that the first draft, clearly, if adopted, will make very clear the importance of the Latino vote,” Henry said.

During a recent public comment period, the overwhelming majority of comments expressed support for the first set of maps and for Iowa’s redistricting process. The bipartisan five-member Temporary Redistricting Advisory Commission did not make a recommendation to lawmakers on how to vote on the maps.

The special legislative session begins at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 5. Republican leaders have said they expect to only consider the redistricting maps during the special session and not any additional legislation.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter