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IA-03: Two windows onto Matt Schultz's management skills (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Apr 24, 2014 at 14:45:00 PM CDT

Matt Schultz is touting his management of the Iowa Secretary of State's office in a television commercial promoting his campaign in Iowa's third Congressional district.

But new reports by Ryan Foley of the Associated Press indicate that when reorganizing the Secretary of State's office, Schultz showed preference to a political appointee and allowed him to keep collecting a large salary despite doing little if any work for the government.

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Mysteries of the Iowa legislature: Dog racing edition

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Apr 24, 2014 at 10:34:52 AM CDT

Did you ever notice how some things that make no sense are accepted as completely normal in the Iowa legislature? Case in point: ongoing negotiations over the future of greyhound racing in Iowa, which may produce an enormous payoff for private businesses that would otherwise fail.
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Iowa wildflower Wednesday returns: Virginia bluebells

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Apr 23, 2014 at 15:56:42 PM CDT

After a brutal winter and an unusually cold March, I'm more happy than ever to see early spring wildflowers. Two weeks ago, nothing was blooming yet around my corner of Windsor Heights. About ten days ago I finally saw the first blossoms on bloodwort, which can sometimes flower in mid-March. Within the past week I've see the first Dutchman's breeches, rue anemone, toothwort, and even a dogtooth violet flowering. I've heard reports of spring beauties opening up in central Iowa, but haven't seen any in bloom yet.

The star of today's diary may be the Iowa wildflower most commonly planted in gardens. Thomas Jefferson himself cultivated the plant at Monticello. In fact, many people are unaware that Virginia bluebells (more commonly known simply as bluebells) are a native plant in Iowa. But you can find them in wooded areas, and they will spread easily across your yard if you give them free roam and have enough moisture in your soil. Photos of this stunning flower are after the jump.

This post doubles as a mid-week open thread: all topics welcome.

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IA-04: Democracy for America endorses Jim Mowrer

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Apr 23, 2014 at 08:55:00 AM CDT

Democracy for America announced this morning that it has endorsed Jim Mowrer, Representative Steve King's Democratic challenger in Iowa's fourth Congressional district. I've posted the official statement after the jump. The progressive advocacy group Howard Dean created after his 2004 presidential campaign has 1 million members across the country, including 9,589 members in Iowa. Some of them may be more likely to volunteer for Mowrer knowing he has DFA'a backing.

The group's endorsement should also help Mowrer raise more money from inside and outside Iowa--although he's done quite well in that department already, raising more money than King the last three quarters. Recognizing the strong campaign Mowrer is building, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee already flagged IA-04 as an "emerging race" despite the uphill climb for any Democrat in this district.

Democracy for America has previously endorsed five other Democratic U.S. House candidates, including Staci Appel in Iowa's open third district.

UPDATE: I missed this last week; Mowrer informed supporters that his three-year-old son suffers from a rare degenerative neurological disease. Healing thoughts to the whole family.

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Tom Harkin endorses Ned Chiodo in Iowa Senate district 17

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Apr 22, 2014 at 07:05:00 AM CDT

Iowa politics junkies, help me out here: Has U.S. Senator Tom Harkin ever endorsed a candidate for an Iowa legislative district in a competitive Democratic primary with no incumbent? I can't think of any prior examples, but it happened yesterday. The full text of Ned Chiodo's press release is after the jump. Money quote: "I am proud to support Ned Chiodo for State Senate," said Harkin. "I have known him for many years, and without question he has the integrity and experience to lead Iowa forward."

Chiodo certainly has a lot of political experience: five terms in the Iowa House, one term as Polk County Auditor, and many years lobbying the Iowa legislature. Harkin's endorsement is a slap at the other highly experienced candidate in the SD-17 primary: Tony Bisignano. I guess the long friendship allowed Harkin to overlook Chiodo's effort to knock Bisignano off the ballot, which could have disenfranchised tens of thousands of Iowans had the Iowa Supreme Court reached a different conclusion.

