Iowa’s 2012 Shuffle: Five Members, Four Seats

Posted January 5, 2011 at 7:00pm

In a high-stakes game of musical chairs, all five members of Iowa’s House delegation plan to run for re-election in 2012, but the Hawkeye State will send only four of them to Congress following the next election. Reapportionment from the 2010 Census translates to a one-seat loss for Iowa, which means someone will be the odd Member out.

Rep. Leonard Boswell, the oldest member of Iowa’s House delegation by 14 years, was thought to be considering retirement, making it easier for the other Members. But Boswell told Roll Call he will seek re-election, saying that preparing to run in a not-yet-drawn district is no different from his previous races.

National Republicans have frequently targeted the Des Moines-area Democrat since he was elected to the House in 1996, one reason he is preparing early — Boswell declared on election night that he would be on the ballot in 2012.

“We could speculate ’til the sun goes down, and it’d be all speculation, so I’ll just wait and see,” he said in an interview Wednesday before being sworn in for an eighth term. “I just keep doing what I do. We work our tail off to do good constituent service, being available to people, continue to work on whatever’s out there that their concern is, keep a lot of face time with them.”

Though all five Iowa incumbents survived 2010 in good shape, 2012 may bring their toughest test yet. Members have no influence over the state’s nonpartisan redistricting process and won’t have the option of running for Senate or governor since those offices won’t be up for election until 2014.

Any of the Members could end up in a primary or general election against another incumbent. The two Republicans, Reps. Tom Latham and Steve King, can expect a boost from presidential contenders coming to the heartland for the first-in-the-nation caucus.

Boswell and Latham, who is the second-oldest member of the delegation, are the only two Members who have gone through Congressional redistricting before. Though Iowa retained all five of its seats in the previous round of redistricting, population shifts changed the lines and prompted moves in the delegation. After the lines were redrawn in 2001, Boswell moved to Des Moines to represent the district Rep. Greg Ganske (R) left behind when he ran for Senate. Latham went from representing a district in the northwest corner of the state to his roughly triangular district in northern and central Iowa. Latham said he’s disappointed the state is losing a seat but optimistic about the redistricting process.

“Iowans are lucky to have what is widely regarded as one of the fairest redistricting processes in the country governing how the new Congressional districts will be drawn,” the Republican said in a statement.

Most states draw lines for Congressional and state legislative districts in the state legislature and pass it the way any other bill is passed, subjecting the process to the partisan desires of those running the state legislature and the governor who signs the bill into law.

But in Iowa, the independent Legislative Services Agency draws up the proposal and submits it to the state legislature. The first plan must be submitted within a limited amount of time after the release of the official population count, but not before April 1. The districts must be roughly the same population, must include whole counties and should be reasonably compact. If legislators don’t feel the map meets those standards, they can send it back to the agency twice.

Once the process is done, though, it’s likely the larger cities that anchor districts now will do so again. A district will probably be centered on Des Moines, where Boswell has a house. The Waterloo-Cedar Falls area, where third-term Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley lives, is likely to anchor another in northeastern Iowa, and the population bases of Cedar Rapids and the Quad Cities in the neighboring district of Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack could form a foundation for another district. Braley said he anticipates population growth in the northeastern part of the state means his district is likely to grow.

“We’ll have to see what the new map looks like, but realistically my district is probably going to move north to the Minnesota border,” Braley told Roll Call. “It’s probably going to move west, and it’s likely to move south in some ways.”

Boswell wouldn’t speculate on whether new lines would mean he continues to represent Des Moines. He declined to say whether he would prefer a rural district more like the one he represented in southern Iowa before the last round of redistricting.

“Everybody wants the capital city, whatever state you’re in,” he said.

Latham, who lives in Hampton, and Loebsack, who lives in Mount Vernon, told Roll Call in separate statements that they were disappointed to see the lost representation from reapportionment but plan to plow ahead in 2012. Loebsack said he is honored to hold his 2nd district seat and “would be honored to represent new counties as well.”

But in case squeezing five Members into four districts isn’t enough, current Members may not be the only ones keeping an eye on the Congressional redistricting process. Rumors persist that former first lady Christie Vilsack, the wife of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, is calling Iowans about a potential run for Congress.

It’s unclear from where Vilsack would run. She’s from Mount Pleasant, which is in Loebsack’s district, but works in Des Moines. Her foundation’s office is across the hall from Boswell’s campaign headquarters.

Braley, who is rumored to be mulling a run for the Senate if Sen. Tom Harkin (D) retires in 2014, said he is taking the march toward the next election one step at a time.

“There are a lot worse things in life than losing an election, and so I am grateful that I have the opportunity and privilege of representing the 1st district of Iowa another term,” he said.