Editorial Roundup: Iowa

Quad-City Times. Oct. 24, 2021.

Editorial: Pass the maps

This week, Iowa legislators get another chance to uphold the state’s non-partisan redistricting process. We urge them to do so.

Last Thursday, the Legislative Services Agency offered a second set of congressional and legislative maps for state lawmakers to consider, just two weeks after Republicans in the Senate rejected the first proposal.

At first glance, the standard measurements used to figure whether districts are equal in population and regularly drawn aren’t that much different in the second set of maps than the first. There were very slight improvements to population equality and partial advances in the shape of some districts. But there also were some sacrifices. The distance around the congressional and state House districts grew in mileage, but those changes were quite small.

The truth is, it’s difficult to balance the competing interests in drawing political boundaries, which has to be done every 10 years; when you gain in one area you tend to lose in another. As lines are adjusted to lessen the differences in population among districts, that tends to change their shapes. When shapes are changed to make them more uniform, it can affect population differences.

The results are important, but what is most notable in this state is the process that’s used to draw these maps. In Iowa, political considerations are mostly ignored; instead the process requires assigning a neutral mapmaker, limiting population differences, striving for regularly drawn shapes and trying to keep city and county boundaries intact, among other requirements.

A few weeks ago, we urged state legislators to approve the first set of maps. The standard measurements for quality weren’t much different than in previous rounds of redistricting.

There was a political imbalance to the maps; they did place roughly 60 lawmakers in the same districts with their colleagues, and Republicans were more affected than Democrats. That was the luck of the draw.

When the maps were released, a number of political analysts predicted they would go down the tubes, and they did.

As of Friday, we had not seen an analysis that showed how many legislators in each of the two parties were thrown together in the new set of maps. But, overall, there are roughly 60 in districts with other incumbents, about the same as it was in the first set.

The newly proposed congressional map does eliminate the strong Democratic-lean to the 1st District, which in the first map put Scott, Linn and Johnson counties together.

It also maintains the 4th district in western Iowa, which has been in Republican hands for years, but the other districts could be considered tossups.

That may seem to be an unfair change to some, but again: Luck of the draw.

It’s true these maps have somewhat irregular shapes, just as the first set of maps did. There is a triangle in western Iowa; in central Iowa, another district looks like a box with a monster’s head jutting out; one Senate district in the Quad-City area encompasses a piece of east Davenport but then runs westward to West Branch.

That shouldn’t be shocking, though. No map will contain uniform squares and rectangles. The current map doesn’t.

The danger here is, if a second map is rejected, that will open the door to allowing politicians themselves to amend the boundaries. They can’t do that with the first two sets of maps; they must be voted up or down as a whole.

This is what happens across the country, as Republicans and Democrats in control of their Statehouses craft maps with an eye to maximizing political advantage. We don’t want to see that happen in Iowa.

There’s a surefire way to avoid this temptation and ensure the state’s redistricting process continues into the future. Republicans and Democrats should unite this Thursday when they meet in special session and approve these maps.

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Fort Dodge Messenger. Oct. 22, 2021.

Editorial: Chief justice’s legacy to be honored with volunteer efforts

Fairly and correctly administering the law was a form of public service that Mark Cady turned into his life’s work.

Cady, the Fort Dodge man who was the chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court when he died in November 2019, was a steady presence in courtrooms for nearly 40 years. He began his judicial career as a Webster County district associate court judge. He steadily moved up the ranks of the state’s judiciary, becoming a district court judge, judge of the Iowa Court of Appeals and justice of the Iowa Supreme Court. He became chief justice in 2010.

During that time, he heard thousands of cases and wrote just as many decisions and opinions.

Seeking a way to honor that legacy of service, the Drake University Law School and the Iowa State Bar Association have designated today as the second Mark S. Cady Day of Public Service.

As might be expected, attorneys are being encouraged to spend the day volunteering their time to work on various legal projects. But you do not need a law degree to take part in the Mark S. Cady Day of Public Service. A desire and ability to help others is all that is needed.

