Iowa Senate district 16: Nate Boulton raised more money in four months than Dick Dearden did in seven years

When Nate Boulton announced his Iowa Senate campaign in September, he subtly indicated he would be a different kind of legislator than State Senator Dick Dearden, the longtime Democratic incumbent who is retiring this year. Boulton promised to "be an active and engaged representative of district interests" and to "bring bold progressive ideas and a fresh, energetic style of leadership to the Iowa Senate."

Just a few months into his primary race against Pam Dearden Conner, the retiring senator’s daughter, Boulton sent a strong signal that he will be a more "active and engaged" candidate as well. Campaign finance disclosure forms show that Boulton raised $75,383 during the last four months of the year, a phenomenal total for a non-incumbent, first-time state legislative candidate in Iowa. Not only did Boulton out-raise his primary rival, he raised more than Dearden (a 22-year incumbent) has brought in cumulatively since 2008.

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Who's who in the Iowa Senate for 2016

The Iowa legislature’s 2016 session began on Monday. For the sixth year in a row, the 50 state senators include 26 Democrats and 24 Republicans. Just seven senators are women (six Democrats and a Republican), down from a high of ten women serving in the chamber during 2013 and 2014. All current senators are white. To my knowledge, the only African-American ever to serve in the Iowa Senate was Tom Mann, elected to two terms 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.

I enclose below details on the Iowa Senate majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing Senate committees. Little has changed since last year, in contrast to the Iowa House, which saw some big changes in the majority Republican caucus since the legislature adjourned in June.

Term limits are a terrible idea generally but would be especially awful if applied to the Iowa Senate, as the longest-serving current senator bizarrely advocated last year. The experience gap between Democrats and Republicans is striking. As detailed below, 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.

Some non-political trivia: the 50 Iowa Senate members 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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Mike Sherzan becomes third Democratic candidate in IA-03

Mike Sherzan fuzzy photo 12345433_1536683933290188_7888591554410449181_n_zpspx3oabs2.jpg

Mike Sherzan announced today that he will seek the Democratic nomination in Iowa’s third Congressional district. He recently stepped down as leader of the financial services company he founded in order to focus his full attention on the Congressional race. I enclose below Sherzan’s press release and statements from his campaign website, which outline the candidate’s four priority issues: protecting retirement security by not privatizing Medicare or Social Security; promoting clean energy, with a focus on renewables and ag-based technologies; increasing the number of college graduates by reducing the cost of tuition and student loans; and rebuilding the middle-class by supporting equal pay for women and a minimum wage hike.

Sherzan has had a successful career in finance and may be able to largely self-fund his campaign, but he is distancing himself from stereotypes about corporate leaders who run for office. His "about" page and policy statements repeatedly refer to growing up in a family of modest means and working his way through college, with the help of Social Security benefits after his father’s sudden passing. Speaking to Bleeding Heartland last month, Sherzan emphasized that he "comes from a Democratic background" and urged people not to "judge my positions based on my business experience," adding that "government was never meant to be a business." His campaign is on Twitter and Facebook, though strangely, at this writing the campaign launch hasn’t been announced on either of those pages.

Sherzan briefly ran for Congress during the last election cycle but withdrew from that race in April 2013, citing unspecified health issues. He now joins Desmund Adams and Jim Mowrer in a Democratic field that may expand to include former Governor Chet Culver, who is in no hurry to make a decision. A few hours after Sherzan announced, Mowrer’s campaign rolled out a new batch of endorsements, which I’ve added at the end of this post. The 2014 challenger to Representative Steve King in IA-04 has lined up the most support from Iowa Democratic insiders, including Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02), former Lieutenant Governor Sally Pederson, and eight current state legislators.

The winner of next June’s Democratic primary will face first-term Representative David Young in what may become Iowa’s most competitive Congressional district. The sixteen counties in IA-03 contain 150,733 active registered Democrats, 163,699 Republicans, and 166,740 no-party voters, according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. Polk County will be central to every candidate’s strategy for winning the nomination, because two-thirds of the registered Democrats in IA-03 live in the district’s most populous county.

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Veterans Day links, with thanks to the Iowans in public life who have served

November 11 first became a day to honor war veterans in 1919, one year after the First World War ended. Congress officially designated "Armistice Day" a national holiday in 1926 and changed its name to Veterans Day in 1954. Many Americans will make a special effort today to thank the veterans they know. In that spirit, Bleeding Heartland acknowledges some of the Iowans in public life who have served in the armed forces.

Iowa’s Congressional delegation includes only one person who has served in the military: Senator Joni Ernst. The number of veterans in Congress has declined dramatically over the last 40 years. In 1971, "when member military service was at its peak, veterans made up 72 percent of members in the House and 78 percent in the Senate." But in the current Congress, just 81 U.S. House representatives and 13 U.S. senators have served in the military. I enclose below more statistics from Rachel Wellford’s report for NPR.

