Iowa Redistricting Makes For Interesting Side Step

When redistricting throws two state lawmakers from the same party into the same district, it’s not unusual to see one of them retire. But something really different is happening in Iowa – two lawmakers are stepping aside for a colleague from the other party.
February 10, 2012
 

When redistricting throws two state lawmakers from the same party into the same district, it’s not unusual to see one of them retire. But something really different is happening in Iowa – two lawmakers are stepping aside for a colleague from the other party.

“To me it was, like, wow, they can play nice in Iowa,” said Ed Cook, the senior legal counsel for the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency in Des Moines which drew the new lines.

Cook surmises that the Democratic and Republican parties were in on the deal, and agreed to the seat swap, which leaves one Democrat and one Republican still standing.

Here’s what happened:  Because of the redistricting, five Iowa lawmakers resigned this week, rather than face election against a fellow lawmaker. Two of them, state Sen. Pat Ward, R-West Des Moines, and Senate President Jack Kibbie, D-Emmetsburg, stepped aside for members of the other party. Ward’s decision leaves Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, holding his seat. Kibbie’s stepping down means Sen. David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan, won’t have to face an election against a colleague.

Other resignations included:

·Sen. Tom Hancock, D-Epworth, who had planned to retire anyway, will resign so that freshman Sen. Tod Bowman, D-Maquoketa, can keep his seat rather than run again two years after his first election.

·Sen. Robert Bacon, R-Maxwell, indicated he would run for a House seat, rather than force first-termer Sen. Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, into another election;

·Sen. Jim Seymour, R-Woodbine, resigned to let Sen. Nancy Boettger, R-Harlan, keep her seat.

Iowa redistricting law is quirky and part of the reason for the resignations. The statute states that if state senators are forced into the same district, they must run again before their terms expire.

For example, a senator elected for a four-year term in 2010, would have to run again in 2012, if he or she were in a district along with another incumbent, rather than wait until their terms expire in 2014. That election would allow them to keep or lose the seat only for another two years, when the winner would have to run again for another term if they wanted to continue serving. That’s three elections in four years.

“Iowa is – when it comes to redistricting and the election that follows -- there is no analogue. It is unique in the world, said Tim Storey, the National Conference of State Legislature's expert on redistricting.

Iowa’s legislative staffers draw the lines, Storey explained, and those lines are drawn without regard to where the lawmakers live. In fact, he said, the legislature tries to get staffers who do not know where the legislators’ homes are, the better to assure that the lines are drawn simply by population. The result is that this happens every ten years.

“Iowa redistricting is just another name for term limits in some cases,” said Michael McDonald, a redistricting expert at the Brookings Institution think tank. “It’s a state that has an incumbent blind process. Incumbents do vote on these districts, because of the norms within the state they tend not to reject the plans…”

He said a similar thing happened 10 years ago, and probably will happen in the next decade, though the resignation of legislators from a different party is unusual.

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