IA-Gov: John Norris calls on Democrats to limit campaign donations, spending

Iowa is one of only twelve states with no limits on individual contributions to state-level races. John Norris is challenging Democrats who run for governor in 2018 to “lead by example,” adopting federal campaign contribution limits (capped at $2,700 per person) for the primary election.

Speaking to Democratic activists in Panora (Guthrie County) on April 27, Norris also urged gubernatorial candidates to agree to keep their primary election spending below $1.5 million, saying, “We should campaign on the power of our ideas and spend our time talking to Iowans and not chasing money from wealthy special interests.” I enclose below a longer excerpt from his speech.

Norris will decide soon whether to run for governor. Democrats Rich Leopold, Jon Neiderbach, and Dr. Andy McGuire are already running, likely to be joined by State Representative Todd Prichard, State Senator Nate Boulton, Fred Hubbell, Mike Matson, and/or Mike Carberry (though many Democrats expect Carberry to seek re-election as Johnson County supervisor instead).

Among those candidates, McGuire, Boulton, and Hubbell are the only ones well-positioned to collect many campaign donations larger than $2,700. McGuire recently completed a two-year stint as Iowa Democratic Party chair, during which she solicited many four-figure and five-figure gifts. Roxanne Conlin is among McGuire’s most prominent endorsers. Boulton raised a considerable amount for his first campaign in 2016 and is expected to have strong support from labor unions and attorneys if he joins the field. Hubbell is independently wealthy, having donated $30,000 to the state party during the 2016 cycle, as well as four-figure sums to some other Democratic campaigns. He is rumored to have the support of other central Iowa major donors including Bill Knapp, who gave the Iowa Democratic Party more than $60,000 during the last two years alone. (You can search any individual’s Iowa political donation history here.)

Neiderbach has made campaign finance reform a major theme of his early stump speeches and has promised not to accept any contribution exceeding $500. Leopold speaks often of the need to break the grip “expensive consultants, corporate lobbyists and powerful special interests” have on Iowa’s “insider elite political class.” Bleeding Heartland will soon publish an in-depth interview with Leopold that touches on similar themes.

UPDATE/CLARIFICATION: Former Iowa Democratic Party executive director Norm Sterzenbach, who has been advising Prichard in recent months, noted in response to this post that both Norris and Prichard have networks outside traditional Iowa donors. Point taken, and I did not mean to imply that other gubernatorial candidates would be unable to raise contributions larger than $2,700. Prichard’s leadership team includes some political heavyweights. Norris has years of experience fundraising for Iowa Democrats and connections to many potential out-of-state donors, due to his past work in President Barack Obama’s administration and with nationally-known Democratic operatives like David Plouffe.

Reacting to this post on Facebook, Neiderbach commented, “Do we want a Governor beholden to the voters – especially those who have historically been marginalized or ignored – or beholden to the rich, to big business, and to other special interests? Couldn’t the money spent on endless TV ads and campaign consultants better be spent donated to food banks and homeless shelters and our underfunded schools? Spending $1.5 million on a primary is obscene. Voters are tired of it. I urge all candidates to follow my lead and limit all donors to $500, telling those who would donate more to feed the hungry, house the homeless, and educate our students.”

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IA-Gov: Ron Corbett continues to lay groundwork for 2018 campaign

Outgoing Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett continues to signal that he is serious about seeking the Republican nomination for governor in 2018. Speaking as “president and founder” of the Engage Iowa think tank, Corbett will deliver a major speech on education policy at the Downtown Cedar Rapids Rotary this Monday, May 1.

In a press release enclosed in full below, Corbett said, “This event kick-offs my second round of visits to Iowa rotaries. Last time I was talking about the need for tax modernization and improving Iowa’s water quality – two topics that were at the forefront of discussion this past legislative session and continue to be hot topics. I look forward to re-imagining education and rallying education champions as we work to make improvements to our state’s educational system.” Since late 2015, Corbett has spoken to scores of local business-oriented groups (Rotary Clubs, Chambers of Commerce, or Farm Bureau chapters) in 55 counties as of last December.

The landing page of Engage Iowa’s website now advertises a livestream of Corbett’s forthcoming speech. He will promote a new “research-based teacher compensation plan” and discuss “opportunities that the state needs to address” in light of the new collective bargaining law, which could profoundly affect public schools and teachers. The full plan will go up on the think tank’s website after the May 1 Rotary event.

