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Meeting with Edwin Cook
Civic Caucus, 8301 Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN 55437
Friday, January 12, 2007
Guest speaker: Edwin Cook, Senior Legal Counsel, Iowa Legislative
Present: Verne C. Johnson, chair, (by
phone), Chuck Clay (by phone), Bill Frenzel (by phone), Paul Gilje (by
phone), John Mooty (by phone), Jim Olson (by phone), Wayne Popham (by
A. Context of the meeting--As the
Civic Caucus has been learning about the elections process, some speakers
have mentioned the approach used by Iowa in redistricting. Today's meeting
is devoted to a discussion of the Iowa process.
B. Introductions and welcome--Paul
welcomed and introduced Edwin Cook, senior legal counsel, Iowa Legislative
Services Agency. Cook has a law degree from the University of Iowa, and
has been a legal counsel with the Iowa Legislative Services Agency since
C. Comments and discussion--During
Cook's remarks and in discussion with the Civic Caucus the following
points were raised. (Information also is supplied from "Legislative Guide
to Redistricting", December 2000, by Cook. See: http://www.legis.state.ia.us/Central/Guides/redist.pdf
1. Background on the Iowa Legislative Services
Agency--The non-partisan agency has served the Iowa Legislature
since the late 1960s. It is responsible for all bill-drafting services for
the Legislature. Since 1980, it has also been assigned the responsibility
of preparing the every-10-years redistricting plans for congressional and
legislative seats in Iowa.
2. History of Iowa redistricting--In 1962 the US. Supreme Court
ruled that a challenge to a redistricting plan could be brought and
resolved in court. This ruling had repercussions throughout the nation. In
1968 the Iowa constitution was amended to fulfill the U. S. constitutional
mandate to draw boundaries based on population and provide the basis for
establishing districts following the federal dicennial census. Iowa's
constitution provides that if the General Assembly (state legislature)
fails to redistrict, the Iowa Supreme Court shall assume responsibility.
The Iowa constitution provides that legislative districts be based on
population and be of compact and contiguous territory.
After the 1970 census, the General Assembly adopted a redistricting plan
that was struck down by the Iowa Supreme Court, which then redrew the
In 1980, with support from the League of Women Voters, the General
Assembly enacted a statutory process that provides for the Iowa
Legislative Services Agency to draw the districts, subject to legislative
and gubernatorial approval. That process, used in the 1981, 1991 and 2001
redistricting, remains intact today.
3. How the process works--When the
Iowa Legislative Services Agency prepares a plan, it is submitted to the
Legislature in bill form. Under law the Legislature must accept or reject
the first plan and be signed into law by the Governor. It can't be
amended. If the first plan is rejected by the Legislature or Governor, the
Legislature Services Agency prepares a second plan, which also must be
accepted or rejected without amendment. If both the first and second plans
are rejected, a third plan is presented by the Agency. This time the
Legislature is allowed to amend the plan, it if chooses. If the third plan
is not adopted, the Iowa Supreme Court prepares and adopts a plan.
In 1981, the Legislature adopted the third plan, without amendments. In
1991 the Legislature adopted the first plan, and in 2001, the second plan.
In 1981 the Republicans were in control of the Legislature. In the
elections after 1981 redistricting, the Democrats regained control. In
1991 the Democrats were in control. In the elections after 1991, the
Republicans regained control. In 2001 the Republicans were in control, but
after the 2006 elections, Democrats regained control.
4. Respect for county boundaries in congressional
redistricting--Iowa has 99 counties. The state now has five
representatives in Congress (dropping to four after the 2010 census). The
state constitution requires that counties shall not be split between
congressional districts. Cook said no county in Iowa is so large as to
need to be split. The requirement to respect county boundaries has the
effect of limiting ways that district lines might be drawn.
5. Iowa standards for redistricting--The
following standards are in state law:
a. Population equality--The deviation
from equal population in congressional district may not exceed one
percent, unless necessary to avoid splitting counties. The deviation from
equal population in legislative districts may not exceed one
b. Respect for city, township and county
boundaries--Iowa law provides that consistent with population
equality requirements, district boundaries should coincide with boundaries
of political subdivisions. The law states that the number of cities and
counties divided among more than one legislative district should be as
small as possible; if a choice exists on dividing political subdivisions,
the most populous shall be divided first.
c. Contiguous territory required--The
state constitution requires territory in each district to be contiguous.
That is, one part of a district cannot be separated from another part.
