Three paths to expanding felon voting rights in Iowa

A week ago today, four Iowa Supreme Court justices upheld the lifetime ban on voting for Iowans convicted of all felonies, which are defined as "infamous crimes" under a 1994 state law. Chief Justice Mark Cady’s opinion in Griffin v. Pate and three dissents are available here; Bleeding Heartland posted key excerpts here.

A decision in Kelli Jo Griffin’s favor could have made tens of thousands of Iowans newly eligible to vote in this year’s presidential election. Instead, Iowa will likely retain its place as one of the most restrictive states on felon voting for years.

In theory, those who have completed sentences can apply to have Governor Terry Branstad restore their voting rights. Griffin plans to do so, and I expect Branstad to make a big show of approving her application. In practice, though, that option will be available only to a small minority of those affected by the governor’s January 2011 executive order. During the first five years the new policy was in effect, less than two-tenths of 1 percent of disenfranchised felons managed to regain the right to vote, an average of fewer than 20 people per year.

I am awaiting information from the governor’s office on restoration numbers since the latest "streamlining" of the official form in April, but I don’t expect the number of applicants ever to become more than a trickle. The financial and other barriers will remain too great.

Even if Branstad started receiving substantially more applications and approved them at a rate of 20 per week—unlikely since this work already occupies "meaningful amounts of time every day" for the governor’s staff—only about 1,000 people annually would be able to regain their voting rights. That’s less than 2 percent of the estimated 57,000 Iowans who have been disenfranchised since January 2011. Thousands more join their ranks every year. So much for an "efficient and convenient" restoration process.

Three paths are available to bring Iowa in line with how most states approach voting rights for people with felony convictions.

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Rob Hogg for Iowa attorney general in 2018 (updated)

Before digging into posts about the Iowa elections that just happened, I want note for the record that State Senator Rob Hogg would be an excellent candidate for Iowa attorney general in 2018. Though incumbent Tom Miller has not disclosed his plans, he has reportedly told many Iowa Democrats privately that he does not plan to seek a tenth (!) term. An open race for attorney general would likely bring out several Democratic candidates, possibly including Solicitor General Jeffrey Thompson and First Assistant Attorney General Kevin McCarthy, a former Iowa House majority leader. Hogg has a strong legal and public policy background, having clerked for two federal judges, practiced law in Cedar Rapids since 2000, and served in the Iowa legislature since 2003. He can speak knowledgeably about a wide range of issues, and he now has experience running a statewide campaign.

Hogg was gracious in conceding the U.S. Senate primary race to former Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge this evening. He lost by about 8 percent of the vote against a candidate who started with much higher name recognition and was able to run television commercials during the final two weeks of the race. He was only half a percentage point behind the front-runner in Polk County.

Hogg will be up for re-election in Iowa Senate district 33 in 2018, so unlike this year, he would have to give up his seat in the legislature in order to seek higher office. I hope he will consider it. I enclose below the official bio from his Senate campaign website.

UPDATE: Several readers have suggested Hogg should run for governor in 2018. He would be a strong contender for the position too. I assume a number of Democratic state senators (Janet Petersen, Liz Mathis, Pam Jochum) will be looking at that race as well.

SECOND UPDATE: Multiple sources have contacted me to say Miller shows all signs of running for re-election in 2018. So either he has changed his mind, or sources who heard last year he was planning to retire were misinformed. In that case, many Democrats will be urging Hogg to run for governor in 2018.

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IA-04, IA-Gov: Kim Reynolds endorses Steve King

Yesterday Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds became the fourth Republican who has won a statewide election to endorse seven-term Representative Steve King in his primary race against State Senator Rick Bertrand. Speaking exclusively to the Sioux City Journal’s Bret Hayworth,

Reynolds said she doesn’t usually get involved in contested primaries, but said King has been an effective congressman.

“He has been an effective advocate for his district and for Iowans,” Reynolds said of King.

Reynolds said she appreciated his support in 2010. She alluded to a floor flight that year at the state Republican convention, where King ultimately placed her name into nomination for lieutenant governor.

I had forgotten that King formally nominated Reynolds. Even in politically active circles, Reynolds was barely known when Branstad announced two days before the Iowa GOP’s state convention that the first-term state senator would be his running mate. Many Republican state delegates were social conservatives who had backed Bob Vander Plaats in the gubernatorial race, so when State Representative Dwayne Alons nominated Vander Plaats for lieutenant governor, there was a real chance the vote might go his way. King’s support for Reynolds must have been helpful. In the end, 749 convention delegates voted for Reynolds to appear on the GOP ticket, while 579 voted for Vander Plaats.

