DES MOINES --- The top Republican in the state Senate says his members are upset by a “federal overreach” from the Democratic Biden administration, but expects to deal only with the redistricting issue — and not other topics — this week when the GOP-led Iowa Legislature meets in special session.
Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said he has been talking individually with senators in his 32-member caucus to gauge support for the new election boundaries for congressional and legislative districts drawn by the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency and plans to make his recommendation in closed-caucus when they convene Tuesday.
However, he did not indicate what he will recommend other than that the Legislature abide by the rules spelled out in Iowa law that prescribe lawmakers must take an “up-or-down” vote on the new maps and seek a second version from the agency if they reject the first. Because results from the 2020 Census were delayed, lawmakers will be working under a tight timeline set by the Iowa Supreme Court.
“As with all pieces of legislation that we consider, we’ll make a final decision when we go to caucus on Tuesday,” Whitver said in an interview Friday. “We’ll gavel in at 10, we’ll go to caucus and make a final decision on the map.
“A number of our members have expressed concerns with the map. Other members have seen positive aspects of the map, and so we’ll have that caucus and make that final decision as a team on Tuesday,” he added. “I’ve been on the phone all day for a couple days just seeing what people think. Until we get together as a group, as a caucus on Tuesday, I can’t say for sure what’s going to happen.”
Three Republican senators -- Jason Schultz of Schleswig, Ken Rozenboom of Oskaloosa and Annette Sweeney of Alden -- all insisted they do not know whether the first set of proposed maps will pass. Under the proposed legislative election maps, Schultz and Sweeney would be drawn into new districts along with a fellow Republican incumbent senator.
“You know, everybody would like to have that crystal ball. Even we legislators don’t have that,” Sweeney said. “It’s part of the process. I’ve been through it before. I respect the process. So I think we’ll just have to wait until we get there on Tuesday.”
Rep. Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, who leads the minority Iowa House Democrats, said her sense is the Republican majorities will approve this first set of proposed maps. If there is any trepidation among Republicans, she said. it’s coming from the Senate.
“We’re hearing that there is a little bit of consternation in the Senate about what they want to do with the maps,” Konfrst said during her appearance on this weekend’s episode of “Iowa Press” on Iowa PBS. “But this can be a bipartisan vote if people are willing to take Democratic votes and we can help get this done.”
While senators are hearing concerns from their constituents over mask mandates and education-related topics, the Senate GOP leader said he expects this week’s special session will be confined to consideration of the proposed redistricting maps only and likely be completed in a day.
“I would say this: Our members are very concerned about massive federal overreach from this failing Biden agenda and our members are searching for ways to help Iowans who are concerned about this federal overreach,” Whitver said. “But currently we don’t have any other legislation prepared.”
While the Republican majorities will set the special session agenda, Konfrst said her feeling also is that lawmakers will focus solely on redistricting.
“I sure hope next Tuesday is boring,” she said. “We have January (the regular 2022 legislative session), it’s not that far away. We can bring up all these issues then. I don’t get the sense that there are a lot of members who are thrilled about coming back for (the special session) day after day after day. It’s the harvest, we all have day jobs that we need to get back to. So my sense is that we want to make this a daylong session and go about our business. So that is my hope and expectation.”
James Q. Lynch and Erin Murphy of the Journal Des Moines Bureau contributed to this report.