State law specifies that areas which meet only at points of adjoining
corners are not contiguous.
d. Compact districts required--State
law requires that congressional and legislative districts must be compact
in form, "those which are square, rectangular, or hexagonal in shape to
the extent permitted by natural or political boundaries."
6. "Negative" standards--The law also
lists factors that may not be considered in drawing districts: addresses
of incumbents, political affiliation of registered voters, and previous
election results. The redistricting plan adopted in 2001 "paired" two
incumbent members of Congress, 25 of the 50 incumbents in the Iowa Senate,
and 39 of 100 incumbents in the Iowa House. Four legislative leaders were
paired. In effect, Cook said, it's Iowa's version of term limits. Some
paired office holders decided it was a good time to retire. Some moved
7. How the Legislative Services Agency is
structured--The Legislative Service Agency is headed by a
director who is appointed by the Legislature. About 20 attorneys are on
the staff of the Agency, appointed by the director. In the fall before
redistricting is undertaken, three staffers, including Cook, a computer
expert, and one other staffer, move to a separate office to prepare for
redistricting. This three-person staff prepares the plan. Ultimately the
director of the Agency comes in and approves the plan. The plan is
officially submitted in bill form to the Legislature by the Agency. The
current director is Dennis Prouty. The director during the 1991 and 2001
redistricting was Diane Bolender.
A five-person Temporary Redistricting Advisory Commission (four selected
by the majority and minority floor leaders and the fifth, the chair, who
may not be an elected official, selected by the other four) are
responsible for conducting public hearings on the plan. Cook said the
Agency may consult with the Commission on technical matters.
8. Difficulty in defining "competitive"--In
discussion it was noted that the Arizona redistricting commission is
required to make districts competitive; in Iowa, the
Legislative Services Agency is prohibited from using such a criterion.
Cook said that the key to including any criterion is whether it can be
adequately defined. One possibility for defining "competitive" would be
that it would be possible for either party to win a district. Such a
criterion would not work in Iowa, he said. A Civic Caucus member observed
that the strength of the Iowa approach lies in its "negative" criteria,
including a prohibition on political considerations.
9. General satisfaction--In response
to a question Cook said people seem satisfied with the Iowa approach and
no serious attempts have been undertaken to change the system. Cook said
he has visited from time to time with various people from Minnesota and
other states. He doesn't recall being asked to come to Minnesota to
describe the Iowa system.
10. Start with the largest geographic entity
possible--It was agreed in the discussion that it is helpful in
Iowa that the Constitution specifies counties as the basic unit for
preserving in redistricting. Iowa has 99 counties, all of them similar in
shape and size. The state has five Congressional districts, 50 State
Senate districts, and 100 State House districts. The Constitution requires
that no county can be divided up into more than one Congressional
district, although counties can be divided in legislative districts to
meet population requirements. Currently the 50 State Senate districts are
divided, 10 each, into the five Congressional Districts, and the 100 State
House districts divided, two each, into the 50 Senate Districts.
Cook said that after the 2010 census, Iowa is scheduled to lose a
Congressional seat, so the "neatness" of the 5-50-100 approach will have
Cook acknowledged that Iowa benefits from a requirement that it begin
redistricting with the largest geographic entity possible, in its case,
the county. He advised that other states ought to pick the largest
geographic entity it can come up with, for example, census tracts.
11. Iowa presidential caucuses--The
group discussed briefly with Cook the role of the Iowa presidential
caucuses. Cook clarified that these caucuses, every four years, function
only for a presidential preference ballot. They are not used for
endorsement of congressional, legislative, governor or other races. The
Iowa primary occurs in May-June, he said. Unlike Minnesota, the political
parties don't use precinct caucuses for endorsement purposes.
12. Active involvement of legislative leaders in
legislative campaigns--It was noted that the Civic Caucus has
had extensive discussions in recent weeks about the large and growing role
of the legislative caucuses in selecting candidates, providing financing,
and conducting the campaigns. Cook said the same kind of practices are
occurring in Iowa.
13. Single transferable vote (instant runoff
voting)--Cook had no comment on Civic Caucus discussion of
instant runoff voting, in which voters rank candidates in order of
preference, rather than only voting for one.
14. Thanks--On behalf of the Civic
Caucus, Verne Johnson and others thanked Cook for meeting with us today.
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. Core participants
include persons of varying political persuasions, reflecting
years of leadership in politics and business.
A working group meets face-to-face to
provide leadership. They are Verne C. Johnson, chair; Lee
Canning, Charles Clay, Bill Frenzel,
Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland,
John Mooty, Jim Olson, Wayne Popham and John Rollwagen.