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Weekend open thread: Iowa Wing Ding edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Aug 16, 2015 at 15:37:38 PM CDT

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

More than twenty Iowa Democratic county committees put on a great "Wing Ding" in Clear Lake Friday night. The Surf Ballroom was packed to capacity, thanks to appearances by four of the five Democratic presidential hopefuls. Despite a fairly long list of speakers including candidates for U.S. House and Senate and State Senator Amanda Ragan, who was receiving an award, the Wing Ding amazingly finished ahead of schedule. I enclose below my take on all the speeches.

For those following the saga of three former Ron Paul campaign operatives, recently indicted for their role in making illegal payments to then State Senator Kent Sorenson: Russ Choma covered the prosecutors' latest court filing for Mother Jones. Prosecutors allege the operatives "were prepared to leak documents to harm Sorenson in 2012 if they couldn't obtain his endorsement for Ron Paul." An attorney for Jesse Benton acknowledged that in late 2011, his client "threatened to expose Mr. Sorenson, believing that Mr. Sorenson was trying to blackmail the 2012 RP Campaign, if Mr. Sorenson did not make up his mind on whether to commit to the Ron Paul Campaign." But the lawyer said Benton did not follow through on what he described as "a knee-jerk, emotional reaction." Of course, there would have been no reason to carry out the threat after Sorenson agreed to take the money in exchange for switching his allegiance to Paul.

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A close look at the status of abortion regulations in Iowa

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jul 14, 2015 at 09:19:20 AM CDT

Anti-abortion activists suffered a setback last month when the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously ruled unconstitutional the state ban on using telemedicine for medical abortions. But the health and human services budget for the fiscal year that began on July 1 contained two provisions sought by those who want to reduce the number of abortions performed in Iowa.

The first part of this post examines new language in the Iowa Code related to ultrasounds for women seeking abortions. Who was closer to the mark: Iowa Right to Life, which hailed the "HUGE life-saving victory" as the anti-choice movement's biggest legislative success in two decades? Or Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, which countered that the ultrasound language would neither change the standard of care at their clinics nor "directly impact a woman's access to abortion"?

Next, the post addresses language lawmakers first adopted in 2013 and renewed in the just-passed human services budget, which allows the Iowa governor to determine whether Medicaid should reimburse for abortion services. No other state has a similar provision.

Finally, I offer some thoughts on an odd feature of anti-abortion activism in the Iowa legislature. State Senate Republicans advocate more for restrictions on abortion rights and access than do GOP representatives in the House, even though "pro-choice" Democrats control the upper chamber, while all 57 members of the House majority caucus are nominally "pro-life." Iowa House leaders have not been eager to put abortion bills on the agenda. This year, rank-and-file House Republicans didn't even introduce, let alone make a serious attempt to pass, companion bills to most of the abortion-related legislation their counterparts filed in the state Senate.

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Term limits would be terrible for the Iowa legislature

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Apr 19, 2015 at 20:19:39 PM CDT

Annals of the absurd: Iowa's longest-serving state legislator, who sought a ninth Senate term last year at the age of 80, is now beating the drum for term limits.

What a terrible idea, especially for a state whose governor already takes an expansive view of his own powers.  

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Iowa Senate, House approve gas tax increase

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Feb 24, 2015 at 16:48:31 PM CST

A bill that would raise Iowa's gasoline tax by 10 cents a gallon is on its way to Governor Terry Branstad's desk after approval today by both chambers in the Iowa legislature. The Iowa Senate passed Senate File 257 this morning by 28 votes to 21. Sixteen Democrats and twelve Republicans voted for the bill, while ten Democrats and eleven Republicans opposed it. Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal had reportedly insisted on at least half the GOP caucus supporting a gas tax increase as a condition for bringing the bill to the floor.

A few hours later, the Iowa House took up the Senate bill (rather than the bill that cleared two House committees last week). Thirty Republicans and 23 Democrats voted yes, while 26 Republicans and 20 Democrats voted no.