Harkin is an original co-sponsor of a U.S. Senate bill "that would reduce recidivism rates by restoring voting rights to individuals after they have served their time and have been released from incarceration." Yet he is endorsing an Iowa Senate candidate who argued that ineligible voters in Iowa include anyone convicted of an aggravated misdemeanor which can carry a prison sentence--regardless of whether the person was ever incarcerated.

I am urging my friends in Iowa Senate district 17 to support Nathan Blake, the third candidate in the Democratic primary. The Iowa Senate Democratic caucus already has plenty of members with at least decade's experience as state legislators. How about a capable new person, who supports progressive values and doesn't have Chiodo's or Bisignano's baggage?  

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IA-Gov: PPP poll shows cronyism/hush money scandal hurting Branstad

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 17:51:00 PM CDT

I've been meaning to catch up on the various Branstad administration scandals involving alleged politically-motivated firings, cronyism affecting state contracting and hiring for certain public positions, "hush money" paid in exchange for non-disclosure agreements with fired state employees, blacklists that prevent former employees from gaining other state jobs, interference in what should be non-political work, and possible misuse of federal funds by the Department of Administrative Services in order to make some of the unauthorized secret settlement payments. Governor Terry Branstad realized nearly two weeks ago that his quickie internal review and executive order on secret settlements were not sufficient. He fired Department of Administrative Services Director Mike Carroll after Carroll gave inaccurate testimony at a legislative hearing. But almost every day, the Des Moines Register or some other media outlet has a new angle on alleged wrongdoing.

Last week's Loras College survey of Iowa Republicans indicated that Branstad has nothing to worry about from his GOP primary challenger, Tom Hoefling. But a Public Policy Polling survey released today shows Branstad's approval as low as I can remember seeing it during his current term, and the incumbent barely ahead of Democratic challenger Jack Hatch.

Full results from the survey are here (pdf). Highlights are after the jump.  

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Democrats, give up hoping for Elizabeth Warren in 2016

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 09:45:00 AM CDT

Democrats hoping for a progressive alternative to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race need to look somewhere other than toward U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren. Appearing on CBS Sunday Morning yesterday to promote her new autobiography, Warren couldn't have been more emphatic about not running for president.

"I'm not running for president," Warren, 64, of Cambridge, told reporter Mark Strassmann. Her autobiography, "A Fighting Chance," hits bookstores Tuesday.

Strassmann persisted, however, noting that President Obama wrote "The Audacity of Hope," like Warren, two years into his first term as U.S. senator. Epic, inspiring autobiographies have become a common political precursor to presidential runs, and speculation has swirled around Warren, who is seen as a alternative if Hilary Clinton chooses not to run, because of her popularity on her party's left wing, as well as her success as a fundraiser for Democrats nationwide.

"I'm not running for president," Warren cut him off. "You can ask it lots of different ways."

No weasel words like "I'm focused on my work in the Senate" or "I'm happy in my current job, representing the good people of Massachusetts."

Meanwhile, news broke a few days ago that Derek Eadon, a familiar figure in recent Iowa Democratic campaigns, will be the Midwest regional director for the "Ready for Hillary" super PAC. Eadon's background: Iowa Democratic Party field organizer in Cedar Rapids during 2006, first field director hired by Barack Obama's 2008 Iowa caucus campaign, Iowa State Director for Organizing for America beginning in 2009, Iowa Democratic Party's "coordinated campaign" director in 2010, and general election director for Obama's 2012 campaign in Iowa.

I still think Ready for Hillary is a huge waste of time and money. Whether she runs for president or not, she won't need this super PAC's help. However, it's significant that early Obama supporters such as Jackie Norris and now Eadon are eager to identify supporters for a repeat Clinton presidential bid.  

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Weekend open thread: Easter, Passover, and late spring edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Apr 20, 2014 at 07:45:00 AM CDT

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread.

