There’ll be a “big reveal” at the statehouse Thursday morning. Maps that outline new boundaries for congressional and state legislative districts will be released.  

Staff in the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency have taken  population data from the 2010 Census and redrawn the lines for the state’s congressional district and for state legislative districts. It means high drama when the maps are unveiled at the statehouse, as members of the Iowa House and Senate scramble to see whether they may be forced to run against another legislator. Brent Siegrist, a Republican from Council Bluffs, was in the legislature in both 2001 and in 1991 when previous redistricting plans were revealed.

“Everything will come to pretty much a stand-still on Thursday. Everybody will huddle around the map and take a quick look at what it does to them and then they’ll start to see what it does to their friends,” Siegrist says. “I think this year with so many brand new people it will probably have even some added drama about whether or not their career might end quicker than they expected by being tossed in with another incumbent.”

Siegrist was first elected to the Iowa House in 1984. In 1991, Siegrist was gobsmacked when he saw that year’s redistricting map and discovered that in 1992 he’d have to run against a Democrat from Council Bluffs who’d already been elected to nine terms in the House. “That got my attention very quickly,” Siegrist said.  “Boy, it’s a punch in the gut if you see that you’ve been tossed in with an incumbent.” Siegrist won that 1992 race.

“In ’92 in the Iowa House of Representatives 12 incumbents were tossed in against each. That’s unheard of nationally, that you would approve a redistricting map that would take 12 percent of your incumbents and make them run against each other,” Siegrist says. “Who knows what will happen this time, but it’s likely some incumbents will have to face-off against in some cases a friend of the same party or in other cases somebody else from the other party, but either way it’s just really high drama.”

Siegrist was still in the legislature in 2001 when the last redistricting plan was considered. Siegrist was Speaker of the House by then and he visited with legislative leaders from other states who didn’t understand why he’d agree to the process Iowa uses to redraw district lines.

“I can remember in particular a member of the Nebraska legislature saying to me, ‘Why would you give up all that power?’  In other words — why would you give up the power to gerrymander?” Siegrist says, with a laugh.  “Iowa’s system is the best in the nation. It’s the fairest in the nation and other states don’t get it because by doing it the way, legislators give up power over those boundaries, but that’s good government and that’s the way it should be.”

The process for “redistricting” in Iowa calls for legislators either to accept or reject the maps unveiled Thursday. The lines cannot be adjusted by legislators. A vote on the redistricting plan will happen later this month, after a series of public hearings.  Iowa Democratic Party chairwoman Sue Dvorsky is married to a long-time legislator who has been through redistricting twice, in 1991 and 2001.

“This is really a very personally, worrisome, difficult kind of time,” Dvorsky says. “It’s easy to lose sight of how very challenging this is for legislators of both parties when this comes out.”

Even if a legislator isn’t paired against an incumbent in the new district maps, Dvorsky says they’ll still have to introduce themselves to a newly-configured district. “It gives them an opportunity to meet new voters,” she says. “It gives them an opportunity to hone their message.” 

The Democratic Party will not take a “yes” or “no” position on the redistricting plan, according to Dvorsky. “It’s nationally looked at as the non-partisan, fair, sort of gerrymander-proof system that exists in very few places,” Dvorsky says.

The redistricting plans to be revealed on Thursday will outline four rather than five congressional districts. Iowa’s losing a seat in the U.S. House because of more dramatic population gains in other states.  It means at least two of Iowa’s congressmen may have to run against one another in 2012. If the new congressional and state legislative district maps to be revealed on Thursday are rejected by the House and Senate, the Legislative Services agency will have to go back to the drawing board and draft new maps.