Iowa GOP picks Ron Paul's man over Terry Branstad's choice

The Republican Party of Iowa’s State Central Committee met on Saturday to consider a successor to Matt Strawn, who resigned as chairman in the aftermath of the Iowa caucuses.

When a Democrat is governor, the Iowa Democratic Party’s State Central Committee defers to the governor’s choice for party chair. But a majority of the 17 voting Republicans elected A.J. Spiker, co-chair of Ron Paul’s presidential campaign in Iowa, over co-chair Bill Schickel, Governor Terry Branstad’s strong preference.

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Local Iowa election discussion thread

Iowans will elect county supervisors and vote on many local ballot initiatives across the state tomorrow, so I thought I’d put up a thread for Bleeding Heartland readers to discus any local races of interest. Iowa City’s vote on the 21-only bar ordinance will be the most closely-watched city election result. If the "yes" side prevails, the city’s ordinance barring 19- and 20-year-olds from bars after 10 pm will be thrown out. If "no" wins, the ordinance will stand. Strong early voting among University of Iowa students suggests that the ordinance will be tossed out. If I lived in Iowa City, I’d vote no. To my mind, this is a public safety issue, and the drop in downtown crime since the ordinance went into effect is compelling. I see no reason to make Iowa City a drinking destination for underage people in a large area of eastern Iowa. People who view this as a rights issue should be agitating to lower the drinking age.

In Polk County, the most contested local race is in the third supervisor’s district, where former Republican Congressional candidate Dave Funk is challenging two-term incumbent Tom Hockensmith (more background here). Funk is running on a small-government, lower-taxes agenda. He also claims Polk County isn’t spending enough on public safety. I have heard that Funk is advertising on the radio, but I haven’t caught any of those commercials, so I don’t know the script. Hockensmith has been up on Des Moines television stations with a 30-second ad for the last week or two. A transcript of the Hockensmith commercial is after the jump.

Funk has some ground to make up tomorrow. According to Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald, as of November 1 his office had received 4,588 absentee ballots from registered Democrats in the third supervisor’s district, 2,595 from Republicans, 1,157 from no-party voters and 5 from voters with some other registration. In 2006, Hockensmith defeated Republican Wes Enos by 16,936 votes to 11,121.

Any comments on local Iowa elections are welcome in this thread.

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Second look at Dave Funk's county supervisor campaign

Dave Funk officially announced his candidacy for Polk County supervisor this week and rolled out a new campaign website, Not quite the same ring as "Congress Needs Funk," but still a good slogan. He’s a strong recruit, having carried several precincts in the third supervisor’s district in last month’s GOP primary to represent Iowa’s third Congressional district. (Click here for maps of the district and the Congressional primary results in Polk County.)

Funk promised supporters that this is a “winnable” race, which could give Republicans control of Polk County government for the first time in 62 years. As an energetic campaigner with a built-in supply of volunteers from the local tea party movement, Funk will test two-term incumbent Tom Hockensmith. He starts the campaign with much higher name recognition than Wes Enos, whom Hockensmith defeated in 2006 by a margin of 60 percent to 40 percent.

However, Funk faces an uphill battle. Even after recent Republican gains in voter registration statewide, Democrats still have a large registration advantage in Polk County’s third supervisor’s district. Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald provided the latest figures for active registered voters in the area Hockensmith represents: 22,301 Democrats, 15,753 Republicans, 15,569 no-party voters, and 52 others. Polk County Democrats have a strong GOTV operation, and organized labor will work hard for Hockensmith for reasons I described here.

Funk’s tea party rhetoric may not resonate in this campaign as well as it did with Republican primary voters last month. The issues page of Polk Needs Funk talks about limiting spending so that county government can “live within its means,” but people want their supervisors to deliver public services like the ones Hockensmith will talk about during the campaign.

