Iowa GOP spends big money promoting House candidate with unpaid federal taxes

Fighting for his political life in a district that’s trending away from him, Iowa House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow has approved hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign spending on television commercials. Two spots have trashed his Democratic challenger Jennifer Konfrst over accounting errors that led to some overdue taxes. The first Hagenow hit piece was blatantly false. The second ad, now in heavy rotation on Des Moines stations, is more narrowly focused on a tax lien put on Konfrst’s home more than a decade ago.

Republican Party of Iowa Chair Jeff Kaufmann portrayed Konfrst as unfit to serve because she made a mistake calculating child care expenses. After hiding from early media inquiries about his commercial, Hagenow defended the ad last week, telling the Des Moines Register, "One of the biggest jobs we deal with (in the Legislature) is spending taxpayers’ dollars […] And our focus has always been to handle that as responsibly as possible."

So why did House Republican leaders give their blessing for the Iowa GOP to spend more than $93,000 promoting Shannon Lundgren, a House candidate with a much larger federal tax liability that "remains unpaid"?

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Blue wood aster (Heart-leaved aster)

Long after most woodland or prairie wildflowers have gone to seed, many aster species are blooming well into the autumn across Iowa. One of the prettiest is blue wood aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium), also known as heart-leaved aster, common blue wood aster, or broad-leaved aster.

This plant is native to most of North America east of the Rocky Mountains and thrives in "moist to dry deciduous woodlands, woodland borders, areas adjacent to woodland paths, thinly wooded bluffs, shaded areas along streambanks, and rocky wooded slopes." I took the enclosed pictures in mid-October along the driveway that leads from 45th Street to the Bergman Academy (old Science Center of Iowa building) in Des Moines.

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Coalition will work to expand felon voting rights in Iowa

Iowa’s leading civil rights advocacy groups have joined forces, fighting for changes that would allow thousands of Iowans who have completed felony sentences to "be full members of society and exercise their right to vote." The seventeen groups in the new Restore Fair Voting Rights in Iowa coalition include the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP, and the League of Women Voters of Iowa.

Their efforts are badly needed, because even after two "streamlinings" of the process Governor Terry Branstad established on his first day back in office, an embarrassingly small number of Iowans have regained the right to vote.

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About 1 in 5 Iowa votes already banked

Approximately 20 percent of the Iowans who will participate in this year’s general election had already cast ballots two weeks before election day.

Iowa’s 99 county auditors had received 311,007 absentee ballots as of October 25.

In the last presidential election, 1,589,899 Iowans voted—a record number in absolute terms. Two weeks before the 2012 general election, Iowa county auditors had received 376,065 ballots, which turned out to be about 23.6 percent of total votes cast. I expect this year’s turnout to be a bit lower than the 2012 level, because this year’s major-party presidential nominees are unusually unpopular.

As of yesterday, 487,370 Iowans had requested absentee ballots. At the same point in the 2012 campaign, 542,096 Iowans (more than a third of the number who eventually participated) had done so.

Follow me after the jump for more on how this year’s early vote numbers compare to the last presidential election.

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Kim Reynolds dismisses Trump concerns as "clutter," "distractions"

Poll after poll shows Donald Trump losing badly among women voters, even among white college-educated women, often a Republican-leaning group. But the most powerful women in Iowa Republican politics remain united behind the GOP presidential nominee.

Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds said yesterday that Iowans should "focus on what’s important" rather than on concerns about Trump she characterized as "clutter" and "distractions." The likely future candidate for governor should never be allowed to forget that she dismissed flaws many prominent Republicans outside Iowa have acknowledged are disqualifying.

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Rest in peace, Larry Hoch

One of the plaintiffs in Iowa’s historic Varnum v Brien case passed away late last week. As Tom Witosky and Marc Hansen described in their book Equal Before the Law: How Iowa Led Americans to Marriage Equality, Larry Hoch was a middle-school teacher in his late 50s when he met David Twombley online in 2000. A few years later, he moved from New York to Des Moines to be with Twombley.

The couple had already entered into a civil union in Vermont, but our state didn’t recognize the legal status of their relationship. So when Camilla Taylor, an attorney for the LGBT advocacy group Lambda Legal, reached out in the summer of 2005, looking for plaintiffs in a case that would challenge Iowa’s Defense of Marriage Act, Hoch agreed immediately without consulting Twombley. The two men jokingly called themselves the "Old Fart Couple," since they were much older than the five other couples who joined the lawsuit.

Hoch and Twombly unsuccessfully applied for a Polk County marriage license in November 2005. The lawsuit was filed the following month. Polk County District Court Judge Robert Hanson heard oral arguments in May 2007 and found Iowa’s ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional in August of that year. His ruling was stayed pending appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court, where seven justices unanimously affirmed the decision in April 2009, allowing the Varnum plaintiffs and others to marry the person of their choice, regardless of gender.

Speaking to the Des Moines Register’s Molly Longman, One Iowa executive director Donna Red Wing described Hoch as an "incredible, sweet man" and said he was a regular at LGBT events in central Iowa: "I think for the community to see this older couple — they weren’t exactly spring chickens — engage so passionately in the fight for equality was so important." Twombley told Longman, "We were both very proud to have been a part of history. We’ve had numerous gay couples that have married that know us or know of us, and they’ve gone out of their way to thank us for what we did for them."

Although my life was not directly affected by the Varnum case, all Iowans should be grateful for what Hoch and the other plaintiffs did to promote fairness and equality in our state. Without their lawsuit, thousands of LGBT couples in Iowa would have had to wait six more years (until the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell) to obtain the legal and psychological benefits of being married. Witosky and Hansen wrote that Hoch and Twombley "weren’t the first couple the [Lambda Legal] organization had contacted. […] Several Des Moines area couples had been approached but declined for a variety of reasons, mostly because of the attention the case would attract." After living in the closet for most of his adult life, Hoch risked becoming a target for haters in order to take a stand. May his memory be a blessing.

P.S.- Chief Justice Mark Cady, the author of the Varnum decision, and Supreme Court Justices Brent Appel and Daryl Hecht are up for retention this year statewide. Polk County voters will also see Judge Hanson’s name on the ballot. Please remember to mark yes for them all when you vote.

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