Only two state legislators missed today's votes: Republican State Senator Mark Chelgren and Republican State Representative Chip Baltimore. Baltimore voted against the House version of this bill in committee last week, while Chelgren doesn't serve on the committees that approved the bill in the Senate. Chelgren appears to have been absent for all of today's votes, while Baltimore was at the Capitol but left the chamber when the gas tax bill came up. Speaking to reporters later, he tried to make a virtue out of his absence: "I refuse to legitimize either the bill or the process with a vote." Weak sauce from a guy who is widely expected to seek higher office someday.

Conservative groups are urging Branstad to veto Senate File 257, but that seems unlikely, given the governor's recent comments on road funding. Branstad's spokesman said today that the governor will carefully review the final bill before deciding whether to sign it.  

After the jump I've enclosed the roll call votes in both chambers, as well as Senate Transportation Committee Chair Tod Bowman's opening remarks this morning, which summarize key points in Senate File 257.

Final note: several of the "no" votes came from lawmakers who may face competitive re-election campaigns in 2016. Those include Democrats Chris Brase (Senate district 46), Steve Sodders (Senate district 36), and Mary Jo Wilhelm (Senate district 26), and Republicans Dennis Guth (Senate district 4) and Amy Sinclair (Senate district 14).

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Who's who in the Iowa Senate for 2015

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jan 12, 2015 at 09:33:24 AM CST

The Iowa legislature's 2015 session begins today. Democrats maintained their 26 to 24 majority in the upper chamber. After the jump I've posted details on the Iowa Senate majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing Senate committees. Where relevant, I've noted changes from the previous committee assignments. Click here for a similar post on the new Iowa House.

I've also enclosed below details on the tenure of all 50 Iowa senators. The experience gap between the caucuses is striking, even more so since three of the longest-serving GOP state senators retired in 2014. Only seven of the 24 Republicans have served in either the state House or Senate for more than four years, whereas nineteen of the 26 Democrats have more than four years of legislative service. Only four of the 24 Senate Republicans have ten or more years of experience in the Iowa legislature, compared to seventeen of the 26 Democrats. No current Iowa Senate Republican has more than 20 years legislative experience, whereas six Democrats do.

Just seven of the 50 senators are women, down from ten women in the chamber two years ago. The Democratic caucus includes 20 men and six women; the Republican caucus 23 men and one woman.

All current Iowa senators are white. To my knowledge, no African-American has ever served in the Iowa Senate. CORRECTION: Bleeding Heartland reader northwest points out that I forgot Tom Mann, who represented part of Des Moines in the Iowa Senate during the 1980s.

No Latino has ever served in the Iowa House or Senate; Nathan Blake fell 18 votes short of becoming the first in 2014. No Asian-American has served in the state Senate since Swati Dandekar resigned in 2011.

Some non-political trivia: the 50 state senators include three Marks, three Bills, three Richards (who go by Rich, Rick, and Dick), two Mikes, two Toms, two Joes, and two men named Charles (one goes by Chaz).  

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

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Nov 06, 2014 at 09:50:59 AM CST

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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2014 election results discussion thread

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Nov 04, 2014 at 20:52:38 PM CST

Polls across Iowa close in just a few minutes, and I'll be updating this post with results throughout the evening. Any comments about any of today's races, in Iowa or elsewhere, are welcome in this thread.

Many races on the east coast and in the Midwest have already been called. As expected, Republicans picked up the U.S. Senate seats in West Virginia, Arkansas, and South Dakota. Louisiana will go to a runoff in December. Jeanne Shaheen held the New Hampshire Senate seat for Democrats, but Kay Hagan may be in trouble in North Carolina, and in a potentially stunning upset, Mark Warner is behind in Virginia. He needs a strong turnout in the DC suburbs.

As state-level results come in, these are the key Iowa Senate races to watch, and these are the key Iowa House races to watch. For the last four years, Democrats have held a 26-24 Iowa Senate majority. For the last two years, Republicans have held a 53-47 Iowa House majority.

