First redistricting battles launched in Indiana, Iowa
The first of the nation’s redistricting fights for Congress began in Iowa and Indiana this week, with Democrats who control Indiana’s House proposing a map that left out Republican Rep. Steve Buyer, one of the Clinton impeachment managers.
The elimination of his district will put Buyer, in his fifth term, in a contest with newly elected GOP Rep. Brian Kerns. In Iowa, two Republicans were put into the same district.
With control of Congress at stake, states must redraw their districts to reflect population changes following the census. Indiana, which didn’t keep up with the nation’s growth, will lose one House seat. Some of the biggest fights will be in Pennsylvania, Texas and California.
”There’s a lot at stake,” said Brian Vargus, a pollster at Indiana University. ”Basically you’ve got a House of Representatives that’s essentially split down the middle, and you’re looking at a redistricting that will decide the advantage.”
A hushed statehouse in Iowa greeted the presentation of the new maps Thursday. Republican Reps. Jim Nussle and Jim Leach were put into a new congressional district in eastern Iowa. Thirty-nine state legislators were put into competing districts.
Iowa is among a handful of states that try to take politics out of redistricting by handing the task to staff who are prohibited from considering incumbents and the like.
In Des Moines, that set the scene for nervous laughter as staffers unveiled the map. ”Here comes Dianne with our political futures,” Senate Majority Leader Stewart Iverson said as a staffer entered the chamber, maps in hand.
Traveling in Indiana on Thursday, Buyer said he expected some payback. ”Between being an impeachment manager and what I had done in the Florida recount, it made me high-profile for Democrats, so I’m not surprised.”
”Redistricting is a political process, and Democrats control that process in Indiana. To the victors go the spoils,” he said. Buyer said he’s confident he can win in the new district.
Indiana and Iowa are the first, but several others are beginning the task of redistricting. Arkansas legislators are considering a status quo map, South Carolina has held hearings, and Georgia and Colorado are weighing special sessions this summer.
New maps in those states must be finished in time for primary filing deadlines for the 2002 elections. For politicians, elections are what redistricting is about.
”District lines are the heart of everything that a politician does,” said Kimball Brace, a redistricting expert who worked with the Iowa committee. ”It’s their political livelihood they’re looking at.”
And each state’s role in drawing seats for Congress puts a premium on political relationships and payback.
Indiana state Rep. Win Moses, a Democrat, acknowledged the personal nature of the process, but said Buyer’s leadership role in former President Clinton’s impeachment was not discussed when maps were drawn.
”There are some incumbents we like more than others,” Moses said. ”The four that seemed to be more favorable to us, we found a way – the rest was just kind of divided up.”
The map proposed by Indiana’s House Democrats is almost certain to win approval. The Republican-controlled Senate may disagree, but Democratic Gov. Frank O’Bannon appoints the tie-breaking member to a commission that resolves disputes.
With Republicans in control of the U.S. House 221-211, national Democrats and Republicans are getting involved. Democrats have pledged to spend $13 million on assistance to states; Republicans’ national operation is tracking it, too.
But politics alone doesn’t determine the outcome: federal law and court decisions require map-drawers to consider not only census numbers but race, ethnicity, geography, and history.
Redistricting affects virtually every level of politics, from Congress to city council. The goal is to make districts roughly the same size – whether they be city council seats in Albuquerque or each state’s seats in the U.S. House.
Redistricting analysts expect bigger fights in states which gained or lost congressional seats, such as Pennsylvania and New York, and those with large and growing minority populations, such as Texas and California.
Legislative redistricting is on a faster track in several states, especially New Jersey and Virginia, which hold legislative elections in the fall.
For both states, in what may be a sign of the future of redistricting elsewhere, the minority parties are vowing to contest the new maps in court.
On the Net:
Democratic redistricting site: http://www.impac2000.org
Republican National Congressional Committee site: http://www.nrcc.org/
Census site: http://www.census.gov/clo/www/redistricting.html
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