A joyous Easter to those who celebrate today and a happy Passover to those who observe. Last year I posted lots of Easter and Passover-related links here. I'll just add a couple more: 2014 is one of those years when Eastern Orthodox Christians and those of other denominations celebrate Easter on the same day. Most of the time those holidays fall on different weekends because the churches use different calendars.

Reform Judaism magazine published a fascinating interview with Biblical scholar Richard Elliott Friedman. He argues that the Exodus story is not fiction, but reflects a departure from Egypt by the Levite tribe, and that most of the Hebrews never lived in Egypt. I've posted excerpts after the jump, but I encourage you to click through and read the whole interview. Friedman is "a leading proponent of the Documentary Hypothesis, which maintains that the the biblical texts traditionally known as the Five Books of Moses are actually the synthesis of many different sources from different time periods." Click that link to learn more about what he views as "the editorial team behind the Bible."

Religious or secular, I think all Iowans appreciate spring's arrival. This weekend's weather is almost perfect. Just within the past few days, the first ruby-throated hummingbird sightings were reported on the edges of Iowa. We don't typically see any in Windsor Heights until early May. The latest central Iowa butterfly forecast is here. Our bloodroot only just started blooming this week, nearly a month behind schedule. We can see leaves or buds on a few other spring wildflowers, so I'm just about ready to relaunch Iowa wildflower Wednesday.  

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Thoughts on the primary polls in IA-01, IA-02, and IA-03

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Apr 19, 2014 at 10:30:22 AM CDT

Loras College in Dubuque released its first-ever set of polls on Iowa Congressional primaries this week. Click here for the polling memo and here (pdf) for further details, including the full questionnaires.

After the jump I've posted my thoughts on what these polls tell us about the front-runners (or lack thereof) in each primary. Unfortunately, a big methodological flaw makes it more difficult to interpret the results.

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IA-01: First-quarter fundraising news roundup

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Apr 18, 2014 at 12:18:31 PM CDT

Since the last quarterly fundraising reports came in, the Republican primary race in Iowa's open first Congressional district has settled into a predictable win for Rod Blum. The Democratic primary is still highly competitive, though, with all five candidates in a position to run a district-wide race before June 3.  
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Iowa Democratic Party considering reforms to make caucuses more inclusive

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Apr 18, 2014 at 10:10:00 AM CDT

Welcome news: Iowa Democratic Party leaders will have a real conversation about making the Iowa caucuses more accessible to people who can't attend for various reasons.

"Everything's on the table to talk about," [IDP Chair Scott] Brennan said. "If there's a way to enhance access and do it in a manner that keeps the spirit of the Iowa Caucuses and still lets peoples' voices be heard, that's what we want to do."

Brennan has asked Norman Sterzenbach, the party's former executive director, to conduct a "listening tour" to talk to "hundreds, if not thousands" of people about how absentee voting might be incorporated in the Caucuses.

I've supported Iowa caucus reforms since way before Bleeding Heartland existed. It is painful to talk with people who care deeply about the political process and want to participate in choosing a presidential nominee, but can't get time off work or physically cannot leave their homes on caucus night.

Before the 2008 caucuses I wrote a series on the Iowa Democratic Party's caucus system, linked here. Part 2, part 4 and part 9 discuss the barriers to participation in precinct caucuses. I'm glad to know Brennan and Sterzenbach are taking those problems seriously. Many Democrats who otherwise consider themselves inclusive have dismissed any criticism of the caucus system on this front. Introducing absentee ballots or proxy votes could address the problem, though each would also complicate the process in different ways--especially during the "realignment" period for caucus-goers whose first choice fell below the 15 percent threshold.

I hope IDP leaders will also be open to hearing about other ways the Iowa caucus system distorts Democratic voter preferences. Part 5, part 7 and part 8 of Bleeding Heartland's Iowa caucus series discussed some of the problems created by caucus math. Instead of the "one person, one vote" principle that applies to all other elections, Iowa Democrats in some precincts can influence many more delegates than others, because of disparate caucus and general election turnout. Meanwhile, skilled operatives can sometimes manipulate the math, so that the number of delegates allocated to each candidate may not reflect the proportion of supporters in the room.

