Iowa's Plan 2: A status quo Congressional map

Part 8 in Evan Burger’s series on Iowa redistricting.

This morning, Iowa’s nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency (LSA) released their second redistricting proposal on October 21. Here’s a quick analysis of the Congressional map included in Plan 2; Laura Belin will write a companion piece examining the legislative maps later today.

The big takeaway is that this plan strongly resembles Iowa’s current map of U.S. House districts, especially when you look at the ten largest counties. Here is how Plan 2 groups those counties:

  • IA-01: Johnson (Iowa City), Scott (Quad Cities)
  • IA-02: Linn (Cedar Rapids), Black Hawk (Waterloo/Cedar Falls), Dubuque
  • IA-03: Polk (Des Moines area), Dallas (Des Moines suburbs)
  • IA-04: Story (Ames), Woodbury (Sioux City), Pottawattamie (Council Bluffs)

The current map groups those counties the same way, with the exception of Pottawattamie, which moves from the Polk district to the Story district.

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You cannot make this up

Senator Chuck Grassley struck an indignant tone a few hours after he and all of his fellow Republicans filibustered a bill that would have forced states to meet federal standards for absentee and early voting, and would have required more political groups to disclose their donors.

In his trademark Twitter style (lacking punctuation and some vowels), Grassley told his 660,000 followers that Democrats should drop their “massive partisan election takeover bill based on lies abt widespread voter suppression.” Anyone with proof of illegal discrimination in voting should take it to court, he said. “Don’t talk down our democratic process Best in world.”

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On picket line, Tom Vilsack says Deere workers deserve "fair deal"

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack stopped by the United Auto Workers picket line in Ankeny on October 20 to express support for John Deere workers who have been on strike since October 14. He is the first cabinet secretary in recent memory to join union members on a picket line.

While speaking to the workers, Vilsack recalled how important the UAW’s support was to his first gubernatorial bid in 1998. Backing from organized labor helped him win the Democratic primary by less than a 3-point margin. He then came from behind to defeat Republican nominee Jim Ross Lightfoot by a little less than 6 points in the general election. “You don’t forget the people who gave you an opportunity to serve. You just don’t.”

Regarding the issues that prompted the strike, Vilsack told the UAW members,

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: American Burnweed

Lora Conrad profiles a weedy native plant that favors disturbed ground.

Known variously as American Burnweed or Fireweed or Pilewort, Erechtites hieraciifolius (Senecio hieraciifolius is an earlier synonym) is found throughout Iowa as well as states east of Iowa. The names burnweed and fireweed result from its penchant for occurring in recently burned areas.

Why the other common name? Well, some indigenous peoples extracted oil from the plant and used it to treat piles, also known as hemorrhoids, thus the moniker pilewort.

It is a native summer annual in much of the U.S., as well as Central and South America. With its penchant for disturbed soil, you may see it sprinkled about or exploding in great numbers in recently disturbed soils, replanted prairies, roadsides, open woods, and renovated wetlands. It follows human habitation and disturbance of the soil. While considered “weedy,” it is not invasive. It tends to fade away as new plantings get more established. Despite its obvious appreciation for replanted prairies and native status, it is not listed in the UI “Iowa Prairie Plants” online.

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IA-Sen: A big quarter for Abby Finkenauer

The latest Federal Election Commission filings from Iowa’s U.S. Senate candidates included one big surprise. Former U.S. Representative Abby Finkenauer raised more money than seven-term Senator Chuck Grassley during the third quarter of the year.

Follow me after the jump for highlights on fundraising and spending by all the Senate candidates.

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Delayed map didn't hurt Iowa Congressional 3Q fundraising

Candidates running for U.S. House in Iowa raised a surprising amount of money from July through September, given that we have no idea what their districts will look like in 2022.

Follow me after the jump for highlights from the latest quarterly filings to the Federal Election Commission. Notable numbers from Congressional candidates’ fundraising and spending during the first half of 2021 can be found here.

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Traveling in the Right Direction

The late Paul W. Johnson wrote the following essay as an introduction to Chapter Five of “The Essential Aldo Leopold: Quotations and Commentaries,” C. Meine and R. Knight, eds., University of Wisconsin Press, 1999. It is reproduced here with permission of the UW Press and Curt Meine. Paul was a staunch advocate of land use policies which served people and conserved natural resources. During his career, he served as an Iowa state legislator from Decorah, chief of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, and director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The need to conserve soil and water seems obvious today. It was not always so. When Aldo Leopold began his conservation career with the US Forest Service, our nation was on a destructive rampage. Forests and croplands were thought to exist in limitless supply. Rangelands were considered useful only to the extent that they could support livestock grazing; range health was not an issue. Wetlands were considered wastelands. Surface waters were treated as sewers. Meandering streams were deemed too slow and inefficient, and wild rivers needed to be harnessed “for the good of mankind.”

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"This isn't just about us": The UAW view of John Deere strike

On the fourth day of Iowa’s largest strike in decades, George Clark of Podcast by George and I planned to interview some John Deere workers on the picket line in Ankeny. We learned that United Auto Workers, which represents some 10,000 Deere employees on strike, is discouraging rank and file members from speaking to the media.

