Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

In Iowa, Who Will Be Out?

In Redistricting on February 14, 2011 at 8:58 am

The layout of Iowa's five congressional districts.

The Census Bureau released Iowa’s census block data at the end of last week, giving us clues as to which of the five current US Representatives will be paired with another member for the 2012 election. The Hawkeye State did not keep pace with the national growth rate of 9.7% for the decade (it grew only 4.1%), and therefore loses one seat in reapportionment. All five current districts are substantially below the average of approximately 710,767 constituents that each seat will have for the next 10 years.

Iowa has a unique redistricting system. A select group of legislative staff members draw proposed congressional and legislative maps, and then the full general assembly votes up or down, without amendments, on the final drafts. What makes Iowa unique is that political considerations are minimized in the drawing process; in fact, the incumbents’ home addresses aren’t even included as a redistricting factor, making Iowa the only such state to proceed in such a fashion.

Of today’s five districts, from the map drawn and adopted in 2001, the seat requiring the most new population is Rep. Steve King’s CD 5 in Iowa’s western region. An additional 184,136 people must be added to meet the mandatory one person-one vote standard. The seat needing the second-most increase in population is Rep. Bruce Braley’s 1st district in the eastern part of the state at 165,146 individuals. Rep. Leonard Boswell’s 3rd district needs to gain the least, but even there the number is still substantial: 119,473 people. All totaled, when considering the state’s five congressional districts, Iowa is down a whopping 761,590 inhabitants.

In redistricting, and particularly where the Iowa system is concerned, a member’s House career path and standing within the internal committee structure is far less important than whether the district is located in a corner or the middle of the state, and if the particular region is growing or contracting. Since all five of Iowa’s districts are severely under the per district target population number, geography and anchor cities become highly important.

Rep. Tom Latham’s 4th district, needing 152,102 more people and residing in the central part of the state, could be most vulnerable to collapsing. This seat is the only one of the five without a major population center. It’s largest city is Ames, with just over 50,000 inhabitants – not much when compared to cities in other Iowa districts. For example, Cedar Rapids, with 121,000 people, anchors Rep. David Loebsack’s 2nd district.

Though the new four-district map can be drawn in many different ways, the state’s drastic population change will force a radical shifting of the congressional districts. The fact that King’s district can only move to the east – it is bordered by Nebraska and South Dakota on the west, Minnesota to the north, and Missouri to the south – means the Latham seat will be squeezed. The other three districts, Braley’s 1st, Loebsack’s 2nd, and Boswell’s 3rd, must all shift westward to gain the number of needed inhabitants. This will likely force Latham into a pairing with Boswell, since the former’s hometown of Ames is close to Des Moines and could easily be moved into that district, or King, who will likely pick up the Ft. Dodge area.

There are many other scenarios that can easily be crafted to make another member the odd man out but the 4th’s characteristics, straddling the middle of the state without a major population anchor, portends to what could become the most logical final framework option.
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