Any comments about the Iowa caucus system are welcome in this thread.  

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No casino for Cedar Rapids

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Apr 17, 2014 at 11:36:00 AM CDT

The State Racing and Gaming Commission voted 4-1 this morning against allowing a new casino to be built in downtown Cedar Rapids. Last year Linn County voters approved a casino referendum by a 20-point margin. Even some opponents of the project believed its construction was inevitable, given the political connections of the group hoping to build in Cedar Rapids. However, today's vote is in line with the precedent of approving gambling licenses only where new casinos would not "cannibalize" from existing ones in Iowa. Four years ago, the Racing and Gaming Commission rejected applications for casino projects in Fort Dodge, Ottumwa and Tama County, despite public approval of all three plans. Multiple studies indicated that the Cedar Rapids casino would draw much of its business from Iowans who now visit casinos in Riverside or Waterloo.

I will update this post as needed with political reaction to today's vote. Although many Bleeding Heartland readers will be disappointed, I agree with economists who have argued that the "interior casinos" not near Iowa borders do not promote economic development. Meanwhile, new casinos incur significant social costs.

Already I've seen several Cedar Rapids residents asking whether the CEO of the Riverside casino will build the waterpark he promised last year, if Linn County voters rejected the casino project. Don't hold your breath.

UPDATE: In his report for the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Rick Smith noted that Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett "served in the legislature with three of the five members of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission." Former Iowa House Republican and Iowa Senate Republican Jeff Lamberti both voted no this morning. Dolores Mertz, who used to be the most conservative Iowa House Democrat, was the only commissioner to vote yes.

SECOND UPDATE: Further thoughts and more reaction are after the jump.

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IA-02: First-quarter fundraising news roundup

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Apr 17, 2014 at 10:25:00 AM CDT

Three candidates qualified for the Republican primary ballot in Iowa's second Congressional district, but the latest fundraising reports suggest that Mariannette Miller-Meeks will get a third chance at beating Representative Dave Loebsack.

Follow me after the jump for details on the first-quarter reports each candidate in IA-02 filed with the Federal Election Commission.

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Mid-week open thread: Who could have imagined?

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Apr 16, 2014 at 19:45:00 PM CDT

Here's your mid-week open thread, Bleeding Heartland readers: all topics welcome.

I have been thinking about the latest Iowa Supreme Court decision a lot today. A year ago, I would have sworn that as long as Terry Branstad remains governor, there's nothing anyone can do for the thousands of ex-felons permanently disenfranchised in this state. Branstad couldn't wait to sign that executive order as soon as he was back in office. Under the convoluted procedure he created, only a small fraction of 1 percent of those who have completed their prison terms have managed to regain their voting rights.

The day State Senator Jack Hatch declared his candidacy for governor, I could never have imagined the unlikely chain of events that followed. First, arch-rivals Tony Bisignano and Ned Chiodo set their sights on Hatch's Iowa Senate seat. Then, Bisignano was caught driving drunk again. Then, Chiodo not only challenged Bisignano's right to seek office but continued to pursue his case in court after losing before a panel of top state officials. (In contrast, the voter who challenged State Senator Joe Seng's registration as a candidate in IA-02 two years ago dropped his effort after the same panel determined Seng had qualified for the primary ballot.)

Then, Chiodo refused to take the Polk County District Court's no for an answer. Still I had no clue where all this was going--until yesterday, when three of the Iowa Supreme Court justices determined that not all felonies should be considered "infamous crimes," which justify stripping Iowans of their rights as electors. Very soon, one or more non-violent felons are likely to file suit, demanding that their rights be restored. Depending on where Justice Brent Appel comes down on the issue (he recused himself from the Chiodo/Bisignano case), the Iowa Supreme Court may eventually declare unconstitutional the 1994 law defining "infamous crimes" as felonies.

We don't know whether a majority on the court will take this stance. As Ryan Koopmans points out, the Chiodo ruling came out incredibly quickly. One or more of the justices may change his mind after reflecting on the issues for a while. Still, the potential for a major advance in Iowa voting rights is mind-blowing.  

