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Veterans Day links and discussion thread

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Nov 11, 2014 at 21:16:43 PM CST

November 11 was first celebrated as "Armistice Day" in 1919 and became a national holiday in 1926. Congress changed the name of the holiday to Veterans Day in 1954. Any thoughts about military service or veterans issues are welcome in this thread.

Earlier this year, the Iowa legislature approved several bills supporting Governor Terry Branstad's Home Base Iowa Initiative. Some details are after the jump. Branstad himself is a veteran, and he tapped former U.S. Representative Leonard Boswell to co-chair the initiative.

The decline of veterans in Congress continues. Thirty years ago, about a third of the members of Congress had military experience. But only 81 of the 435 newly-elected members of the House of Representatives and thirteen of the 100 U.S. Senators have served or are serving in the U.S. military. No one in Iowa's incoming U.S. House delegation has served in the military, although several have veterans in their immediate families. Outgoing U.S. Senator Tom Harkin is a veteran, and his successor, Joni Ernst, is a Lt. Colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard.

Seven of the 50 people who will serve in the Iowa Senate next year have military experience: Democrats Jeff Danielson, Tom Courtney, Dick Dearden, Bill Dotzler, and Wally Horn, and Republicans Bill Anderson and Jason Schultz (just elected to the Senate for the first time after several terms in the state House).

Of the 100 people just elected to the Iowa House, nineteen have military experience. The Republican veterans who were just re-elected are Dwayne Alons, Stan Gustafson, John Landon, Dave Maxwell, Kraig Paulsen, Sandy Salmon, Quentin Stanerson, Guy Vander Linden, Matt Windschitl, and Dave Heaton. Five Republican veterans were just elected to the Iowa House for the first time: Darrel Branhagen, Ken Rizer, Zach Nunn, John Wills, and Steve Holt. Four House Democrats who are veterans were just re-elected too: Dennis Cohoon, Jerry Kearns, Todd Prichard, and Brian Meyer. Retiring House Republicans Steve Olson and Tom Shaw are also veterans, as is retiring House Democrat Roger Thomas.

Many Iowa lawmakers have immediate family members who either served in the military or are doing active duty.  

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Now he tells us: Branstad will support gas tax hike

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Nov 11, 2014 at 09:13:50 AM CST

Two days after being re-elected to a sixth four-year term, Governor Terry Branstad finally came out for raising the gasoline tax as part of a plan to increase transportation funding. He told journalists on November 6, "The timing is good because gas prices have dropped significantly. That makes it a little more palatable to the public."

For years, a bipartisan group of legislators have been working on a bill to increase Iowa's gas tax for the first time since 1989. The governor has left them hanging again and again and again. The issue is politically charged, since gas taxes disproportionately hit lower-income drivers and residents of rural Iowa. Joni Ernst switched from supporting an increase to opposing it as soon as she started preparing to run for the U.S. Senate. Legislative leaders have long made clear that a bill raising the tax would move forward only if at least half the members of Democratic and Republican caucuses in the Iowa House and Senate were ready to vote for it.

Iowa House Republican Brian Moore believes "this is the year" a gas tax increase will happen, because the issue will be on the "front burner" when lawmakers reconvene in January. Moore was vice chair of the House Transportation Committee. He and committee Chair Josh Byrnes have worked closely on this issue with Iowa Senate Democrat Tod Bowman, who leads the transportation committee in the upper chamber.

Arguably, 2015 will be a good opportunity for bipartisan cooperation, since it's not an election year. However, I am inclined to think the gas tax increase will fail to gain broad support in either chamber. Many Iowa House Republicans are hostile to any tax increase, and what's in it for House Democrats to stick their necks out on the issue? Meanwhile, several Iowa Senate Democrats will face tough re-election bids in 2016, and Senate minority leader Bill Dix has long been close with leaders of anti-tax interest groups. Gasoline prices have dropped to relatively low levels now, but they could bounce back up by the time lawmakers would be considering a gas tax bill in February or March.

If Branstad had campaigned on this issue, he could have claimed a popular mandate for raising the gas tax. But he didn't, even when pressed on the issue during debates with challenger Jack Hatch.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. Although the road use tax fund clearly needs more money, I would hesitate to raise the gasoline tax without strong "fix-it first" language in the bill. The lion's share of additional revenue should go toward fixing roads and bridges that are in bad shape, not toward building new roads (or new lanes on existing roads) that we won't be able to maintain adequately.