Corbett also has a new book coming out, which sounds like a case to Iowa voters, judging by the blurb on the Barnes and Noble website (emphasis added):

“Beyond Promises” is a memoir of sorts by Ron Corbett, who became the youngest speaker of the Iowa House of Representatives and who now is finishing up his eighth year as mayor of Iowa’s second largest city, Cedar Rapids. In the late 1990s, Corbett was considered a possible Republican candidate for Congress or governor. Then he surprised many and resigned from the Legislature so he wouldn’t have to spend so much time away from home and his growing family. He headed the local Chamber of Commerce for six years, a period in which he led a community campaign to rebuild schools, another to redevelop the Cedar Rapids riverfront and a third that brought professional management to Cedar Rapids city government. Corbett’s tenure as Cedar Rapids mayor coincided with the city’s recovery from a devastating flood in 2008, the costliest natural disaster in Iowa history. Can someone who was a leading Republican voice in much of Iowa reclaim statewide prominence and be elected governor? In 2017, that’s the elephant in the room-the unstated question lingering in the backdrop of “Beyond Promises.” This book is Corbett’s first-person account of where he came from and what shaped him, as well as a chronicle of doing, not simply promising.

Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds has a big head start on fundraising and will have more establishment support in next year’s Republican primary, as the sitting governor–or acting governor, to be more precise. But Corbett sounds ready to take on this challenge, and the book title Beyond Promises hints at a possible line of attack. The Branstad/Reynolds administration hasn’t accomplished any of the four key goals promised during the 2010 gubernatorial campaign: creating 200,000 new jobs, reducing the cost of government by 15 percent, increasing family incomes by 25 percent, and having the “best schools in the nation.”

This year’s severe budget shortfall could also create an opening for Corbett to argue that Branstad and Reynolds mismanaged the state’s finances, compared to the period when he was Iowa House speaker. If revenues fall well below projections again during the coming fiscal year, as former Iowa revenue estimator Jon Muller considers likely, Reynolds may be forced to enact large, disruptive spending cuts in early 2018, as happened this year.

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John Norris: Why he may run for governor and what he would bring to the table

With the exhausting battles of the 2017 legislative session behind us, Iowa Democrats can turn their attention to the most pressing task ahead. Next year’s gubernatorial election will likely determine whether Republicans retain unchecked power to impose their will on Iowans, or whether some balance returns to the statehouse.

A record number of Democrats may run for governor in 2018. Today Bleeding Heartland begins a series of in-depth looks at the possible contenders.

John Norris moved back to Iowa with his wife Jackie Norris and their three sons last year, after nearly six years in Washington and two in Rome, Italy. He has been touching base with potential supporters for several weeks and expects to decide sometime in May whether to become a candidate for governor. His “concern about the direction the state’s going” is not in question. Rather, Norris is gauging the response he gets from activists and community leaders he has known for many years, and whether he can raise the resources “to make this a go.”

In a lengthy interview earlier this month, Norris discussed the changes he sees in Iowa, the issues he’s most passionate about, and why he has “something significantly different to offer” from others in the field, who largely agree on public policy. The native of Red Oak in Montgomery County (which happens to be Senator Joni Ernst’s home town too) also shared his perspective on why Democrats have lost ground among Iowa’s rural and small-town voters, and what they can do to reverse that trend.

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With Hensley out, who will business interests run against Josh Mandelbaum?

Christine Hensley will not seek re-election to the Des Moines City Council this year, she announced today in an interview with the Business Record. The 24-year incumbent told Perry Beeman, “I’ve got a tremendous amount done, and it’s time for me to look at the next chapter and figure out what I’m going to do.” Hensley discussed spending “a little more time with family” and didn’t mention her challenger Josh Mandelbaum, though his capacity to run an effective campaign likely factored into her retirement plans.

The race for Des Moines City Council Ward 3 was shaping up to be a focal point for central Iowa progressives. Mandelbaum has raised more $110,000 in less than a month as a candidate, his campaign told Iowa Starting Line today. More than 150 people have volunteered to help spread the word.

