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March 17th, 2011

The Politics of Iowa’s Redistricting Process

By Craig Robinson

At the end of this month, the first redistricting plan for the state of Iowa will be presented to legislators and made available to the public. Iowa’s redistricting process is deemed to be one of the fairest and most nonpartisan processes in the country since a non-partisan state agency, the Legislative Services Agency (LSA), is responsible for drafting the three possible redistricting plans. The LSA develops its plan base on population equality, contiguity, compactness, and respect for political subdivisions (counties, cities, districts, etc.).

Even though the maps will be drawn by the non-partisan LSA, that doesn’t mean that politics will not play a role in the redistricting process. The first thing that each member of the legislature will do is look to see how each proposal will affect his or her district. Leadership will then determine how the proposed legislative districts will impact their caucus as well as their chances to win enough seats to constitute a majority in their chamber. Iowa’s five members of Congress will have no say in determining the new lines as the number of seats goes from five to four. They have to hope for mercy from the legislators.

Advances in technology also means that the redistricting process that will take place this year is probably going to be more political than before. With legislators having more data to look at when making their decision, and more Iowans providing their own analysis of the plans, the 2011 redistricting is likely to be the most politicized in the state’s history.

Each caucus in the legislature has been provided the same software that the LSA uses to generates its plan. While the LSA is prohibited from using political data in developing its proposal, each legislative caucus will be able to upload voter registration numbers and past performance data into the system to help them determine if a plan is good or bad for them politically.

Also adding to the politicization of Iowa’s redistricting process are outside groups like Iowans for a Responsible Redistricting, which is headed by Doug Gross and Richard Schwarm, two close allies of Governor Terry Branstad.

At the end of January, Gross mailed a fundraising appeal to Republican donors asking for $5000 and $10,000 contributions to help make sure that the district lines are, “fair to Republicans.” Gross’ fundraising appeal also included a seal of approval from Branstad as well as House and Senate Republicans.

The letter reads, “With the Iowa Senate controlled by the Democrats and the House controlled by Republicans, it is no less important for us in a redistricting year to be prepared to once again act as a watchdog over the process. Therefore, with the concurrence of the Iowa Republican leadership in both the Senate and the House and the Governor, Rich Schwarm and I are again forming the Iowans for Responsible Redistricting project.”

The letter goes on to say that the group needs to raise $150,000 to pay for staff, computer programs, census data, presentation materials, and any necessary research and legal work. Schwarm confirmed to TheIowaRepublican.com yesterday, that the group employs his son.

Before asking for large contributions, Gross’ states, “No one else has the capacity or the ability to analyze proposed plans for the impact they will have on electing Republicans. And due to campaign finance laws, the RNC has no money to help us this year.”

However, legislative staffers, as well as Glen Dickinson of the LSA, have confirmed to TheIowaRepublican.com that legislators can upload political data into their software , so it seems that Gross’ assertion that only his group can analyze the political impact of a plan is incorrect. Iowans for Responsible Redistricting seems to be providing a service that isn’t really needed. It is also burning through $150,000 in political contributions, which may hurt the election efforts of Republicans more than it helps.

In an interview with TheIowaRepublican.com, Schwarm admitted that he was unaware that each legislative caucus could analyze political data. Schwarm also insisted that he and Gross inquired as to whether or not there was a need for this group last year but got little response until January of this year, which is when they made their fundraising appeal.

While legislators have access to the relevant data and software, the Governor’s office does not. But, Schwarm was also unaware of this fact, so it seems this was not the impetus for Schwarm’s and Gross’ group.

Glen Dickinson of the LSA told TheIowaRepublican.com, “We have not been involved in working with the Governor’s office. However, the Governor’s office, or anyone, would not need to work with us to get the data and software. The data is available from the Census Bureau and the software is available from the Caliper Corporation.”

When asked how much the software costs, Dickenson reported that the legislature purchased the software for $5,000 per license, but he added that the cost had gone up to $7,000 per license. Those figures seem to raise questions about the need to raise $150,000 for Gross and Schwarm’s group.

The fundraising appeal by Gross is listed below. Republican leadership in the House and Senate as well as the Governor’s office were asked for comment, but none had responded at time of publication.

Photo by Dave Davidson.

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About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of TheIowaRepublican.com, 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 TheIowaRepublican.com 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, TheIowaRepublcian.com. 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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