Governor Terry Branstad is the only veteran among Iowa’s current statewide elected officials.

Of the 50 Iowa Senate members, seven are veterans: Democrats Jeff Danielson, Tom Courtney, Dick Dearden, Bill Dotzler, and Wally Horn, and Republicans Bill Anderson and Jason Schultz.

Of the 100 Iowa House members, nineteen are veterans: Republicans John Kooiker, Stan Gustafson, John Landon, Dave Maxwell, Kraig Paulsen, Sandy Salmon, Quentin Stanerson, Guy Vander Linden, Matt Windschitl, Dave Heaton, Darrel Branhagen, Ken Rizer, Zach Nunn, John Wills, and Steve Holt, and Democrats Dennis Cohoon, Jerry Kearns, Todd Prichard, and Brian Meyer.

The population of veterans faces some special challenges, including higher rates of mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). An estimated 22 U.S. military veterans die by suicide every day, which means suicide "has caused more American casualties than wars in Iraq and Afghanistan." The Military Suicide Research Consortium provides information on the problem and resources for those needing help, in addition to white papers summarizing current research on factors that contribute to suicides. For instance, sexual assault in adulthood or childhood sexual abuse both increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and attempts. Also, veterans who know someone who died by suicide "reported more than twice the frequency of suicidal ideation." I was surprised to read in this paper that major public holidays are not associated with higher rates of suicide. On the contrary, "holidays may act as more of a protective factor" against suicide, possibly because of greater "social integration during holiday periods."

Last month the Iowa Department of Public Health released the Iowa Plan for Suicide Prevention 2015-2018, which "seeks to reduce the annual number of deaths by suicide in Iowa by 10 percent by the year 2018 – a reduction of 41 from the 406 three-year average from 2012-2014 – with an ultimate goal of zero deaths by suicide." The full report (which does not focus on veterans) is available here (pdf). Iowans with suicidal thoughts or who are concerned a loved one may be considering suicide can call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK or Your Life Iowa at (855)-581-8111. For online assistance: Suicide Prevention Lifeline or Your Life Iowa.

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District Court lets stand Branstad veto of mental health institute funding

Polk County District Court Judge Douglas Staskal has dismissed a lawsuit challenging Governor Terry Branstad’s authority to veto funding intended to keep two in-patient mental health facilities open. Twenty Democratic state lawmakers and the president of Iowa’s largest public-employee union filed the lawsuit in July, arguing that the governor’s line-item vetoes violated Iowa Code provisions requiring that the state "shall operate" mental health institutes in Mount Pleasant and Clarinda. But Judge Staskal found that "Existing statutes cannot limit the Governor’s item veto authority," which "is of constitutional magnitude. The only limitations that have been placed on that authority have been derived from the language of the constitution itself. […] And, there is no language in the item veto provision which suggests a statutory limitation on the power it creates. It is elementary that, to the extent there is conflict between a constitutional provision and a statute, the constitution prevails."

I enclose below longer excerpts from the court ruling, which can be read in full here. Mark Hedberg, the lead attorney representing the plaintiffs, told Bleeding Heartland they "are preparing an appeal" to the Iowa Supreme Court "and will ask that it be expedited."

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Iowa Senate President Pam Jochum endorsing Hillary Clinton is a big deal

Iowa Senate President Pam Jochum endorsed Hillary Clinton for president today in a guest column for the Des Moines Register. This afternoon, she will elaborate on her reasons at a Women for Hillary event in Dubuque.

Jochum joins the list of prominent Iowa supporters of Barack Obama before the 2008 caucuses who are now backing Clinton. An Iowa House Democrat at that time, Jochum headed Obama’s leadership team in Dubuque County. Obama easily won a plurality of delegates in Dubuque and carried all of the neighboring counties too.

More important, Jochum is a hero to many on what you might call “the Democratic wing of the Iowa Democratic Party.” I’m thinking of the 26 percent who voted for Ed Fallon in the 2006 gubernatorial primary, as well as people who have long advocated for campaign finance reform at the state level. Although I think highly of Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, he’s not the progressive champion Jochum is—not by a long shot. She has helped fight some very tough fights, where powerful interest groups were lined up on the other side. I can’t think of an Iowa state legislator in my lifetime who has reached such a senior leadership position while being as consistently progressive as Jochum.

My impression is that many on the “Democratic wing” of the party have already committed to caucus for Bernie Sanders. Others feel conflicted as I do, drawn to Sanders for his passion and his uncompromising policy agenda, while recognizing Clinton’s strengths as a candidate and what it would mean for this country to elect a woman president. That Jochum is on board with Clinton could carry a lot of weight with undecided Democrats like me.

Before today, eight Democratic state senators and nine state representatives had already endorsed Clinton for the 2016 caucuses. I’ve enclosed the full list after the jump, along with excerpts from Jochum’s Des Moines Register op-ed.

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