It's hard to beat an Iowa legislative incumbent in a primary

Yesterday’s primary elections demonstrated again that Iowans like to re-elect their incumbents, barring extraordinary circumstances.

The exception proving the rule: three-term State Representative Dan Kelley lost his Democratic primary in House district 29 (covering Newton and most of Jasper County) to Wes Breckinridge by 65 percent to 35 percent. As Pat Rynard explained here, that race was notable because prominent local officials and Iowa’s two largest labor organizations, AFSCME and the Iowa Federation of Labor, opposed the incumbent.

I’ll be sorry to see Kelley go. Of all the state legislators, he was the most vocal opponent of the Bakken pipeline, despite knowing that unions—a powerful interest group in Iowa Democratic politics—had bought into the oil company’s greatly exaggerated job estimates for that project (see also here). Kelley wasn’t always popular in the House Democratic caucus. I didn’t agree with all of his votes, but I admired his independent thinking.

No one challenged a sitting Iowa senator in a primary this year. The other eight state representatives who faced competitive primaries all won easily yesterday. Among the Democrats, Jo Oldson took about 67 percent of the vote against a hard-working opponent in House district 41, Brian Meyer won 69.5 percent in House district 33, and Mary Gaskill 59 percent in House district 81. Among the Republicans, Greg Forristall won just under 80 percent of the vote in House district 22, Stan Gustafson 67 percent in House district 25, Kevin Koester more than 86 percent in House district 38, Jake Highfill 58.5 percent in House district 39, and Jarad Klein 67 percent in House district 78.

No Iowa lawmaker failed to win his or her party’s nomination in 2014. Highfill had the closest call, taking a 43 percent plurality against two Republican opponents. Highfill was the only successful primary challenger to an Iowa legislative incumbent in 2012. The college student’s victory over then House Majority Whip Erik Helland was shocking, but an OWI arrest and other examples of poor judgment worked against Helland. Though inexperienced, Highfill had the backing of former State Representative Walt Tomenga and the "Liberty PAC" of Ron Paul supporters in that 2012 race.

Any comments about Iowa legislative elections are welcome in this thread.

Iowa primary election results thread

Polls closed at 9 pm across Iowa. Any comments about today’s primary elections are welcome in this thread. Anecdotally, I heard reports of low turnout from various parts of the state all day long. I will be updating this post throughout the evening. For statewide results, check the Iowa Secretary of State’s results page. The Polk County Elections Office is posting results here.

Follow me after the jump for updates. The Des Moines Register posted the video of Patty Judge’s victory speech, because our local CBS affiliate cut away from it, and the NBC and ABC affiliates had ended their election coverage before then.

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Enter Bleeding Heartland's 2016 Iowa primary election prediction contest

It’s that time of year. For your chance at bragging rights in the Bleeding Heartland community, post a comment in this thread with your answers to the following fifteen questions sometime before 7 am central time on Tuesday, June 7.

Anyone can enter, whether you now live or have ever lived in Iowa. It’s fine to change your mind about some or all of your answers, as long as you post a comment with your new predictions before the deadline.

Only comments posted in this thread will be valid contest entries. Predictions submitted by e-mail or posted on Facebook or Twitter will not be considered. Please try to answer every question, even if it’s just a wild guess. We’re all guessing anyway, since no public polls have been published for most of these races.

Bleeding Heartland user ModerateIADem won this blog’s primary election prediction contests in 2010 and 2012. There was no clear winner two years ago.

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Never let it be said that the 2016 Iowa legislature accomplished nothing

In four months of work this year, Iowa lawmakers made no progress on improving water quality or expanding conservation programs, funded K-12 schools and higher education below levels needed to keep up with inflation, failed to increase the minimum wage or address wage theft, let most criminal justice reform proposals die in committee, didn’t approve adequate oversight for the newly-privatized Medicaid program, opted against making medical cannabis more available to sick and suffering Iowans, and left unaddressed several other issues that affect thousands of constituents.

But let the record reflect that bipartisan majorities in the Iowa House and Senate acted decisively to solve a non-existent problem. At a bill-signing ceremony yesterday, Governor Terry Branstad and supporters celebrated preventing something that probably never would have happened.

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This is why they raise taxes in non-election years

Early in last year’s legislative session, state lawmakers voted to raise Iowa’s gasoline tax for the first time in more than two decades. Unlike many controversial policy questions, this issue did not split the public or elected officials along party lines. The Des Moines Register’s February 2015 statewide poll showed Iowans generally and subgroups of Democrats, Republicans, and independents were all divided on whether to raise the tax by 10 cents a gallon to pay for road and bridge repairs. In the Iowa House and Senate, lawmakers from both parties voted for and against the tax increase. Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal had reportedly refused to bring the bill to the floor without a guarantee that at least half of the 24 GOP senators would vote for it.

The immediate backlash against the gas tax hike came mostly from Republican circles. Former Iowa GOP Chair A.J. Spiker and former state party co-chair David Fischer were among the vocal critics. Conservative WHO Radio host Simon Conway urged Republicans to "send a message" by changing their party registration.

Governor Terry Branstad signed the gas tax hike into law within 24 hours of its passage. The following day, conservative activist Eric Durbin announced on Conway’s show that he would challenge nine-term incumbent State Representative Clel Baudler in the 2016 GOP primary to represent Iowa House district 20.

Yet a year later, there is little sign of political fallout for the 28 state senators and 53 state representatives who voted to make Iowans pay a little more at the pump.

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IA-Sen: Patty Judge thinking about challenging Chuck Grassley

The Des Moines Register’s Jason Noble snagged a surprising scoop yesterday: former Lieutenant Governor and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Patty Judge is considering running for the U.S. Senate this year. Referring to Grassley’s approach to the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy, Judge told Noble,

“Iowans have always been straight shooters, and up until the recent time I would have said the same thing about Chuck,” Judge said. […]

“I don’t like this double-speak,” Judge said. “I don’t like this deliberate obstruction of the process. I think Chuck Grassley owes us better. He’s been with us a long time. Maybe he’s been with us too long.”

To qualify for the Democratic primary ballot, Judge would need to submit nominating papers with the Secretary of State’s Office by March 18, three weeks from today. That doesn’t leave much time to collect at least 2,104 signatures, including minimum amounts in at least ten Iowa counties. But Judge could pull together a campaign quickly, having won three statewide elections—for secretary of agriculture in 1998 and 2002 and on the ticket with Chet Culver in 2006.

Three other Democrats are seeking the nomination to run against Grassley: State Senator Rob Hogg, former State Senator Tom Fiegen, and former State Representative Bob Krause. Former State Representative Ray Zirkelbach launched a U.S. Senate campaign in November but ended his campaign last month, Zirkelbach confirmed by phone this morning.

Dozens of Democratic state lawmakers endorsed Hogg in January. I enclose the full list below. Any comments about the Senate race are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: Rebecca Tuetken notes, "Patty Judge does meet one apparent Iowa requirement: she told @SenatorHarkin ‘08 steak fry that she can castrate a calf." Truly a classic moment for Judge, when Joni Ernst was still the little-known Montgomery County auditor.

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