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The second-day story, with your help. Call Gazette reporter Adam Belz at (319) 398-8273 or e-mail him: adam.belz@gazcomm.com

Gerrymander: a word that’s fun to say

With the primary behind us, and many candidates continuing to claim the new supervisor districts were gerrymandered, I thought it would be helpful to recap the contentious process that gave them to us.

1. The Redistricting Commission was five members — three appointed by the Board of Supervisors and two appointed by the chair of the Republican Party in Linn County. This is by law, and resulted in three Democrats and two Republicans on the commission.

2.  The commission initially endorsed Map D, a map drawn by computers at the Auditor’s Office, which gave the northern third of the county its own district, along with Hiawatha, Robins, Palo and a few northeast Cedar Rapids precincts. It put Marion and Mount Vernon in the same district.

3. The pivotal moment was a public hearing on October 2, 2007. Six people spoke to the commission, three in favor of Map D, three against it. The three people who spoke against it were former Mount Vernon Mayor Rick Elliott, Mount Vernon City Council member Diane Hoffmann (who is now chairwoman of the Linn Democrats) and Roy Porterfield of Cedar Rapids. They said Mount Vernon should not be grouped with Marion, because the two towns don’t go together naturally. (This is very important, because as far as I can tell, it is the only reason the commission abandoned Map D and moved toward a different solution.)

Here are the two maps.

4. The commission scrapped Map D and endorsed Map G, which was drawn by Democrat commission member Norm Sterzenbach and divides the districts the way we have them now. At the Oct. 22 public hearing on Map G, 28 people spoke against it and 14 spoke for it. (Worth noting: In Dick Hogan’s story the day after the hearing, the person quoted most prominently in support of Map G was Alan Bernard, the former director of the Hawkeye Labor Council who was yanked off a plane this winter and fired because of “financial irregularities” involving council funds.)

5. Despite the protests of several who’d pushed for election of supervisors by district, Map G went to the Board of Supervisors for approval on a 3-2 party line vote in the commission, and the supervisors approved it.

After this, the whole process was looked at by the state’s Legislative Services Agency which said it passed legal review. Secretary of State Michael Mauro then gave the districts his approval, effectively closing the issue unless those who protested wanted to take it to court. They didn’t, but that hasn’t stopped the accusations of gerrymandering.

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Filed under: County Government, , ,

5 Responses

  1. […] Not even in Iowa, a state which many consider to be the height of sensible redistricting pratices.  Check out these district maps – they look as tortured as anything you’d see in California, Texas, etc.  […]

  2. HJ Becil says:

    I reviewed the maps and I don’t understand what you are saying about map G being Gerrymandering. The districts are contiguous and compact, just as the Supreme Court directed in Baker vs Carr. Could you take another look at the maps and explain further your thoughts on the matter?
    HJ Becil

  3. Jason says:

    Any word on Alan Bernard and what (if any) legal action was made against him? I believe there was another younger female involved in the same ‘irregularities’.

  4. adambelz says:

    HJ Becil,
    I don’t argue that the maps WERE gerrymandered. I just point out that some people make that charge. They argue this because in Map G, there is no pure rural district. In Map D, the northern half of the county is grouped with Robins and Hiawatha, a district that would give a rural candidate a good shot at a seat on the Board of Supervisors.

    With Map G, some would argue, all the districts require a candidate to win in either Cedar Rapids or Marion, making it likely that only Cedar Rapids candidates — and one from Marion — serve on the Board of Supervisors.

    Dave Machacek or Eric Rosenthal could probably make the case better than I can, but I think that’s the gist of the argument.

    On the flip side, it could probably be argued that if one of the districts is engineered to give a rural candidate a better shot at getting on the board, then THAT would be gerrymandering. I, of course, have no opinion on the issue.

    Adam

  5. H J Becil says:

    Dear Mr Belz
    My comments were directed to the post that appeared above mine. In the post the writer stated that the maps “looked as tortured as anything you would find in California, Texas, etc.” I didn’t understand how he reached that conclusion.
    On a related topic I wondered if County residents are going to be happy with district representation.
    Using a controversial issue such as a landfill as an example. Let’s say you wanted to put a landfill near Mt Vernon IA. Under the District representation, one Supervisor, the one in District 2 will be against putting the landfill near Mt Vernon. The other four Supervisors will breathe a sigh of relief knowing it won’t be in their district. The measure would pass 4 to 1. Under the system we voted out, the affected residents could effectively lobby each of the Supervisors making their case to each one. They could also credibly threaten to mobilize candidates and money to try to vote them out. I don’t see that happening with district representation.
    While I can’t predict the controversies that may arise as a result of the flood, we may see flare ups if a Supervisor puts the interest of their district ahead of the general good for the County. Or a Supervisor would not be as engaged as they should be because the Supervisor felt their district was not directly impacted.

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