However, JD Neal was authorized to talk with us outside the UAW hall in Des Moines. Neal has worked at the Deere plant in Ankeny for seventeen years and is among the leaders of the UAW Local 450.

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Iowa governor wrongly claims credit for large budget surplus

Tax and budget policy expert Randy Bauer was Governor Tom Vilsack’s budget director for six and a half years and has evaluated tax and revenue policies for many state and local governments.

In late September, Governor Kim Reynolds announced that the State of Iowa had a $1.24 billion surplus for fiscal year 2021, which ended on June 30. In a news release, she and the state’s interim budget director credited their own fiscal management for the surplus. Top Iowa Republican lawmakers have echoed that message.

Was it really all that praiseworthy? I’d suggest not. Here’s why this record surplus was not the big deal Reynolds and her minions made it out to be.

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For Chuck Grassley, everything is "Jes' Fine"

Herb Strentz sees parallels between Iowa’s senior senator and a classic comic strip character.

Granted, “Jes’ fine” is not much of a campaign slogan. It’s not as catchy as “I Like Ike,” which helped elect and re-elect President Dwight D. (Ike) Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956. Nor does it offer the hope of “Yes, We Can,” the theme of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.

But “Jes’ fine” launched a successful political career for “Fremount, The Boy Bug,” one of the Okefenokee Swamp characters in the Walt Kelly comic strip “Pogo” the possum. That was back in 1960.

“Jes’ fine” came to mind in assessing the campaign rhetoric of Iowa’s senior U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley.

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Why Mike Franken thinks he can beat Chuck Grassley

The Democratic field for U.S. Senate appears to be set at last, with retired Vice Admiral Mike Franken’s campaign launch on October 14. Franken is the fifth Democrat to join the field, following Dave Muhlbauer, Abby Finkenauer, Glenn Hurst, and Bob Krause.

Although he got a later start than his primary competitors, Franken enters the race with a strong base, having received 68,851 votes (nearly 25 percent) in last year’s four-way primary for U.S. Senate. Nominee Theresa Greenfield benefited from massive establishment support and some $7 million in outside spending before the June 2020 primary.

During an October 14 telephone interview, Franken discussed his decision to run and his stance on some major issues of the day.

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Iowa Democrats back Deere workers, Republicans mostly silent

Prominent Iowa Democrats were quick to express solidarity with United Auto Workers members who went on strike at midnight on October 14. But Republican officials were mostly silent as Iowa’s largest strike in decades began.

The work stoppage affects some 10,000 UAW members, of whom about 6,500 are employed at John Deere facilities in Waterloo, Ankeny, Davenport, Dubuque, and Ottumwa. Earlier this week, about 90 percent of UAW members voted to reject the company’s contract offer—a remarkable consensus, given that more than 90 percent of workers participated in the vote. Although Deere’s profits have increased by 61 percent in recent years, and CEO John May’s salary increased by about 160 percent from 2019 to 2020, the company offered workers only a 5 percent to 6 percent raise, with additional 3 percent raises in 2023 and 2025. Proposed changes to pensions also weren’t acceptable to most workers.

The last strike at John Deere plants began in 1986 and lasted for about five months. According to the Des Moines Register, the largest strikes anywhere in Iowa during the past three decades were a 1995 stoppage at Amana Refrigeration in Cedar Rapids, which involved about 2,000 workers, and a 2004 strike at Newton-based Maytag, involving about 1,600 workers.

The Iowa Democratic Party issued a statement supporting the Deere workers a few minutes after midnight, and many well-known Democrats added their voices throughout the day. I’ve enclosed many of those comments below.

Meanwhile, Governor Kim Reynolds, Senator Joni Ernst, and U.S. Representatives Ashley Hinson (IA-01), Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02), and Randy Feenstra (IA-04) said nothing about the event directly affecting thousands of their constituents. Staff for Reynolds, Hinson, and Miller-Meeks did not respond to Bleeding Heartland’s inquiries.

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Put 'er . . . where?

Ira Lacher: Now that the Delta surge seems to be fading and we can dare to dream of being together again, an entire legion of scientific Debbie Downers is scolding us to do away with a millennium-old cultural mainstay.

Recently I attended an event where I didn’t know most of the folks, all of whom, as I, were masked. At the close, and we prepared to take our leave, I automatically did what uncounted multitudes have done to acknowledge becoming acquainted with someone new: I offered up a handshake. And a few turned it down. Some preferred the fist bump; others, a forearm touch.

Initially, I shrugged off those responses, simply complying, as requested. But on the drive home it started to bother me because I realized those requests, while perfectly understandable in our COVID world, seemed somehow forced or staged. And I couldn’t tell very much about those folks the way I could from a handshake. And that bothered me even more. Because it seems that along with the millions of lives the pandemic has robbed us of, it’s robbing many of the survivors of their humanity, specifically, the need for physical touching.

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We All Want Clean Water

The “We All Want Clean Water” podcast is available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

About us:

Silvia Secchi is a Professor in the Department of Geographical and Sustainability Sciences at the University of Iowa.