Anyway, Polk County’s fiscal position is strong. Many residents questioned the money spent to expand the Iowa Events Center earlier this decade, but that facility just turned its largest-ever profit despite the tough economy. You can download recent county budgets and reports from bond rating agencies here. The last time Polk County issued general obligation bonds in 2007, all three major ratings agencies gave the county strong credit ratings. Fitch said its AA+ rating “reflects the county’s broad and diverse economic base, sound financial operations, and low direct debt burden.” Moody’s said Polk’s “high quality Aa1 rating reflects the county’s healthy and economically viable tax base realizing strong growth trends; stable financial operations supported by satisfactory reserve levels; and a manageable debt burden with future debt planned.” Standard & Poor’s raised Polk’s rating from AA+ to AAA, citing factors such as “low debt burden” and “stable financial position supported by a policy to pass balanced budgets.”

Funk will struggle to convince voters that “Polk County is among the most hostile business environments in Iowa.” Talk about “getting government out of the way and fostering a fair, business-friendly environment” appeals to Funk’s base but has little basis in reality. The business magazine Forbes just named the Des Moines metro area one of the top ten “recovery capitals” in the U.S., based on Moody’s analysis of economic prospects for the period 2010-14. The Brookings Institute ranked the Des Moines area near the top in its June 2010 report on recession and economic recovery in the country’s 100 largest metro areas. In April, Des Moines topped the Forbes list of “best places for business and careers.” Many factors contribute to the Des Moines area’s relative economic health, and most of them have little to do with county governance. But if Polk County supervisors really were creating the “hostile” business environment of Funk’s imagination, Des Moines shouldn’t be doing so well compared to other U.S. cities.

Share any thoughts about county government or the Funk/Hockensmith race in this thread.

First look at Dave Funk as a Polk County supervisor candidate

I heard the rumor, Civic Skinny heard the rumor, and now The Iowa Republican blog reports that Dave Funk will soon be the Republican nominee for supervisor in Polk County’s third district.

The two Republican Polk County supervisors aren’t up for re-election this year, and the GOP isn’t fielding candidates against Democratic supervisors John Mauro and Angela Connolly. As a result, the third district race between Funk and two-term incumbent Tom Hockensmith will determine control of the five-member board of supervisors. Democrats have had a majority on that body for decades.

Without question, Funk is the best candidate Republicans could have recruited for this race. Two pictures tell that story after the jump.

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Early reaction to Branstad's choice of Kim Reynolds

A string of prominent Iowa Republicans spoke out today praising Terry Branstad’s choice of State Senator Kim Reynolds for lieutenant governor. posted the Branstad campaign’s press releases with encouraging words from Iowa GOP Chairman Matt Strawn, Iowa Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley, Iowa House Minority Leader Kraig Paulsen, former Congressional candidate and tea party favorite Dave Funk, former gubernatorial candidate Christian Fong, and Iowa’s representatives on the Republican National Committee, Steve Scheffler and Kim Lehman. Scheffler heads the Iowa Christian Alliance, and Lehman is a past president of Iowa Right to Life.

The Branstad campaign is anxious to avoid an embarrassing display of support for Bob Vander Plaats at this Saturday’s Republican state convention. Today they hit convention delegates with an e-mail blast and robocalls stressing Reynolds’ “conservative credentials.” The strong words from Scheffler and Lehman in support of the ticket may prevent any media narrative from developing about religious conservatives rejecting Branstad. The Iowa Family Policy Center (viewed by many as a rival to the Iowa Christian Alliance) backed Bob Vander Plaats in the Republican primary and vowed not to endorse Branstad against Democratic Governor Chet Culver. That group recently affirmed that Branstad would need to undergo a “fundamental transformation” to win their support in the general election campaign.

Lehman wrote at the Caffeinated Thoughts blog today that Reynolds’ “record speaks for itself.” Lehman’s long list of conservative bills co-sponsored by Reynolds in the Iowa Senate impressed Caffeinated Thoughts blogmaster Shane Vander Hart. He supported Rod Roberts for governor and was a leader of the petition drive lobbying Branstad to choose Roberts as his running mate.

To my mind, Reynolds’ record in the Iowa Senate says only that she sticks with the consensus in the Republican caucus. She has not taken any unusual positions or been outspoken on any major issues under consideration. An acquaintance I spoke with today, who spends a lot of time at the capitol every year during the legislative session, had not even heard of Reynolds before this week. That’s how low her profile has been during her two years at the statehouse. Reynolds may be a reliable back-bencher for conservatives, but I don’t see her as a strong advocate for the religious right. She doesn’t have the stature to drive the agenda if Branstad is elected. Like Todd Dorman wrote yesterday, the lieutenant governor gets to do “whatever the governor lets you do. And in a Branstad administration, if the past is an indicator, his mate will be the special director of the Department of Not Much.”