UPDATE: Polls are closed and further updates will be after the jump. News organizations called the governor's race for Terry Branstad immediately.  

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Republicans running negative radio ads in key Iowa Senate and House races

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Oct 15, 2014 at 13:45:59 PM CDT

Radio commercials appeared in several competitive Iowa Senate districts during the last week of September, coinciding with the start of early voting. This week, the Republican Party of Iowa has launched the first negative radio spots I've heard in state legislative races this year. After the jump I've enclosed the transcript of the ad attacking Chaz Allen, the Democratic candidate in the open Iowa Senate district 15. Allen's own positive ad, which Bleeding Heartland transcribed here, is still in rotation and promotes the former Newton mayor's record of recruiting businesses. The new Republican spot blames Allen for high property taxes that allegedly discouraged companies from coming to Newtown after "Maytag pulled out on Chaz Allen's watch." The ad also plays up Governor Terry Branstad's support for Crystal Bruntz, the Republican candidate in Senate district 15. While the ad asserts that Bruntz "understands job creation," it fails to mention anything substantive she has ever done to create jobs.

In Iowa Senate district 41, a leading pickup opportunity for Democrats, Republican State Senator Mark Chelgren's new radio spot highlights flippant and sarcastic responses Siegel mailed in response to a survey Chelgren circulated in 2010. More details on that commercial are after the jump.

In the open Senate district 39, another seat targeted by both parties, a Bleeding Heartland reader tells me that the new Republican radio spot attacks Democratic nominee Kevin Kinney over his support for "Common Core" educational standards. I have not heard the ad yet and would appreciate any further details. It seems like an odd angle for an attack, but I guess Kinney's background as a deputy sheriff and family farmer didn't give them easy targets. Politics-watchers generally believe that education is a campaign issue favoring Democrats. As far as I can tell, fear-mongering over Common Core only resonates with social conservatives who would already be voting for Kinney's opponent, Michael Moore.

I have not yet heard details on radio spots attacking State Senators Daryl Beall or Rita Hart, the Democratic incumbents in Senate districts 5 and 49, respectively. Nor have I heard of any attack ads against three-term Democratic incumbent Amanda Ragan in Senate district 27, although anecdotally, Republicans have supposedly given up on taking back that seat. I always appreciate tips from Bleeding Heartland readers, so please let me know if you've heard radio ads in the Fort Dodge, Clinton, or Mason City area.

In the open Iowa House district 55 (northeast Iowa), Republican Daniel Branhagen started running a commercial this week calling his Democratic opponent Rick Edwards a big spender. I haven't heard attack ads against any Iowa House Democrats yet on Des Moines area radio stations.

Any comments about the state legislative races are welcome in this thread.

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Both parties targeting Iowa Senate district 15 race between Chaz Allen, Crystal Bruntz

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Sep 26, 2014 at 14:34:22 PM CDT

In recent weeks, I've heard from various sources that Republicans were shifting resources toward the race in Iowa Senate district 15. The longtime Democratic seat covering most of Jasper County and eastern Polk County is open because of Senator Dennis Black's retirement. A district map is after the jump.

Confirming that Senate district 15 is a priority for both parties, positive ads for both candidates are now running on Des Moines area radio stations. Forty days before the election is relatively early for paid advertising to begin in an Iowa state legislative campaign, but with more Iowans voting by absentee ballot, candidates can't afford to wait.

After the jump I've posted the transcript of the radio spot promoting Republican Crystal Bruntz and what I could remember from the Democratic ad promoting Chaz Allen. I'll update this post with a full transcript if I can catch it on tape. UPDATE: Added the transcript below.

Allen's commercial sounds more effective to me. For part of the time, the candidate speaks in his own voice, and the script connects him to economic development in the Newton area, where he was mayor and now heads the Jasper County Economic Development Corporation. The Republican ad for Bruntz wraps biographical information around a more generic "she'll help grow the economy for our children" message. It does not give listeners any clue where the candidate is running for state Senate. The pro-Bruntz spot has one good feature: it doesn't start out sounding like a political ad, which probably keeps some listeners from instantly changing the station.

