Smooth sailing for Iowa Supreme Court justices up for retention in 2016

Three of the seven Iowa Supreme Court justices who concurred in the historic Varnum v Brien ruling on marriage equality lost their jobs in the 2010 judicial retention elections. A fourth survived a similar campaign against retaining him in 2012.

The last three Varnum justices, including the author of the unanimous opinion striking down our state’s Defense of Marriage Act, will appear on Iowa ballots this November. At this writing, no one seems to be organizing any effort to vote them off the bench. Iowa’s anti-retention campaigns in 2010 and 2012 were well under way by the end of August, but the social conservatives who spearheaded those efforts have shown no interest in repeating the experience.

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Will 2016 be a record-setting year for Libertarians in Iowa?

The two most recent national polls of the presidential race showed unusually high levels of support for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. In the NBC/Wall Street Journal survey conducted between June 19 and 23, presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was backed by 39 percent of respondents, to 38 percent for presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, 10 percent for Johnson and 6 percent for Green Party candidate Jill Stein. An ABC/Washington Post poll in the field between June 20 and 23 found 47 percent of respondents for Clinton, 37 percent for Trump, 7 percent for Johnson, and 3 percent for Stein.

Even taking into account the reality that support for third-party candidates "usually diminishes over the course of the [U.S. presidential] campaign," and third-party candidates have often received less than half as much support on election day as they did in nationwide surveys from June, Johnson has potential to shatter previous records for Libertarians. A former Republican governor of New Mexico, Johnson received 1,275,821 popular votes as the Libertarian presidential nominee in 2012, just under 1 percent of the nationwide vote. The best showing for a Libertarian ticket in terms of vote share was 1.06 percent (921,128 votes) in 1980 for Ed Clark and his running mate David Koch, better known as one half of the Koch brothers.

I haven’t seen any Iowa polls yet that gave respondents the option of choosing Stein or Johnson as alternatives to Clinton and Trump, but now seems like a good time to examine Libertarian presidential performance in Iowa over the last four decades and Johnson’s chances to improve on his 2012 results.

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Throwback Thursday: When Bob Vander Plaats asked for money to promote his Iowa caucus endorsement

National Organization for Money photo IMG_5284_zpsddttbuk1.jpg

National Organization for Money graphic created by Rights Equal Rights and used with permission.

Donald Trump targeted Bob Vander Plaats on Twitter this week. He speculated that Ted Cruz, who landed Vander Plaats’ personal endorsement last month, may not know about past "dealings" by one of Iowa’s leading social conservatives. The billionaire called Vander Plaats a "bad guy" and a "phony," claiming the FAMiLY Leader’s front man had asked to stay in Trump hotels for free and tried to secure a $100,000 payment for himself after "begging" Trump to do an Iowa event. Jennifer Jacobs confirmed that Trump received a $100,000 fee for speaking to a real estate conference in West Des Moines last year, but Vander Plaats told the Des Moines Register "he was paid nothing" for introducing Trump to the head of the company that organized the event, and "no donation was made to the Family Leader."

The spat reminded me of big news from the final two weeks of the 2012 Iowa caucus campaign, when Rick Santorum confirmed that Vander Plaats had asked for money to promote his endorsement.

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12 examples of President Barack Obama being weak during his first term


Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s presidential campaign is pushing a new line of attack against Senator Bernie Sanders: in 2011, Sanders said President Barack Obama was "weak" and perhaps should face a challenger in the 2012 Democratic primary. O’Malley’s communications staff have also pushed out reports suggesting Sanders himself was considering a primary challenge to Obama and failed to campaign vigorously for the president’s re-election later in 2012 (not that Vermont was ever in play for Mitt Romney).

Those talking points may fire up Democrats who already resent the fact that the self-proclaimed democratic socialist Sanders has always campaigned as an independent. But I doubt they are a promising line of attack for moving caucus-goers and primary voters away from Sanders and toward O’Malley. The inconvenient truth is that Obama’s record hasn’t always lined up with progressive principles or with his own campaign promises. I suspect those who "feel the Bern" are more likely to agree with than be offended by Sanders’ critique of the president.

I don’t know yet for whom I will caucus, the first time I’ve ever been undecided so late in the election cycle. But I count myself among those "millions of Americans" Sanders described as "deeply disappointed in the president" during the interview O’Malley’s campaign portrays as harmful. I caucused uncommitted in 2012 to send the message that the president "hasn’t stood up for core principles of the Democratic Party." Moreover, O’Malley’s own stump speech hints at some valid reasons for Democrats to be disaffected by Obama’s rightward drift.

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Fewer women will serve in the Iowa Senate, more in Iowa House

For the past two years, ten women have served in the Iowa Senate (20 percent of the chamber’s membership). That number will fall to seven or eight by the time the newly-elected legislature begins its 2015 session.

However, the number of women who will serve in the Iowa House will grow from 25 to 27 for the next two years. Follow me after the jump for details and a full list of Democratic and Republican women who will serve in the newly-elected Iowa legislature.

Following up on prospects for increasing racial and ethnic diversity in the Iowa legislature, all five African-American state representatives were re-elected to the Iowa House this week: Helen Miller (House district 9), Ruth Ann Gaines (House district 32), Ako Abdul-Samad (House district 35), Deborah Berry (House district 62), and Phyllis Thede (House district 93). Neither party nominated any African-American candidates for the Iowa Senate, which remains all-white.  

Iowans have yet to elect a Latino candidate to the state legislature. Democrats nominated Karyn Finn in House district 60 and Maria Bribriesco in Senate district 47, but both lost to Republican incumbents on Tuesday.

As has been the case since Swati Dandekar left the Iowa Senate in 2011, the Iowa legislature includes no Asian-American lawmakers. Neither party nominated any Asian-American candidates in 2014.

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Kent Sorenson pleads guilty over hidden payments scheme (updated)

The U.S. Department of Justice announced today that former State Senator Kent Sorenson has pleaded guilty to two charges related to hidden payments in exchange for supporting Ron Paul for president. When he abandoned his position as Michele Bachmann’s Iowa campaign chair to endorse Paul less than a week before the 2012 Iowa caucuses, rumors immediately circulated about alleged payments for his support. Sorenson repeatedly denied those rumors. However, he has now admitted that he received $73,000 in concealed payments after endorsing Paul. As part of his plea agreement, he also admitted lying to journalists and giving false testimony to an independent counsel appointed to investigate various charges. Sorenson resigned his Iowa Senate seat last October, the same day that independent counsel filed a devastating report. Federal authorities have been investigating the case since last year.

After the jump I’ve enclosed the full Department of Justice press release, with more details about the plea deal. Sentencing has not yet been scheduled. As far as I can tell, these charges are unrelated to any payments Sorenson allegedly received from the Bachmann campaign earlier in 2011. A former Bachmann campaign staffer made those claims in complaints he filed with the Federal Election Commission and with the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee. Another former Bachmann staffer signed an affidavit containing details on Sorenson’s compensation for work supporting that campaign.

One mystery I hope someone will solve someday is whether Sorenson’s attorney, Ted Sporer, lied on behalf of his client, or whether Sorenson lied to Sporer along with everyone else. Even on the day he resigned from the state legislature, Sorenson maintained he was an innocent victim of a “straight-up political witch hunt.” A separate lawsuit that had alleged Sorenson stole a valuable e-mail list from a Bachmann staffer’s computer was eventually settled without any admission of wrongdoing by Sorenson.

UPDATE: Russ Choma has more details at Open Secrets, including the full plea agreement. Highly recommend clicking through to read that whole post. I’ve enclosed excerpts below.

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