While winning an open seat is usually easier than beating an entrenched incumbent, no one should celebrate victory too soon. Republicans and business groups will surely recruit and heavily promote someone to run in Hensley’s place. Proxies of the Iowa Farm Bureau have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on television and radio advertising bashing the Des Moines Water Works during the last two years, so I anticipate a well-funded smear campaign against Mandelbaum. Countering that message will require a strong grassroots effort. City council races are usually low-turnout affairs, so a few thousand people will decide the outcome. You can sign up to volunteer here.

Democrats outnumber Republicans in the west-side and south-side neighborhoods that are part of ward 3 (a map is at the end of this post). That reality, along with Mandelbaum’s early start and big fundraising, may deter other potential candidates. But some ambitious person with business connections will step up. Any speculation about who might enter the Des Moines City Council race is welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: Mandelbaum released the following statement on today’s news.

I want to thank Councilwoman Hensley for serving her community for 24 years. While Councilwoman Hensley and I have our disagreements, we should all honor and respect the work that all of our civil servants do every day to make our community stronger.This race was and still is about representing the interests, values, and concerns of the residents of Des Moines. I will continue to champion clean water, strong neighborhoods with strong public schools, and investing in people through policies that support decent wages. I also want to thank my supporters. The outpouring of support throughout the community in the month since we have announced has made it clear that Des Moines is ready for a progressive voice on the City Council. With your continued support, we will be prepared to fight outside special interests that have been attacking champions of clean water like what the so-called Partnership for Clean Water has done to Bill Stowe and the Des Moines Water Works. This election will still be a fight to be won even if it’s not the original one we anticipated when we announced one month ago. This campaign has just begun and I look forward to continued conversations with residents throughout the third ward as I keep running vigorously all the way through Nov. 7th, 2017. Thank you again-

According to Jason Frerichs of the Progressive Voices of Iowa blog, he has interviewed another Democrat planning to run for city council in this ward. Will update once that person’s identity is known.

P.S.- Hensley’s decision to stand with the Farm Bureau against her local water utility was a political mistake as well as a betrayal of her constituents. And it was all for nothing, because despite lobbying by groups including the city of Des Moines, the plan to dismantle the Water Works stalled in the Iowa House and won’t be attached to an appropriations bill this year. Since the Water Works lawsuit against three northwest Iowa counties will not move forward, state lawmakers will have little reason to pursue this goal during the 2018 legislative session either.

P.P.S.- If outgoing Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett seeks the Republican nomination for governor in 2018, as I expect him to do, Hensley will be a leading contender for the lieutenant governor spot on his ticket.

APRIL 24 UPDATE: Multiple central Iowa sources have relayed a rumor that Hensley is being considered for the lieutenant governor position under Kim Reynolds after Governor Terry Branstad leaves for China. Offering Hensley that job could be a way for Reynolds (who has a big head start on fundraising for the 2018 governor’s race) to hurt Corbett’s ability to tap major Republican donors in the Des Moines area. If Hensley joined the Reynolds administration, it would be a slap in the face to Corbett, with whom she has worked closely as an original board member of the Partnership for Clean Water.

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IA-Gov: Jon Neiderbach's pitch to Democratic voters

“I respectfully ask for the vote of every Iowan who is fed up with politics and government as usual.” So reads the tag line on Jon Neiderbach’s campaign website. Neiderbach was the second Democrat to join a field that may eventually include six or more candidates for governor.

Speaking to a packed room of activists in Des Moines recently, the 2014 nominee for state auditor described himself as a “policy wonk” but also “a community advocate” who has spent most of his political life “on the outside. As an advocate, as an organizer, as somebody who isn’t happy with the status quo.”

The basic principles driving Neiderbach’s candidacy appear on his Facebook page:

In 2018 let’s elect a Governor who believes Iowa needs to Stand Tall for our values and Aim High with our ambitions. A Governor who understands Iowans are FED UP with politics controlled by the wealthy and government that is unresponsive to the needs and concerns of our working families. A Governor who rejects big contributions so as to be beholden only to the voters, and who will fight harder and do more to shake up Iowa politics and government than anyone else you can vote for in 2018. I respectfully ask for your support and for your vote.

Neiderbach elaborated on those themes in an early version of his stump speech, which I enclose below. I also transcribed a short interview, in which Neiderbach shared his approach to finding common ground with some political adversaries, as well as thoughts on lingering divisions within the Iowa Democratic Party between those who favored Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.

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