I will be surprised if Bruntz pulls out a victory here. My sense is that Republicans are targeting Senate district 15 for lack of a better idea. Having failed to recruit a top-tier candidate in Senate district 27, they seem to recognize that beating three-term State Senator Amanda Ragan of Mason City isn't in the cards. But Republicans need at least two pickups to gain an Iowa Senate majority (assuming they hold all their current seats, no easy task). Aside from Ragan's seat, the only other Democratic-held district on the ballot where Republicans have a voter registration advantage is Senate district 5, now held by Daryl Beall of Fort Dodge. They will go all-out for Beall's seat, but they need at least one more gain.

Not only is Senate district 15 an open seat, it looks fairly competitive on paper with 13,869 active Democrats, 12,632 Republicans, and 13,542 no-party voters according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State's Office. That's more promising for the GOP than other seats they could shoot for. I can't see a Steve King staffer winning Ames-based Senate district 23. The Republican nominee in Senate district 29 is an amateur who had $50 in the bank four months before the election. While Republicans have an experienced office-holder running in Senate district 49, the voter registration numbers favor Democrats more there, and Senator Rita Hart is a hard-working incumbent.

Any comments about the Iowa Senate races are welcome in this thread. I appreciate tips from Bleeding Heartland readers on any direct mail, radio or television advertising for or against state legislative candidates. You can either post a comment on this site or send a confidential message to desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com.

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Republicans left Iowa House seats uncontested in nearly every battleground Iowa Senate district

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Aug 25, 2014 at 12:41:54 PM CDT

The filing period for general-election candidates closed on August 15. You can view the full candidate list for federal and state offices on the Iowa Secretary of State's website. John Deeth briefly reviews all 100 House races here. Next month, I'll be posting on the most competitive Iowa House races.

For today, I'm interested in what appears to be a pattern of Republicans letting Iowa House seats go in battleground Iowa Senate districts. I suspect a strategy is in play to depress GOTV in the more Democratic halves of these districts.  

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Prospects for increasing diversity in the Iowa legislature

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jun 10, 2014 at 08:10:18 AM CDT

Forty men and ten women currently serve in the Iowa Senate. No senators are African-American, Latino, or Asian-American.

Seventy-five men and 25 women currently serve in the Iowa House. Five state representatives are African-American and none are Latino or Asian-American.

Time for a look at how those numbers might change after the November election, now that primaries have determined the major-party nominees in all state legislative districts. Click here for the June 3 unofficial election results and here for the full list of candidates who filed to run in the primaries.

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Iowa primary election results thread

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jun 03, 2014 at 20:20:00 PM CDT

Polls close at 9 pm, and I'll be updating this post regularly with primary election results. Rumor has it that turnout was relatively low, even on the Republican side where there are hard-fought primaries for U.S. Senate and the third Congressional district. According to the Polk County Auditor's office, as of this afternoon only 1,506 absentee ballots had been requested and 1,350 absentee ballots received for today's GOP primary. Keep in mind that roughly half of all Republican voters in IA-03 live in Polk County, and six campaigns were competing for their votes. Not to mention that five U.S. Senate candidates should have been locking in early votes in Iowa's largest county.

By comparison, 2,883 Democratic primary absentee ballots were requested in Polk County, and 2,296 of those returned by today. The lion's share were from Iowa Senate district 17 in Des Moines, where three candidates are seeking to replace Jack Hatch (2,475 absentee ballots requested and 1,950 returned). Democratic campaigns have long pushed early voting more than Republicans, but still--that's a shocking failure to GOTV by the various Republican campaigns.

Share any comments about any Iowa campaigns in this thread, as well as any interesting anecdotes from voting today.

UPDATE: Polls are now closed and updates will continue after the jump.

