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April 13th, 2011

Lawmakers Rush to Approve Redistricting Plan

By Craig Robinson

Iowa lawmakers are in a rush to approve the first redistricting proposal from the Legislative Services Agency.  Iowa’s redistricting process has safeguards to ensure that the legislature approves a plan before September 15th.   Yet, if everything goes according to plan, the new redistricting map could be approved in just two weeks from the time it was unveiled to lawmakers.

It seems a little odd that lawmakers would rush through something as important as a redistricting plan.  The new political boundaries that the map creates will have a major impact on the political landscape in Iowa for the next decade.  Even more unnerving is that the GOP dominated Iowa House is expected to quickly approve a plan that the Senate and House Democrats think favors them.

On one hand, getting the redistricting process finished and off of the agenda may help lawmakers focus on other pressing issues like Governor Branstad’s insistence on a biennial budget.  On the other hand, hastily accepting the first redistricting plan without giving it the due diligence it deserves could haunt Iowa Republicans over the nest decade, a decade that will include two gubernatorial elections and three U.S. Senate contests.

Since the House and Senate are scheduled to vote on the first proposed redistricting plan on Thursday, has decided to publish the voter registration numbers for all 150 House and Senate seats to make sure there is plenty of information out there for people to digest before the vote takes place.

While legislative leaders value performance data when drawing conclusions about each district, voter registration data is perhaps the best indicator of which way a district leans.  While Republicans have a number of legislators who represent districts with a Democratic registered voter advantage, I think it says more about that particular candidate than a particular district.

One thing is clear, when you look at the voter registration numbers in the House Districts, Republicans are at their high-water mark.  No matter what the electorate is like in 2012, House Republicans will likely lose some seats, especially since a number of incumbents find themselves sharing a district with another Republican colleague.

House Republicans will lose ten members due to members being thrown in with another Republican.  With President Obama on the top of the ticket, he will help Democrats turn out the vote in urban parts of the state.  That could spell trouble for a number of Republican legislators who represent Democrat leaning districts in metropolitan areas.  Other Republicans who represent Democrat areas might also not be able to withstand Obama’s impact on turnout.

Those who could be in trouble include:

HD 13: Jeremy Taylor – Democrats have an 848 Registered Voter Advantage
Note: Taylor is a good candidate, and he performed well in 2008 with Obama on the ballot, but this is going to be a tough district to hold on to.

HD 26 Glen Massie – Democrats have a 510 Registered Voter Advantage
Note: Without help from the Kent Sorenson and others on the ticket, Massie is going to struggle.  TIR has also heard that Massie is telling people that he may not seek re-election.

HD 57 Steve Luken – Democrats have a 2,326 Registered Voter Advantage
Note: Luken gets married this fall in Des Moines.

HD 58 (Hein/Moore) – Democrats have a 4111 Registered Voter Advantage

HD 64 Dan Rasmussen – Democrats have a 1,539 Registered Voter Advantage
Note: Rasmussen lost his re-election bid in 2008, when Obama was on the ticket.

HD 66: Renee Schulte – Democrats have a 1206 Registered Voter Advantage
Note: Schulte is a solid campaigner, but Cedar Rapids is getting more and more Democratic.  She did not have a serious race in 2010.

HD 68: Nick Wagener – Democrats have a 544 Registered Voter Advantage
Note: Wagener’s District isn’t that bad, but Linn County is going to be difficult in 2012.

HD 92: Ross Paustian – Democrats have a 573 Registered Voter Advantage
Note: Paustian lost in 2008, when Obama was on the ticket.

If you are doing the math, it currently looks like: 60 (current House Republicans minus 10 (GOP incumbents forced into a district with another GOP incumbent) minus 8 (GOP incumbents in trouble due to registration numbers) = 42

Republican prime pickup opportunities include HD 55 and HD 82, two seats where Democrats have primaries in Republican leaning seats.  Republican should also pick open seats in open Districts 2, 23, 37, 44, 54, 63, and 96.  Republicans should also perform well in two Democrat open seats in Districts 76 and 80.  The other district that is in play is HD 48, which is represented by Democrat State Representative Lisa Heddens.  The district has a 454-registered voter advantage for Republicans.