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IA-03: First-quarter fundraising news roundup (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Apr 16, 2014 at 17:24:28 PM CDT

Yesterday was the deadline for Congressional candidates to file quarterly reports with the Federal Election Commission. Because so many candidates are running for Congress this year in Iowa, I'm breaking up these posts by district rather than doing a statewide roundup.

After the jump I've enclosed highlights from the first-quarter fundraising and spending reports of Democratic candidate Staci Appel and the six Republicans seeking the GOP nomination in the third district. Spoiler alert: one of the GOP candidates is still carrying debt from a previous campaign.

I also added details below on what retiring ten-term Representative Tom Latham is doing with his substantial war chest.

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IA-04: Jim Mowrer out-raises Steve King for third straight quarter

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Apr 16, 2014 at 07:55:09 AM CDT

If this has ever happened before in an Iowa Congressional race, I'm not aware of the precedent: Democratic challenger Jim Mowrer has raised more money than incumbent Representative Steve King for the third straight quarter in Iowa's fourth district. Not only that, during the first three months of 2014, Mowrer's fundraising eclipsed King's by even more than we saw during the third and fourth quarters of 2013.

Details from the reports both candidates filed yesterday with the Federal Election Commission are after the jump.

UPDATE: The Iowa .Gif-t Shop weighs in. I really did laugh out loud.

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Divided Iowa Supreme Court rules Tony Bisignano can run in Iowa Senate district 17 (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Apr 15, 2014 at 18:22:20 PM CDT

A three-way Democratic primary is assured in Iowa Senate district 17, as the Iowa Supreme Court announced this afternoon that it has affirmed a district court ruling on Tony Bisignano's eligibility to run for office. Rival candidate Ned Chiodo filed a lawsuit last month, saying Bisignano's recent aggravated misdemeanor conviction for second-offense OWI should be considered an "infamous crime." The Iowa Constitution disqualifies citizens convicted of "infamous crimes" from exercising the privileges of "electors."

Chief Justice Mark Cady wrote the plurality opinion, joined by Justices Daryl Hecht and Bruce Zager. Overturning Iowa Supreme Court precedents set in 1916 and 1957, the court ruled that "infamous crimes" cannot be interpreted to mean any crime punishable by a prison sentence, including aggravated misdemeanors. On the other hand, the court did not simply accept the 1994 law defining "infamous crimes" as felonies. Citing historical references including an 1839 Iowa territorial statute, the plurality argues that not all felonies are "infamous," and that the words had different meanings at the time the Iowa Constitution was adopted in the 1850s. It did not go on to define which felonies should be considered infamous crimes in the present context.

Justice Edward Mansfield wrote a concurring opinion, joined by Justice Thomas Waterman. The concurrence agrees that Bisignano retains his rights as an elector, because aggravated misdemeanors cannot be considered "infamous crimes." However, Mansfield would have accepted the bright-line definition from the 1994 state law, equating felonies with "infamous crimes." He warned that the plurality opinion would serve as a "welcome mat" for future litigation from felons claiming that they should be entitled to vote, because their convictions were not for "infamous crimes." On balance, I agree most with Mansfield's opinion.

Justice David Wiggins dissented, arguing that the court should not have rewritten "nearly one hundred years of caselaw." He would have found Bisignano ineligible to run for office under the longstanding precedent that "infamous crime" means any crime punishable by a prison sentence. Wiggins' dissenting opinion does not accept the 1994 law which defined "infamous crimes" as felonies, because interpreting the state Constitution is a job for the Iowa Supreme Court, not the state legislature.

Justice Brent Appel recused himself from this case.

The Iowa Supreme Court did not rule on Chiodo's separate claim that Attorney General Tom Miller should have recused himself from the panel that allowed Bisignano to remain on the ballot. Chiodo argued that Miller had a conflict of interest, because one of his employees, Assistant Attorney General Nathan Blake, is also seeking the Democratic nomination in Senate district 17.