Nor is there any indication that Reynolds would urge Branstad to make social issues a priority. I think this pick indicates the business wing of the Iowa GOP is fully in charge—or at least one faction in that wing. Others in the business community appear to have been pushing for Jeff Lamberti or Jim Gibbons to be selected as Branstad’s running mate.

Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge spoke about Reynolds today on behalf of the Culver campaign. She suggested that Reynolds may not help Branstad with the social conservatives who supported other candidates for governor, because she “comes out of the same camp as Terry and Doug Gross rather than out of the camp of Bob Vander Plaats or Mr. Roberts.” In a press release and news conference, Judge also emphasized that we don’t know much about Reynolds’ views on key issues, and that her learning curve will be steep, because she has relatively little experience at the statewide level: “It will take a lot of study on Kim’s part. […] If [Branstad] keeps her in the basement in a small office as he did [former Lieutenant Governor] Joy Corning, then she’s not going to have much of an opportunity to know what’s going on.” Say what you will about Patty Judge (I’m not a fan), but she did have a strong legislative record and eight years of holding statewide office going into the 2006 campaign. She has had real influence on policy in the Culver administration.

Being a blank slate may have its advantages, however. Iowa State University Professor Steffen Schmidt thinks Reynolds was a good choice because she is so unknown that she won’t turn voters off or take attention away from Branstad.

Share any thoughts about the Branstad/Reynolds ticket in this thread.

UPDATE: Jason Hancock pointed out at Iowa Independent:

Kim Lehman, another member of the Republican National Committee and formerly president of Iowa Right to Life, praised Reynolds’ selection and her legislative record, ticking through each of the bills she has sponsored since entering the state Senate in 2008 and concluding, “Reynolds went into office and took the bull by the horns and got busy.”

However, a closer look at the bills Reynolds signed on to reveals she only sponsored one piece of legislation on her own – a requirement that the Department of Natural Resources develop depredation plans to fill harvest quotas of antlerless deer in each county that have not been met at the end of the last established deer hunting season each year.

Other than that, she nearly always joins with all or a large majority of the state Senate’s 18 Republicans to push bills.

FRIDAY UPDATE: Reynolds gave an interview to Kathie Obradovich and spoke about being a recovering alcoholic. This is not going to be an issue.

The Branstad campaign is trying to counter opposition to Reynolds over her support for a recreational lake project that angered some property rights advocates. Today the campaign released an endorsement from State Representative Jeff Kaufmann, who tried to intervene in that dispute on the side of property owners.

“I remain dedicated to the fight for private property rights in this state,” said Kaufmann. “The last four years of Democratic control of the Legislature has yielded no strengthening of these rights.  The Democratic majority has not allowed debate of a single property rights bill despite overwhelming support for the 2006 landmark legislation.”

“Our attempts to protect property rights will be thwarted, as usual, by Governor Culver and Democratic leadership without Republican control of the Legislature,” added Kaufmann. “To me, all other property rights discussions are secondary to that goal.  I look forward to working with Kim Reynolds in the future to protect property owners in the future.”

The Branstad campaign also sent conservative blogger Shane Vander Hart a statement from Reynolds about eminent domain:

I fully support the 2006 legislation that curtailed the use of eminent domain to take private property. I do not support eminent domain for commercial development purposes. I support eminent domain only for essential public services.

That answer satisfied Vander Hart. However, one issue with these recreational lake projects (like ones proposed for Page County, Clarke County and Madison County in recent years) is that the advocates will claim the land grab serves an essential public service, like providing more drinking water. However, analysts dispute whether the lake is really needed as a drinking water source, or whether that’s a ruse to obscure the real goal behind the project. A few people stand to make a lot of money if the farmland they own can be developed as lakeshore property. So the question is whether the state would allow other people’s farmland to be condemned in order to create a lake that’s basically a private commercial development.

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