Math Update: 60 minus 10 minus 8 plus 2 plus 7 plus 2 plus 1 = 54

I don’t know why Speaker Paulsen is so eager to accept this plan when the voter registration totals suggest that he could lose a substantial number of seats.  The 54 seat projections also doesn’t include other Republicans who represent Democrat districts like Jeff Kaufmann and Steve Olsen, whose Districts may be difficult to hold on to if and when they decide to retire.

The Senate Map

Under the proposed plan, 27 seats would have a Democrat advantage in voter registration.  The number of Democrat leaning seats is deceiving.  Republicans hold three Senate seats with a 900 or more Democrat voter registration advantage, and those seats are occupied by Rick Bertrand, Mark Chelgren, and Sandy Greiner, all freshmen legislators, who are not up for re-election this year.

The road map for Senate Republicans to gain the majority is not difficult to see.

Current Republican Occupied Seats: 24

Number of incumbents lost due to being put into a District with another Republican: 3

Number of incumbents paired with incumbent Democrats who could lose: 2 (Bartz and Ward)

Number of Open Seats Senate Republicans Should Gain: 5 (SD 4, SD 10, SD 22, SD 28, SD 48)

Number of Incumbent Democrats Who Will Likely Lose Reelection: 2 (Rielly in SD 40, and Danielson in SD 30.)

Other Incumbent Democrats Who Could Be In Trouble: Sodders in SD 36 and Schoenjahn in SD 32

Republicans who could find re-election difficult: Hahn or Hamerlinck in SD 46 and Kupucian in SD 38

Worse-case scenario: 24, the same as they currently have.

Best-case scenario: 28 if Bartz wins, Kupucian and a Republican candidate in SD 46 win, and a Republican picks off Schoenjahn.

Lingering Question:  Why does Sen. Mike Gronstal and Senate Democrats like this map?

It very well could be because the next map gets a lot worse for them, and they know it.

Why the Congressional Map Matters

It seems as if the Republican powers that be are indifferent about the impact the proposed congressional maps will have on Iowa politics for the next decade.  Under the current plan, Republicans will be ceding control of the most populist part of the state, eastern Iowa, to the Democrats. That creates a huge problem when Republicans will want to win statewide elections in 2014, 2016, 2018, and 2020.

The proposed 1st Congressional District is as safe a Democrat seat as we have seen in Iowa.  While the 2nd District has given Republicans fits as of late, it’s Congressman Bruce Braley’s District that becomes the liberal bastion in Iowa.  The proposed 2nd District isn’t much better.  Sure, Republicans can compete there, but it will be extremely expensive due to its media markets, and if Christie Vilsack runs, it will be very difficult for Republicans to compete.

Having two secure Democrat members of Congress covering eastern Iowa will make it very difficult for Republicans to win statewide elections unless Branstad and Grassley seek additional terms.  At their ages, that is doubtful, and even still, those races will not be as easy as they were in 2010.

My Thoughts?

If this were an episode of “Let’s Make a Deal” I would want to see what’s behind door number two.  The current proposal is great for Republicans in the short term.  I fully expect that they would control the Iowa House, Iowa Senate, and Governor’s office.  I understand why that is attractive, but I think the Republican reign would be short lived.

We must accept a redistricting plan where Republicans can compete at all levels.  This plan doesn’t do that.  In fact, it gambles our future for an immediate victory.  If we go that route, Republican leaders had better be willing to make massive changes to state government while they have the chance in the short term, because they may not be able to hold on to these temporary gains for long.

Below are voter registration numbers for each of the legislative districts.

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About the Author

Craig Robinson

Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country.

Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses.

A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states.

Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site,

Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing.

Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.

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