Discuss :: (3 Comments)

Fewer women will serve in the Iowa Senate, more in Iowa House

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Nov 06, 2014 at 09:50:59 AM CST

For the past two years, ten women have served in the Iowa Senate (20 percent of the chamber's membership). That number will fall to seven or eight by the time the newly-elected legislature begins its 2015 session.

However, the number of women who will serve in the Iowa House will grow from 25 to 26 for the next two years. Follow me after the jump for details and a full list of Democratic and Republican women who will serve in the newly-elected Iowa legislature.

Following up on prospects for increasing racial and ethnic diversity in the Iowa legislature, all five African-American state representatives were re-elected to the Iowa House this week: Helen Miller (House district 9), Ruth Ann Gaines (House district 32), Ako Abdul-Samad (House district 35), Deborah Berry (House district 62), and Phyllis Thede (House district 93). Neither party nominated any African-American candidates for the Iowa Senate, which remains all-white.  

Iowans have yet to elect a Latino candidate to the state legislature. Democrats nominated Karyn Finn in House district 60 and Maria Bribriesco in Senate district 47, but both lost to Republican incumbents on Tuesday.

As has been the case since Swati Dandekar left the Iowa Senate in 2011, the Iowa legislature includes no Asian-American lawmakers. Neither party nominated any Asian-American candidates in 2014.

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20 Iowa House races to watch tonight

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Nov 04, 2014 at 19:12:11 PM CST

Thanks to Iowa's non-partisan redistricting process, we have an unusually large number of competitive state legislative districts. In any given general election, depending on candidate recruitment, between one dozen and two dozen of the 100 Iowa House districts could be up for grabs. Democrats and Republicans spend big money on a much smaller number of districts; this year, only seven Iowa House races involved a large amount of television advertising. But the parties and candidates invest in direct mail and/or radio commercials in many more places than that.

Republicans go into election day favored to hold their Iowa House majority, which now stands at 53 seats to 47. Carolyn Fiddler has pegged seven "districts to watch" at her Statehouse Action blog, and in September, the Des Moines Register's Jason Noble discussed five districts he viewed as "key to Iowa House chamber control." I see the playing field as much larger.

Follow me after the jump to review 20 Iowa House seats that will determine control of the chamber for the next two years.

Caveat: most years, there's at least one shocking result in an Iowa House district neither party had their eye on. I'm thinking about Tami Weincek defeating a longtime Democratic incumbent in Waterloo in 2006, Kent Sorenson defeating a Democratic incumbent in Warren County in 2008, three Democratic state representatives who had run unopposed in 2008 losing in 2010, and Democrat Daniel Lundby taking out the seemingly safe Republican Nick Wagner in the Linn County suburbs in 2012. Wagner had run unopposed in the previous election.

So, while I don't expect any of the "favored" seats discussed below to change hands, I would not rule out a surprise or two. That would be excellent news for the stealth challenger's party.

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Enter Bleeding Heartland's 2014 general election prediction contest

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Oct 30, 2014 at 14:32:51 PM CDT

Time for another Bleeding Heartland election prediction contest. To enter, post your guesses as comments in this thread before 7 am on Tuesday, November 4. Predictions submitted by e-mail or social media will not be considered. It's ok to change your mind, as long as you post your revised predictions as an additional comment in this thread before the deadline.

No money's at stake here, just bragging rights like those enjoyed by Bleeding Heartland users ModerateIADem (twice), American007, Johannes, and tietack. This isn't "The Price is Right"; the winning answers will be closest to the final results, whether they were a little high or low.

Even if you have no idea, please try to take a stab at answering every question. We had no clear winner in this year's primary election prediction contest; the best guessers on some races were way off on other races.

Minor-party or independent candidates are on the ballot for some races, so the percentages of the vote for Democratic and Republican nominees need not add up to 100. You can view the complete list of candidates for federal and state offices in Iowa here (pdf).

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Three things that are not plagiarism

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Oct 29, 2014 at 15:35:00 PM CDT

2014 is shaping up to be the year of idiotic plagiarism accusations in political campaigns. Here's a good example of real plagiarism: "Senator John Walsh of Montana took most of a 2007 final paper required for his master's degree from the United States Army War College from other sources without proper attribution."