You can read the Iowa Supreme Court's three opinions in this case here (pdf). After the jump I've enclosed summaries and excerpts from each opinion. I also included a statement from Bisignano hailing the ruling and announcing several more labor union endorsements.

One thing's for sure: today's ruling won't be the last attempt by the Iowa Supreme Court to clarify the definition of "infamous crimes."

UPDATE: Added Nathan Blake's comment below. SECOND UPDATE: Added more thoughts about the implications of this case.

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Cautionary note for early Iowa voters

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Apr 15, 2014 at 10:07:06 AM CDT

A growing proportion of Iowans have chosen to vote early during the last few election cycles. During the 2012 presidential election, 43.2 percent of Iowans who participated cast early ballots. In yesterday's Des Moines Register, Jason Noble highlighted a problem that has and will continue to nullify the votes of some of them: missing postmarks on ballots that arrive after the general election. Post offices do not always postmark envelopes without a stamp. That's not a problem when county auditors receive mailed absentee ballots before election day, but current Iowa rules instruct auditors to throw out ballots that arrive late, unless a postmark proves they were mailed on or before the day before the election.

Iowa lawmakers discussed several ideas for addressing the problem, but lack of consensus led them to drop the issue this year. After the jump I've posted an excerpt from Noble's piece.

As things stand, Iowans who plan to vote early either in the 2014 primary or general elections can do a few things to make sure their votes count:

1. Mail in your absentee ballot well before election day, to ensure that it arrives on time.

2. Hand-deliver your absentee ballot to your county auditor's office.

3. Place a stamp on your absentee ballot envelope, so that the post office will have to put a postmark on it.

4. Vote early in person, either at the county auditor's office or (for the general election) at a satellite location. I prefer this option, because I know for sure that my ballot got to the right place on time. If you take this route, I recommend reviewing a sample ballot online first, so that you have time to research ballot initiatives and candidates for more obscure offices.  

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Des Moines metro residents among country's most satisfied

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Apr 15, 2014 at 07:39:31 AM CDT

Via Julie Zeveloff at Business Insider, I see that the Des Moines/West Des Moines metro area ranked eighth on Gallup's latest survey measuring how satisfied Americans are with their city of residence. The latest Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index is based on 531,630 interviews the polling firm conducted in 189 metropolitan areas throughout 2012-2013. Data collected are based on at least 300 respondents from each metro area. Click through for the full chart. About 92.2 percent of respondents in the Des Moines metro area said they were satisfied with where they live, not far off the highest satisfaction reported, 94.9 percent in the Fort Collins and Loveland, Colorado area.

The Omaha/Council Bluffs metro fell just outside the top ten, with a 91.6 resident satisfaction rate, according to Gallup. The Quad Cities area ranked 75th out of the 189 metros; 86.6 percent of adults surveyed were satisfied to live in the area. Cedar Rapids was a lot lower in the rankings (112th) but not much different in terms of satisfaction: 84.4 percent.

Judging from Gallup's data, Americans are surprisingly content with their cities of residence. Even at the bottom of the table in Rockford, Illinois, more than 72 percent of respondents said they were satisfied. I would guess this data point reflects the relatively low barriers to moving in the United States, compared to some other countries. Many of those who hate where they live are able to pull up roots and try somewhere else, depending on their priorities (job prospects, cost of living, family nearby, mild weather, proximity to mountains or ocean, good schools or other amenities).

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Another look at the uncontested Iowa House districts

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Apr 14, 2014 at 11:35:00 AM CDT

Over at the Smart Politics blog based at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Eric Ostermeier takes a look at the uncontested Iowa House districts today. He leads with this surprising fact: "Iowa Republicans failed to field candidates in a party record 32 State House districts this cycle." I recommend clicking through to read his whole post, which explores historical trends in Iowa House candidate recruitment for both parties.

Bleeding Heartland previously commented on the uncontested Iowa House races here. After the jump I've posted my thoughts on Ostermeier's analysis.

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