DES MOINES – “Opening day” means something entirely different to baseball fans than followers of the inside baseball known around the Statehouse as redistricting.
Rather than the “crack of the bat,” “opening day” at the Capitol refers to cracking open the map that could make or break the political futures of 150 Iowa legislators.
Iowa legislators will get their first look at their political future March 31 when packets containing the 2011 statewide redistricting plan arrive on their desks. The maps, drawn by the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency will show new boundaries for four congressional districts and 100 Iowa House districts and 50 Iowa Senate districts.
For some, the news will be good. For others, not so much.
If the map is good to you, stay quiet, advises Rep. Stewart Iverson, R-Clarion, who was Senate majority during redistricting leader 10 years ago. If it’s not, stay quieter.
Iverson has seen a variety of reactions in his 11 terms in the House and Senate.
“Tears? Yeah, I’ve seen tears – tears of joy and tears of anger,” Iverson said.
To avoid any initial reactions that lawmakers might later regret, all parties plan to go to caucus – private meetings – when the maps are delivered beginning at 8:15 a.m.
Sen. Sandy Greiner, R-Keota, probably knows the good and the bad of redistricting as well as anyone. After redistricting in 1991, she ran for an open seat in the House. In 2001, she was in the Senate and redistricting put her in a district with two incumbents – one Republican and one Democratic. She successfully ran for a House seat, and then retired for two years before winning another term in the Senate in 2010.
“Whatever happens, happens,” she said, adding, “There’s a lot more anticipation and excitement around here than anywhere else in the state.”
Former House Speaker Pat Murphy, D-Dubuque, takes a similar approach to his third round of redistricting.
“There are a lot of things in our lives to worry about,” Murphy said. “This isn’t one of them. This is a small part of people’s lives – at least those who have lives.”
Rep. Vicki Lensing, D-Iowa City, is aware of the concern and anxiety in the chambers, “but there’s not much you can do.”
“We can speculate and worry all we want, but the way Iowa does it is a great system. It’s fair,” Lensing said.
In most states, lawmakers are more involved in drawing the legislative districts, making the process inherently political. Iowa’s non-partisan approach came out of a messy redistricting process in the 1970s.
There is some interest in redistricting beyond the Capitol, Lensing said. People know where there has been population growth and loss. They’re interested in how that will change the Legislature.
It’s clear to Iverson rural Iowa will lose representation in the Legislature. Roughly two-thirds of Iowa counties have recorded population losses. The growth has tended to be in and around metro areas.
Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley, R-Chariton, think those most anxious about the new maps are those who just went through a campaign in 2010.
“For those people who just went through a campaign, the thought of doing it again is daunting,” he said.
Perhaps not so daunting for House members who run every two years regardless of redistricting. However, a quirk of the process, Greiner noted, is that if a senator in an odd-numbered district lands in an even-numbered district, they will have to run in 2012 whether they were elected in 2008 or 2010.
If anyone is more anxious than legislators, it might those in the offices of Iowa’s five U.S. House members who will be caught in a game of redistricting musical chairs. Based on U.S. Census Bureau numbers showing Iowa’s population grew more slowly than other states, Iowa will lose one congressional seat. No one plans to retire, so there will be at least one race pitting incumbents against each other in 2012.
More information on redistricting can be found at http://www.legis.iowa.gov/Resources/Redist/redistricting.aspx.
March 31 — Legislature receives plan
April 4-7 – Public hearings
April 8 – Temporary Redistricting Advisory Commission submits report
April 13 — First day map can be considered by either chamber of the Legislature – following committee action