Two weeks late and humbled by the results from previous efforts to foretell the future, I offer seventeen Iowa politics predictions for the new year.
I struggled to compile this list, in part because it's harder to come up with things to predict during a non-election year. I didn't want to stack the deck with obvious statements, such as "the GOP-controlled Iowa House and Senate will shred collective bargaining rights." The most consequential new laws coming down the pike under unified Republican control of state government are utterly predictable. I needed time to look up some cases pending before the Iowa Supreme Court. Also, I kept changing my mind about whether to go for number 17. (No guts, no glory.)
I want to mention one prediction that isn't on this list, because I don't expect it to happen this year or next. I am convinced that if the GOP holds the governor's office and both chambers of the Iowa legislature in 2018, they will do away with non-partisan redistricting before the 2020 census. I don't care what anyone says about our system being a model for the country or too well-established for politicians to discard. Everywhere Republicans have had a trifecta during the last decade, they have gerrymandered. Iowa will be no exception. So if Democrats don't want to be stuck with permanent minority status in the state legislature, we must win the governor's race next year. You heard it here first.
1. Senator Joni Ernst will vote to confirm every Donald Trump cabinet appointee.
Ernst put a lot of political capital behind campaigning for Trump. She will be a loyal foot soldier during all the confirmation votes.
2. Senator Chuck Grassley will vote to confirm every Donald Trump cabinet appointee but one.
Grassley often postures as a watchdog, even to Republican presidents. My gut says he will bolster that image by casting one vote against a Trump nominee.
3. Thanks in part to a more rapid work pace by Grassley's Senate Judiciary Committee, the Senate will approve more than twice as many judicial nominees in 2017 than it did during the previous two years combined.
The Senate confirmed fewer than two dozen federal judges in 2015 and 2016. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to schedule confirmation votes on 23 nominees who had unanimous support on the Judiciary Committee. Now Republicans will cite the huge number of vacancies on the federal bench as a reason to fast-track Trump's picks.
4. A Democratic challenger to Representative Rod Blum in Iowa's first Congressional district will emerge before any Democrat announces a campaign against Representative David Young in IA-03.
Although Blum survived his first re-election bid with a fairly healthy margin of victory, I sense Iowa Democrats still view him as more vulnerable than Young.
5. Representative Steve King will rule out running for governor.
6. Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett will confirm plans to run for governor as a Republican.
Corbett's been laying the groundwork for this race for a long time, and he doesn't owe Reynolds anything. If he believes he can raise enough money to challenge the sitting governor in a primary, he will do so.
7. At least three Democrats will have launched gubernatorial campaigns by the end of December.
Rich Leopold is already in. Expect outgoing Iowa Democratic Party chair Andy McGuire and at least one state lawmaker to join the race.
8. Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds will choose a sitting member of the Iowa House or Senate to be her lieutenant governor after Terry Branstad leaves office.
Note: I am far from convinced Reynolds should have the power to appoint a new lieutenant governor. The Iowa Constitution appears to stipulate that she will be "acting governor" performing the duties of that office. However, now that Attorney General Tom Miller has caved to the governor's office, I doubt the Iowa Supreme Court will be asked to offer a definitive interpretation of relevant passages in the state constitution.
9. Either Branstad or Reynolds (if she becomes governor while the Iowa legislature is still in session) will sign into law a new tax cut.
During the past few days, both Branstad and Reynolds said the state can't afford to adopt any new tax cuts this year, because of budget constraints. But the GOP-controlled Iowa House and Senate will ignore them, and the governor won't have the guts to veto an unaffordable gift to the wealthy.
10. Branstad will not reveal donors to his 2015 inauguration fund before the U.S. Senate considers his nomination to be ambassador to China.
Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press that a non-profit holding funds left over from Branstad's 2015 inaugural festivities did not comply with federal law requiring that donors be listed on the tax return. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee should--but probably won't--demand such disclosure before voting on Branstad's nomination.
11. The Branstad/Reynolds administration will increase its offer of extra payments to the three companies picked to manage care for Iowans on Medicaid.
The Medicaid managed-care organizations are losing money on privatization so far and want the state to make it right, Tony Leys reported for the Des Moines Register last month. Although Iowa Department of Human Services Director Chuck Palmer now insists the state will not sweeten the deal, Branstad or Reynolds will cave before long.
12. The Iowa House and Senate will defund Planned Parenthood and pass a bill resembling the 20-week abortion ban House Republicans approved in 2011, but will not pass more extreme anti-abortion legislation, such as a "personhood" amendment or a ban on terminating pregnancies after a fetal heartbeat can be detected.
Restricting abortion rights has never been a top priority for House Speaker Linda Upmeyer or Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix. As usual, they didn't mention the issue in their speeches to open the new legislative session. They will hand the so-called "pro-life" forces a couple of victories but not the sweeping abortion bans they desire.
I'll be very curious to see whether lawmakers vote to prohibit the use of telemedicine for abortion services, despite a unanimous 2015 Iowa Supreme Court ruling declaring such a policy unconstitutional.
13. Some member of the Iowa legislature will be arrested on an OWI.
It happens about once every few years. Unfortunately, we're due. I hope state lawmakers will prove me wrong on this call.
14. The Iowa Supreme Court will reject a lawsuit claiming that because of President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, a DREAMer should not be subject to prosecution in state court for forgery and identity theft.
15. The Iowa Supreme Court will reject a legal challenge to the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission's decision to reject a new casino for Cedar Rapids.
Brian Morelli reported on the lawsuit for the Cedar Rapids Gazette. The plaintiff argues the commission "exceeded its authority when it considered the interests of existing gambling license holders when deciding whether or not to issue a new license in Linn County."
16. Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter won't be confirmed to a second term.
Rastetter's current six-year term ends April 30, 2017. Branstad will almost certainly reappoint him, but nominees need a two-thirds vote (at least 34 of 50 state senators) to be confirmed. I expect at least seventeen of the twenty Iowa Senate Democrats to oppose Rastetter.
17. Iowa State University President Steven Leath will be gone by the end of the year.
I admit to being less confident about this prediction than any other on this year's list. Though I believe Leath will not serve out his latest five-year contract, whether he will depart before the end of 2017 is far less clear.
Here's my reasoning: if some new scandal emerges involving violations of ISU policy or personal use of university resources, and if I am correct about Rastetter being forced off the Board of Regents, at some point at least five board members will decide Leath doesn't need to be their headache anymore.
Alternatively, Leath may move back to the South, if he gets an appealing offer from another university and his "confidant and defacto real estate agent" Rastetter is no longer running his governing board.