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Highlights from this year's Iowa Senate votes on Branstad nominees

by: desmoinesdem

Thu May 08, 2014 at 07:38:29 AM CDT

During the 2014 legislative session, the Iowa Senate confirmed all but a handful of Governor Terry Branstad's more than 200 nominees for state boards and commissions. It's not unusual for senators to vote down one or two appointees, but this year the Senate confirmed everyone who came up for a vote on the floor.

The only close call was former Iowa House Republican Nick Wagner, confirmed to the Iowa Utilities Board last month with just one vote to spare. Branstad originally named Wagner to the three-member utilities board in 2013 but pulled his nomination when it became clear that senators would not confirm him. Branstad named Wagner to that board anyway, right after the Senate adjourned for the year in 2013. By the time his nomination came up for consideration this year, a couple of factors that worked against him were no longer relevant. Former State Senator Swati Dandekar had resigned from the board to run for Congress, so there would no longer be two of three members from Marion (a Cedar Rapids suburb). Furthermore, Branstad named attorney Sheila Tipton to replace Dandekar, so senators could no longer object to the lack of a lawyer on the Iowa Utilities Board.

Still, most of the Democratic caucus opposed Wagner's nomination. State Senator Rob Hogg cited the nominee's support for a bad nuclear power bill that the legislature considered a few years back. Meanwhile, State Senator Matt McCoy (who incidentally wanted to pass the nuclear bill) noted that as a key Iowa House Republican on budget matters, Wagner "was not willing to listen" and "took very difficult and very hard-line positions." After the jump I've posted the roll call on the Wagner nomination; 11 Democrats joined all 24 Republicans to confirm him.

As in recent years, the governor withdrew a handful of nominees who were not likely to gain at least 34 votes (a two-thirds majority) in the upper chamber. A few nominees for low-profile boards had to go because of party imbalance issues. Chet Hollingshead, one of seven Branstad appointees to the Mental Health and Disability Services Commission, never came up for a vote, presumably because of a theft incident Bleeding Heartland user Iowa_native described here.

I am not sure why Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal informed Branstad that Jason Carlstrom was unlikely to be confirmed as chair of the Iowa Board of Parole. The governor first appointed Carlstrom to that position in the summer of 2012, to fill out the remainder of someone else's term. The Iowa Senate unanimously confirmed him during the 2013 legislative session. When Branstad reappointed Carlstrom to the parole board this year, I didn't expect him to run into any trouble. I will update this post if I learn more details.

The highest-profile nominee withdrawn by Branstad was former Iowa House Republican Jamie Van Fossen, whom the governor wanted to chair the Public Employment Relations Board. Cityview's Civic Skinny described the backstory well; I've posted excerpts after the jump. Van Fossen still serves on that board, having been confirmed to a full term in 2012. But the new chair will be Mike Cormack, a Republican who served four terms in the Iowa House and later worked for the State Department of Education. Senators unanimously confirmed Cormack last month. The outgoing Public Employment Relations Board chair, Jim Riordan, has alleged that the board faced political pressure from Branstad staffers to hire an employer-friendly administrative law judge.

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Mike Gronstal sees eight competitive Iowa Senate races

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jan 13, 2014 at 12:08:00 PM CST

Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal is "fairly confident" going into this year's state legislative elections, he told Mike Glover in a recent interview. He cited a "pretty good message" to take to voters as well as a "a slight advantage on the map" that will allow Democrats to play "a little less defense and a little more offense," compared to 2012.

I agree with Gronstal that Democrats are better positioned now to hold their 26 to 24 majority in the upper chamber than they were at the same point two years ago. Follow me after the jump for a quick look at the eight districts the Senate majority leader expects to be targeted this fall.

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Five Iowa Senate races to watch in 2014

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jan 02, 2014 at 10:34:50 AM CST

It's the time of year for blog posts about notable candidates and upcoming elections. Every politically engaged Iowan knows already that 2014 will be an unusually exciting year. We haven't seen an open U.S. Senate race since 1974. The last time Iowa's first Congressional district was open was in 2006. The last time Iowa's third Congressional district was open was in 2002, but it wasn't a wide open seat, since incumbent Representative Leonard Boswell moved into Polk County to run. Amazingly, 1940 was the "last time there was a Congressional race in Polk County without an incumbent seeking re-election." All of Iowa's statewide elected officials are up for re-election as well this year, and the secretary of state's position may become open if Matt Schultz decides to go for the Republican nomination in IA-03.

