Iowans haven't heard the last from Brenna (Findley) Bird

Governor Terry Branstad’s office announced on Thursday that Brenna Bird (whose maiden name was Findley) is stepping down as the governor’s legal counsel "to pursue opportunities in the private sector." Her LinkedIn profile hasn’t been updated yet, so it’s not clear whether Bird is returning to the Des Moines-based Whitaker Hagenow law firm. She joined that firm in 2010 after leaving Representative Steve King’s staff, but did not practice much law, since she was running for Iowa attorney general full-time.

Branstad named Bird as his legal counsel shortly after the 2010 election. She appears to have influenced several of the governor’s policy choices. At one time, Branstad had supported a mandate to purchase health insurance, but soon after being inaugurated in 2011, he joined a lawsuit to overturn the federal health care reform law (a key issue in Bird’s unsuccessful attorney general campaign). Branstad’s legal counsel also appears to have helped convince Branstad to change his position on banning lead shot for hunting mourning doves in Iowa. When the state legislature refused to overturn a rule mandating non-toxic ammunition, Bird worked several angles to overturn a rule adopted by the state Natural Resource Commission.

Bird’s work as legal counsel has also gotten the Branstad administration involved in some major litigation. In 2011, she participated in efforts to pressure Iowa’s Workers Compensation Commissioner to resign before the end of his fixed term. As a result, she and the governor, along with other former staffers, are co-defendants in a lawsuit filed by the former workers’ compensation commissioner.

In 2013, Bird was a key contact for Iowans seeking to ban the use of telemedicine for providing medical abortions in Planned Parenthood clinics. As the Iowa Board of Medicine considered a new rule containing verbatim wording from anti-abortion activists, the state Attorney General’s Office “cautioned the board against moving so quickly.” But as the governor’s counsel, Bird encouraged board members to adopt the telemedicine abortion ban immediately. Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit challenging that rule is pending with the Iowa Supreme Court.

Bird may be leaving the public sector for now, but I suspect Iowans will see her name on a ballot before too long. She reportedly considered running for Congress last year in Iowa’s third district and has served on the Republican Party of Iowa’s State Central Committee since last June. I could easily see Bird running for a Republican-leaning Iowa House or Senate seat if one were to open up in central Iowa. Alternatively, she and 2014 attorney general nominee Adam Gregg (now Iowa’s state public defender) are likely GOP candidates for attorney general in 2018.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. After the jump I’ve enclosed a press release on Bird’s departure from the governor’s staff, with background on Michael Bousselot, her successor as legal counsel.  

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Attorney general candidate Adam Gregg becoming Iowa's state public defender

Governor Terry Branstad has often appointed unsuccessful Republican candidates to state positions, and this week he named Adam Gregg, the GOP nominee for Iowa attorney general, to be Iowa State Public Defender. I’ve enclosed the press release after the jump. It contains background on Gregg, who worked as a staffer in the governor’s office before running against longtime Democratic incumbent Tom Miller. I don’t anticipate Gregg having any trouble being confirmed by the Iowa Senate.

The Des Moines rumor mill says Miller will retire at the end of his ninth term as attorney general. An race for that position would likely attract many candidates in both parties. I expect Gregg to seek the office in 2018, along with Branstad’s legal counsel Brenna Findley, who was the GOP challenger to Miller in 2010. Several Republicans in the Iowa House or Senate might give this race a look, especially if there are no open Congressional seats on the horizon.

For those wondering whether Gregg or Findley performed better against Miller, the answer depends on how you look at it. Both of the challengers raised quite a bit of money for first-time candidates seeking a statewide office. Gregg raised $191,359 in his first month and a half as a candidate, then nearly another $200,000 before the election; see here and here. Findley also raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for her 2010 race; see here, here, and here.

Both Gregg and Findley campaigned energetically around the state, visiting all 99 counties and attending hundreds of public events. In 2010, when total turnout was 1,133,429 for the midterm election, Miller received 607,779 votes to 486,057 for Findley (there were a smattering of write-ins and 38,605 “under votes,” meaning voters left that part of the ballot blank).

This year total turnout was a bit higher at 1,142,226, and Miller received 616,711 votes to 481,046 for Gregg (there were more write-ins and 43,016 under votes).

So Findley received a slightly higher share of the two-party vote, but she also had way more help. Branstad talked up her campaign all year and appeared in one of her television commercials. She was able to run far more radio and tv ads statewide, thanks to more than half a million dollars in transfers from the Republican Party of Iowa. Gregg didn’t get anything like that kind of assistance or exposure, so arguably he got more bang for his campaign bucks.

I’m intrigued that an ambitious young conservative politician wanted to serve as the state public defender. It’s an important job, and I hope Gregg does it well. Some of my favorite people have worked as public defenders. But there’s no getting around the fact that his office will be defending some unsavory characters. The job is risky in that next time Gregg is a candidate for public office, rivals could run “Willie Horton” ads against him highlighting onetime clients who committed horrible crimes.

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2014 election results discussion thread

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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Iowa State Fair tips and speaking schedule for state and federal candidates

The Iowa State Fair opened a few minutes ago and runs through August 17. I’m a big fan of the event, and after the jump, I’ve posted some of my favorite tips for enjoying the fair, along with the schedule for candidate appearances at the Des Moines Register’s "soapbox" on the Grand Concourse. The Register will live-stream speeches by candidates for U.S. Senate, U.S. House, governor, as well as a few nationally known politicians from out of state.

The fair has almost endless free entertainment, but bring cash with you anyway, because the State Fair board had to backtrack on plans to eliminate cash purchases for food. Instead, vendors have been encouraged to accept credit and debit cards. I suspect most will stick with a cash-only system.  

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