Were Iowa GOP Legislators At ALEC Gerrymandering Panel?

At an annual meeting, members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) had an opportunity to attend a panel called “How to Survive Redistricting.”

The panel featured four people considered experts in gerrymandering and defending gerrymandered districts.

Legislators at the meeting were given advice about how to draw white, conservative districts by putting more people of color in a single district, how to defend gerrymandered maps in court and how to pretend to play by the rules when drawing districts that benefit Republicans.

Slate uncovered all of this based on exclusive audio recordings of the panel.

“During the session, the legislators were advised to treat redistricting as ‘political adult blood sport,’ trash potential evidence before it can be discovered through litigation, avoid the word gerrymander, and make deals with black and Latino legislators that guarantee them easy reelections by packing as many minority voters as possible into their districts, thereby making the rest of the map whiter and more conservative,” Slate wrote.

ALEC is a nonprofit organization of conservative state legislators who draft and share state-level legislation for members to take back to their states. Rep. Linda Upmeyer, an Iowa lawmaker and the current Speaker of the Iowa House, serves as Chair Emeritus for ALEC. Iowa Sen. Jason Schultz and Rep. John Wills serve as ALEC state chairs.

Recently, there’s been concern about whether Republican lawmakers would uphold Iowa’s method for drawing districts.

State Sen. Charles Schneider, who was an ALEC State Chair, has committed to upholding Iowa’s redistricting process and he said he wouldn’t support a bill that would change it. So too has state Rep. Chris Hagenow, who appears to be in the running to become the Iowa House’s next Speaker.

Starting Line reached out to Upmeyer, Schultz and Wills but didn’t receive a comment by press time.

In the meeting, the panelists also tried to argue that truly nonpartisan maps aren’t possible to create because districts always benefit one group over another.

That isn’t true.

One of Iowa’s claims to national fame is its nonpartisan redistricting process, something the Slate article pointed out.

In Iowa, the responsibility for drawing districts falls to the Legislative Service Agency, a group of nonpartisan legislative staff. When building the maps, they aren’t allowed to consider political data.

New maps are then opened up to three public hearings and a report is submitted to the Iowa General Assembly, which gives the maps an up or down vote. That’s repeated twice more until a map passes.

On the national level, Iowa Rep. Abby Finkenauer pushed to have Iowa exempted from new redistricting rules set out by H.R. 1, the House of Representative’s “For the People Act.” This exemption would allow Iowa to keep its redistricting system.

 

by Nikoel Hytrek
Posted 9/4/19

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