To mark the day here in Fort Dodge, First Presbyterian Church is organizing a cleanup project at Loomis Park. The effort is set to begin at noon and conclude at 1 p.m., so it will only take an hour of someone’s time to make a difference in one of the city’s biggest parks. To join the effort, meet in the parking lot by the boat house and playground.

Fort Dodge is far from the only place where projects will be done to honor the example set by Cady. On its web site, the Drake University Law School has listed events in Bettendorf, Cedar Rapids, Davenport, Iowa City, Marshalltown and Washington, Iowa. They include lots of attorney-driven projects that will bring legal advice to people who would not otherwise be able to get it. But the list of projects also includes park cleanups, blood drives, food drives and meal-packing sessions.

All of these community-minded activities are a fine tribute to Cady’s legacy. We encourage everyone to participate in the Mark S. Cady Day of Public Service.

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Dubuque Telegraph Herald. Oct. 22, 2021.

Editorial: Illinois illustrates perils of drawing partisan district maps

Anyone who’s unclear on the definition of gerrymandering need only to look at the congressional district maps unveiled in the state of Illinois one week ago.

Democrats in Illinois’ General Assembly have mapped out a plan that would reduce the number of congressional districts from 18 to 17, as dictated per the state’s drop in population in the 2020 Census. The new maps have created 17 districts that wind and bend like jigsaw puzzle pieces. The result? Whereas the current districts have placed 13 Democrats and five Republicans in Congress, the new maps would shift the breakdown to likely yield 14 Democrats and three Republicans. Even that’s not good enough for some Democrats who are pushing for a 15-2 split.

Clearly, there’s no one even trying for the appearance of fairness here.

In our neck of the woods, District 17, represented by Cheri Bustos, has long been a big and long district, running half the length of Illinois. But the proposed new maps are even weirder, taking a turn to the East at Peoria and running all the way to Bloomington, some 200 miles from the likes of East Dubuque.

The new maps would eliminate the seat in District 16, which includes the area just east of Freeport, where Trump critic Republican Adam Kinzinger currently serves.

Although Gov. J.B. Pritzker promised to veto partisan maps, that didn’t happen, and it’s looking like the proposed maps will get his support — even though state Republicans and other groups have brought court challenges.

It’s unfair to the people of Illinois to have such off balance representation. And when the decade turns and there’s been a shift in power, the maps are rejiggered to favor the other party. That’s not how representative government is supposed to work.

The debacle that is Illinois’ maps should be a lesson to the state’s tri-state neighbors.

In Iowa, a second try at nonpartisan redistricting maps came out Thursday. Lawmakers will vote on the second set of maps in a special legislative session Oct. 28. It’s critical that Iowa do the right thing and stick to its “gold standard” of fair and impartial maps.

Iowans overwhelmingly agree — they don’t want to be like Illinois. They want to keep things in balance with no one party wielding control. In general, isn’t that how politics work best? When two parties are forced to negotiate and find common ground, that’s where good legislation is born. We don’t see that so much in Washington, and sometimes not even in Des Moines. But it is far less likely when political gerrymandering gives one party all the power.

Take a look at the fiscal state of the State of Illinois and see how well that’s working.

And so goes the fight in Wisconsin. Residents of the Dairy State know only too well how much the maps matter. After Republicans drew the maps in 2011, the GOP won 60 out of 99 seats in the state Assembly the following year, despite a huge Democratic turnout.

This time around, Gov. Tony Evers created the People’s Maps Commission with the express purpose of drawing fair and nonpartisan maps. That was in line with the wishes of thousands of citizens who weighed in during the redistricting process. Now, even though the maps created would still give Republicans an edge over Democrats, Republicans who control the state legislature call the proposed maps “unconstitutional.” The mess is likely to be settled in court.

Few issues better illustrate the chasm between constituent wishes and political maneuvering than gerrymandering. Citizens want a fair fight, a balance, a representative government. Politicians who support partisan maps want an advantage, an upper hand, a safe seat.

We’re rooting for tri-state politicians to recognize this dichotomy and do the right thing. It’s hard to see that ever happening in Illinois. But Iowa can lead the way, and maybe Wisconsin can follow suit. In a world of political fighting, nonpartisan maps represent the will of the people.

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