Chris Jones is a Research Engineer at IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering at the University of Iowa.

This two-section essay (each of us communicating our own perspectives) outlines some of our thoughts on Iowa water quality within the context of production agriculture, and why we are beginning a regular podcast on this topic.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Jumpseed

If you’ve walked near the woods or on a shady trail in the late summer or fall, you’ve probably passed by today’s featured plant, but you may not have noticed it. Jumpseed is native to most of the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains. This member of the buckwheat family thrives in shade or partial shade, especially near woodlands or thickets. It may “be more common in woodlands with a history of disturbance.” Its small flowers don’t attract much attention.

Many plants are known by variety of common names. Oddly, jumpseed seems to have no other common names, but several scientific names refer to the same plant. Illinois Wildflowers explains, “Jumpseed (Antenoron virginianum) has a history of taxonomic instability – scientific synonyms include Polygonum virginianum, Persicaria virginiana, and Tovara virginiana.”

I took all of the pictures enclosed below near my Windsor Heights home in September or October.

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Outside money returns to IA-03

Bleeding Heartland user Strong Island Hawk reviews some “issue ads” now targeting (or defending) U.S. Representative Cindy Axne.

Welcome to the Age of Dark Money. And that means All Political Ads, All the Time. Iowans know all too well the constant barrage of campaign commercials especially before Election Day or during the primaries. Thanks to long experience with the first-in-the-nation caucuses, Hawkeyes have learned to tune out the relentless stream of political messages, TV, radio and digital ads, phone calls and door knocks, which can start more than a year before the general election. But they’re also used to a respite from the electioneering activity once the election has passed. This year, most Iowans were probably hoping for a break from the noise, especially after a long and bruising 2020 campaign.  

However, the never-ending flow of dark money has made political ads a year-round reality, even in non-election years. And in a hotly contested swing district like Iowa’s third Congressional, voters can scarcely get through an episode of Wheel of Fortune or a morning news broadcast without seeing an attack ad funded by shadowy outside forces. The ads have become almost as ubiquitous as the commercials for sports betting sites. And it’s hard to believe it’s only September of a year ending in “-1” – and not even one before a presidential year. This is before a midterm election. 

One thing is clear: IA-03 is already a major electoral battleground gaining national attention. And the money is pouring in. 

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A tale of two 60-40 Iowa House Republican majorities

Republican Jon Dunwell won the October 12 special election in Iowa House district 29 by 2,820 votes to 1,890 for Democrat Steve Mullan (59.9 percent to 40.1 percent), according to unofficial results. The outcome was expected, for reasons Bleeding Heartland discussed here. Nonetheless, Democrats will be demoralized to lose yet another state legislative seat containing a mid-sized city that used to be a Democratic stronghold.

Once Dunwell is sworn in, Republicans will hold 60 of the 100 Iowa House seats, the same number they held in 2011 and 2012. But ten years ago, that lopsided majority could be viewed as a high-water mark following the 2010 GOP landslide. Democrats had a net gain of seven Iowa House seats in 2012 and were only a few hundred votes away from regaining the majority.

The current GOP majority appears to be more durable in light of an Iowa political realignment. To illustrate how different these two majorities are, I’ve broken down each party’s caucus in 2011 and 2021 by the type of House district each member represented: rural/small-town, “micropolitan,” suburban, and urban.

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Governor's own words helped sink mask mandate ban in court

A federal court confirmed on October 8 that Iowa cannot enforce the state’s ban on mask mandates in public schools, pending resolution of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Iowa on behalf of a disability advocacy group and eleven parents of children with disabilities.

U.S. District Court Senior Judge Robert Pratt’s preliminary injunction follows a temporary restraining order he issued and extended last month, putting the law on hold. About two dozen Iowa school districts, including most of the largest, have since reimposed mask mandates, affecting more than 150,000 students.

The state immediately appealed Pratt’s ruling to the Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. In a written statement, Reynolds said, “We will never stop fighting for the rights of parents to decide what is best for their children and to uphold state laws enacted by our elected legislators. We will defend the rights and liberties afforded to all American citizens protected by our constitution.” 

The governor’s bluster is not consistent with the state’s own legal arguments, which have not asserted the Iowa or U.S. constitutions establish any right not to wear masks, or to have one’s children remain unmasked at school.

The irony is that Reynolds’ own public statements have bolstered the plaintiffs’ case against the law Republicans rushed to enact in May.

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UNI professor, students won't declare mask conflict resolved

The University of Northern Iowa is keen to move beyond the controversy over its decision to discipline a biology professor who insisted that students wear masks in his class. The university announced on October 6 that it had “reached an agreement” with Professor Steve O’Kane after “listening to the concerns and working closely with all parties involved.” O’Kane will teach an advanced plant systematics course online, and another faculty member will take over the classroom teaching, where participants won’t have to cover their noses and mouths.

The written statement asserted, “UNI continues to support the rights of all our faculty, staff and students and is pleased to have reached a resolution that protects all of those involved.”

O’Kane and his students don’t feel their interests were protected.

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