Since Bleeding Heartland readers already know about the big Iowa races to watch, I want to focus today and tomorrow on the elections that are likely to determine control of the Iowa House and Senate in 2015 and 2016.  

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Timothy Junker first GOP challenger against Amanda Ragan in Iowa Senate district 27

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Dec 31, 2013 at 15:05:00 PM CST

Three-term Democratic State Senator Amanda Ragan has her first declared challenger, as Timothy Junker announced yesterday that he will seek the Republican nomination in Iowa Senate district 27.

Ragan's race is one of a handful of contests that will likely determine control of the Iowa Senate after 2014. As of December 2013, Senate district 27 contained 11,997 registered Democrats, 13,396 Republicans, and 17,747 no-party voters according to the Iowa Secretary of State's office. I've posted a district map after the jump. It covers Franklin County, part of Butler County, and most of Cerro Gordo County, including the population center of Mason City.

Junker is from Butler County and served six terms as the elected county sheriff before President George W. Bush appointed him U.S. Marshal for the Northern District of Iowa in 2006. Since leaving that position in 2010, "Junker has been selling real estate for Schuck Realty Co., served on the Allison City Council and Allison Tree Board, and is an active member of Trinity Reformed Church, Allison Am Vets and the Am Vets/Legion Drill Team." He has been exploring this candidacy for some time and held a meet and greet with Franklin County Republicans earlier this month.

I've heard rumors of several other Republicans considering this race. This fall, some Mason City residents received telephone polls asking whether they would support former Mayor Bill Schickel or Ragan for the Senate seat. Other possible candidates include former Mason City Mayor Roger Bang and former State Senator Merlin "build my fence" Bartz, who runs Representative Steve King's Mason City office. Bartz would have to move from his Worth County farm to run against Ragan, though. Cerro Gordo County GOP Chair Gabe Haugland was on my radar because he considered running for the Iowa House during the last election cycle. But he told me today that he is "99 percent sure" he is not running in Senate district 27.  

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Branstad signs Medicaid expansion alternative

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jun 20, 2013 at 17:15:00 PM CDT

Governor Terry Branstad signed into law today a bill setting Iowa's health and human services budget for the next fiscal year and establishing a new "Iowa Health and Wellness Plan" for low-income Iowans not currently covered by Medicaid. The full text of Senate File 446 is available here. Division XXXIII contains the language on the Iowa alternative to expanding Medicaid, a compromise struck in the closing days of the legislative session last month.

After the jump I've posted some links and comments on today's news. As far as I can tell, Branstad has not yet explained why he is happy to accept federal funding for the Iowa Health and Wellness Plan, likely to be more expensive than expanding Medicaid would have been. Earlier this year, he made a huge fuss about how we can't afford such a program because of the federal deficit, and how we can't trust the feds to live up to their funding promises.

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Health insurance compromise will be key issue in Iowa Senate district 27 (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Tue May 28, 2013 at 09:35:00 AM CDT

Many questions remain to be answered about Iowa's new plan to provide health insurance to low-income citizens, but this much is clear: resolving the impasse over Medicaid expansion will be a major theme in State Senator Amanda Ragan's re-election campaign next year.

Follow me after the jump for background on Ragan and more details about Iowa Senate district 27, sure to be targeted by both parties in 2014.  

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Last-minute Iowa legislative scramble is nothing to brag about

by: desmoinesdem

Fri May 24, 2013 at 12:30:00 PM CDT

The Iowa Senate wrapped up its work for the year shortly after midnight on May 23, and Iowa House members adjourned about 11 hours later. Lawmakers in both parties have been congratulating themselves for compromising on some big issues that ended in stalemate the previous two years. Rod Boshart compiled an excellent list of what the legislature did and didn't approve during 2013.