Reynolds will almost certainly run for governor in 2018, either from her current position or (I suspect) as the incumbent, if Governor Terry Branstad resigns before the end of his sixth term. One of her likely rivals in the next gubernatorial campaign is Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, who was the first statewide office-holder to endorse King for the fourth Congressional district primary. U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst have also publicly backed King. A poll recently commissioned by a new group supporting the incumbent showed King leading Bertrand among likely voters by more than a 4 to 1 margin.

I enclose below the King campaign’s statement on the Reynolds endorsement. Any comments on the IA-04 race are welcome in this thread.

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Now he tells us: Hatch bashes property tax law he voted for, campaigned on

Jack Hatch isn’t happy with the work of his former colleagues in the Iowa Senate. Writing in the Sunday Des Moines Register, he declared the 2016 legislative session to be a "disaster for Democrats," who made no progress on improving water quality, protecting public employees, raising the minimum wage, or funding education adequately. In Hatch’s view, Governor Terry Branstad has "bullied" Senate Democrats "into siding with him in serving only the top 10 percent." In particular, he cited the "historic levels of tax relief for corporations" senators approved three years ago, part of a trend toward providing generous tax breaks for business while Iowa schools lack essential resources.

I couldn’t agree more that the commercial property tax cut lawmakers approved at the end of the 2013 legislative session was too expensive and mostly oriented toward businesses that didn’t need help, with foreseeable consequences for public services. Undoubtedly, that legislation and other corporate tax breaks are largely responsible for budget constraints that drove Democrats toward lousy deals on funding for K-12 school districts as well as higher education.

Just one question: why didn’t Hatch listen to the experts who warned at the time that the tax cut amounted to "Christmas for Walmart and McDonald’s"?

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IA-04, IA-Gov?: Bill Northey endorses Steve King for Congress

The Republican National Convention delegate elections grabbed most of the attention from today’s Iowa GOP district conventions, but Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey made some news at the fourth district gathering in Fort Dodge. Kathie Obradovich reported for the Des Moines Register,

“When I think of somebody I want in the room talking with conservative congressmen and senators, a potential president, on ethanol issues, I want Steve King,” [Northey] said.

King, in turn, suggested a promotion for Northey — but not to governor, a job for which he is often mentioned as a potential candidate. He noted there will be a new U.S. Agriculture secretary next year. “We’ll no longer have Secretary (Tom) Vilsack. I think maybe Secretary Northey sounds pretty good to me.”

King touted the quadrupling of ag land values during the first 12 years he was in Congress. “We should not forget, those are the best 12 years that agriculture has ever had in the history of this state during that period of time,” he said.

You don’t have to be an economist to know the rise in Iowa farmland values since 2003 has very little connection to who represented our state in Congress. But let’s leave that aside for now. Northey and King have long had a friendly political relationship. The ag secretary cut a radio ad King aired near the end of his toughest re-election campaign, the 2012 race against Christie Vilsack in a substantially redrawn district. Click through to read the transcript of that commercial, in which Northey touted King’s record on agriculture issues and support from farm groups. I would not be surprised to see a similar testimonial hit the airwaves before King’s June 7 primary against State Senator Rick Bertrand. People linked to the ethanol industry are among Bertrand’s heavy-hitter supporters, largely because King endorsed Senator Ted Cruz for president, despite Cruz’s stand on the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Speaking of the presidential race, King discussed possible brokered convention scenarios on this weekend’s edition of Iowa Public Television’s "Iowa Press" program. He predicted that "neither Trump nor Cruz delegates are going to tolerate anyone coming in from the outside that hasn’t been a candidate," such as U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan. The full video and transcript are here; I’ve enclosed relevant excerpts below.

Northey is widely considered likely to run for governor in 2018 rather than for a fourth term as secretary of agriculture. King’s support could be helpful in a primary that will almost certainly include at least two other candidates: Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds and Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett. Neither has a strong base in rural Iowa, although Corbett has tried to bolster his credentials with the farm community by touting all-voluntary efforts to reduce agricultural runoff and bashing some efforts to regulate farm-based pollution.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

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