The redistricting process can be one of the most stressful things a politician has to endure. While the process of settling on new legislative and congressional boundaries went smoother than anyone anticipated, the ramifications of the new map have yet to play out, especially in legislative districts.
As we already know, Congressman Dave Loebsack and Congressman Tom Latham have both announced their plans to move into districts that they have represented portions of before. While it is never easy to up and move from your home, the decisions made by Loebsack and Latham seem to have been both expected and accepted by people in the districts which they plan to seek re-election.
If anything was unexpected, it was Christie Vilsack’s desire to move to the most Republican district in the state to take on Congressman Steve King. Vilsack has not called one part of the newly constructed fourth district home during her lifetime, but she and her husband, former governor and current U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, have now decided to call Ames home.
Even though redistricting can get messy by throwing incumbents from the same party into the same district, which happens frequently in state legislative districts, it also creates opportunities for each political party to recruit future leaders to run in seats that currently are not represented by anyone.
These “open seats” are often golden opportunities to elect outstanding individuals who may not otherwise run against an incumbent. With 14 open seats in the Iowa House, and seven open seats in the Iowa Senate, the state capitol could see some impressive new faces in January of 2013.
One new Republican face that came up just short in 2010, announced yesterday that he would be running for the State Senate in an open seat. Andrew Naeve, a sixth generation family farmer from Clinton, has announced his intent to run for the newly created Senate District 49, a seat which includes all of Clinton County and portions of northern Scott County. Naeve, a Republican, came just 71 votes shy of being elected to the Senate in 2010 in a heavily Democratic district.
Naeve, a graduate of Cornell University and Vice President of his local school board, now finds himself in a much more hospitable district than the one he ran in last year. In 2010, the seat he ran for had over a 20-point advantage for Democrats,. With the new lines, that advantage is now just eight points.
While Naeve has a clear path to the Republican nomination in the open seat with no other Republican candidate thinking about running, other candidates do not have the same luxury. Gabe Haugland, a dynamic young conservative who has been active in Republican politics and is back from a recent deployment in Afghanistan, wants to run for the Iowa House in House District 54, an open seat that includes Clear Lake, where he lives.
Even though there is currently no incumbent in HD 54, House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer is contemplating moving into the district. After redistricting, Upmeyer finds herself thrown into a district with not just one other incumbent Republican, but two. Upmeyer, Stewart Iverson, and Henry Rayhons currently reside in the new district, HD 8. Conventional wisdom suggests that Upmeyer moves to Clear Lake, an area that she has represented for years, while either Rayhons or Iverson run for the Senate District 4, which is also an open sent, leaving the other one alone in the House seat.
The fix seems reasonable, but seeing the Majority Leader basically volunteer to move in order to pacify her other colleagues seems odd. Iverson, who was once the Senate Majority Leader, seemed to indicate at a recent Wright County GOP fundraiser that he was interested in running for the open senate seat. If that’s the case, then Upmeyer is moving into a new district so that Rayhons, a reliable conservative vote, who is also 75-years old, can retain his seat.
While that seems to solve a redistricting problem for some long-time legislators who are not quite ready to call it a career, it actually sends a terrible signal to young eager candidates like Haugland. It’s one thing to wait your turn when a Republican currently represents the area where you live, but when someone moves into your now open district, it can be a bitter pill to swallow.
Haugland either has to primary the sitting Majority Leader who is moving into his district or hope that she chooses to stay in her current district. Rayhons told IowaPolitics.com that he would retire instead of running against another Republican. Yet, Upmeyer’s indecision has everything on hold.
“It’s going to all depend on what Representative Upmeyer does,” Rayhons told IowaPolitics.com. “I would guess that I would probably run for that House seat if Representative Upmeyer decides to move. However, I will not interject if Representative Upmeyer stays where she is and wants the seat. I would quit the Legislature, probably.”
One would hope that our legislative leaders would do what is best for Republicans in the long run instead of what is convenient right now. The opportunity to elect a young, bright, articulate conservative to the Iowa House doesn’t come all that often.
If Upmeyer decides if she is going to move to Clear Lake, she will help either Rayhons or Iverson prolong their career in the House, but she also runs the risk of losing out on recruiting an exceptional candidate. With the current stalemate in the budget negotiations, Upmeyer probably isn’t going to make a decision until after the legislative session concludes. I guess we have to wait and see, just like Haugland and Rayhons.
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