We all can appreciate the desire to finish a big project before a holiday weekend, and since legislators stopped receiving per diem payments weeks ago, they understandably wanted to get out of town as quickly as possible. However, I found it disturbing that votes were held before most lawmakers, let alone members of the public, had time to digest final conference committee deals on education reform, an alternative to Medicaid expansion, property taxes, and the health and human services budget. Transparency isn't just a buzzword. Had journalists and advocacy groups been able to look over the last-minute compromises, people might have discovered problematic language or even simple drafting errors, which could produce unintended consequences after Governor Terry Branstad signs these bills into law.

I have a lot of questions about the final education reform bill and the plan to provide health insurance to low-income Iowans, particularly those earning between 101 percent and 138 percent of the poverty level. I also need more time to sort through the budget numbers and final changes to the standings bill. After the holiday weekend Bleeding Heartland will examine the important results of the legislative session in more detail. For now, I've posted after the jump details on who voted for and against the major bills approved this week.

UPDATE: In the May 24 edition of the On Iowa Politics podcast, statehouse reporters Mike Wiser and James Lynch discussed how the big issues came together "behind closed doors," with no public scrutiny or oversight. Lynch commented that to his knowledge, the conference committee named to resolve the impasse over Medicaid expansion never formally met, except perhaps for one organizational meeting. Lynch recounted one occasion when Iowa House Republican Dave Heaton was briefing journalists about the health care talks, and the journalists asked when that happened, since there hadn't been any public notices of conference committee meetings. According to Lynch, Heaton replied, "We're not having meetings, but we're meeting." Senate President Pam Jochum said that negotiations between Democratic State Senator Amanda Ragan and House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer produced the "key to Iowa's health care compromise." Notably, Upmeyer didn't have a prominent role in passing the House health insurance plan, nor was she named to the conference committee assigned to merge the House and Senate proposals.

Speaking to journalists on May 22, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and Jochum weren't able to answer a specific question about compromise wording reached regarding Medicaid coverage of abortions. That was no minor issue--it was the last sticking point holding up approval of the health and human services budget. In effect, Gronstal told journalists, you can see the wording after the final bill is published.

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Latest tactics to bring Republicans around on Medicaid expansion

by: desmoinesdem

Fri May 10, 2013 at 10:20:00 AM CDT

The Iowa legislature's 2013 session is already in overtime, and the standoff over whether to expand Medicaid is one of the last obstacles to adjournment. A conference committee including five lawmakers from each party has been seeking middle ground between Medicaid expansion, a priority for the 26 Senate Democrats, and the "Healthy Iowa Plan" that barely cleared the Iowa House but failed in the Senate.

This week Senate Democrats offered another gesture toward the Republican desire for low-income Iowans to have more "skin in the game" when they obtain health insurance coverage.

Meanwhile, three major advocacy groups stepped up their efforts to persuade lawmakers that the Healthy Iowa Plan offers inferior access for patients while incurring substantially higher property tax costs.

Finally, a coalition of progressive organizations announced that it will run a television commercial this Sunday targeting GOP State Representative Dave Heaton, the weakest link among House Republicans trying to pass Governor Terry Branstad's alternative plan. Details on all those developments are after the jump.

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- Caffeinated Thoughts
- The Conservative Reader: Iowa
- The Iowa Republican
Journalists' blogs and research
- 24-Hour Dorman
- Cedar Rapids Gazette government page
- Iowa Fiscal Partnership
- Iowa Policy Project
- Iowa Politics Insider
- Iowa Watchdog.org
- On Brief: Iowa's Appellate Blog
- On the Campaign Trail with Ed Tibbetts
- Politically Speaking
- Price of Politics, etc.
- O.Kay Henderson at Radio Iowa
Iowa Democrats
- Dave Loebsack (IA-02)
- Iowa Democratic Party
- Iowa House Democrats
- Iowa Senate Democrats
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