In contrast, these common political actions are not plagiarism:

1. Having boilerplate language on a campaign website.

The National Republican Congressional Committee has alleged in a television commercial that IA-03 candidate Staci Appel was "caught plagiarizing 20 times." No, an early version of her campaign website included political statements about the minimum wage and other issues that were similar to other Democratic campaign websites. That is no different from dozens of Republican candidates parroting the same talking points about how the tax code should be "flatter, fairer, and simpler," or responding to a question about climate change with identical "I'm not a scientist" rhetoric.

2. Introducing similar or companion legislation.

Today the Republican Party of Iowa is pushing a bogus story about Bruce Braley "plagiarizing" a bill by Senator Harry Reid. Members of Congress introduce companion legislation to bills from the other chamber all the time. Republicans in dozens of state legislatures introduce bills that are taken verbatim from American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) drafts.

3. Sending out a newsletter composed largely by staff.

Today Andrew Kaczynski and Ilan Ben-Meir reported for Buzzfeed, "Passages of local paper pieces under [Joni] Ernst's name appear to have been copied word-for-word from templates sent as guidelines to Republican members of the Iowa Senate." What they describe is standard operating procedure for Iowa lawmakers in both parties. While some representatives and senators write their own weekly newsletters, many others rely on text prepared by legislative staff. Sometimes local newspapers will reproduce all or part of those newsletters. I don't consider that "plagiarism."

Some days it's hard to see how our political discourse could get any more stupid or dishonest.

P.S. Speaking of dishonest, look how Joni Ernst's hired gun Daid Kochel re-tweeted my comment about common practice in the Iowa legislature, just minutes after he pushed the Iowa GOP's bogus plagiarism claims about Braley's bill.

UPDATE: Political reporter Gavin Aronsen comments, "Not sure I agree on point 3, once it's printed in a newspaper. Editors should reject that if it's not words of stated author." Point taken. But I blame lazy editors desperate for copy for that mistake, not politicians. Newspapers should not run a bulletin under an elected official's byline if other lawmakers sent out virtually identical text.

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Iowa House Republican candidate James Butler has history of abuse, misconduct

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Oct 22, 2014 at 07:35:07 AM CDT

Yesterday the Iowa Democratic Party published online several disturbing documents about James Butler, the Republican nominee in Iowa House district 26. Butler narrowly won a GOP primary and faces first-term Democratic State Representative Scott Ourth. The seat covers most of Warren County, including the cities of Indianola and Carlisle (a detailed map is after the jump). House district 26 is one of central Iowa's most politically balanced state legislative districts. As of October 2014, it contained 6,421 active registered Democrats, 6,802 Republicans, and 7,046 no-party voters.

Before the primary, I didn't hear much about Butler beyond the information in his official bio, which highlighted his career with the Des Moines Police Department. This summer, the Republican Butler defeated in the primary, Eric Durbin, flirted with running for House district 26 as an independent, and I saw some grumbling on social media about Butler's past. I dismissed that chatter as likely to be sour grapes coming from Durbin's supporters.

The official documents uploaded yesterday by the Iowa Democratic Party shocked me. First, a court order of protection that Butler's ex-girlfriend received in 2005 details physical abuse and threats by the police officer. Second, a lawsuit filed by apparently the same woman against Butler, which details further abuse, harassment, and threats, including violation of the no-contact order. Butler allegedly told the woman there was no point in calling law enforcement because he was a police officer. Third, Civil Service Commission and Polk County District Court documents related to Butler's brief suspension from the Des Moines police over an incident in 1997, when he was working as an off-duty police officer at a convenience store. The Civil Service Commission and later the district court judge validated Butler's suspension over severe misconduct.

As far as I'm concerned, that kind of record should be disqualifying in a candidate for political office. How is it possible the public is only now hearing about Butler's background, two weeks before the election and nearly a month after early voting began? The Des Moines Register ran a brief story about Butler's candidacy in March, based on his press release. Just this week, the paper ran a short profile of Butler as part of its "meet the candidate" series, again using information supplied by the candidate. Maybe I'm naive, but I would have thought the Register would be checking court records and public documents for mentions of state legislative candidates. I also would have expected Butler's GOP primary opponent to have brought some of this information to light.

UPDATE: I forgot to raise another question: why was Butler able to remain a police officer with this kind of record?

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Who would joke about feeding people into farm machinery?

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Oct 21, 2014 at 21:04:49 PM CDT

Besides a sociopath, that is. The answer is Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, speaking at a campaign event yesterday.

"Do you know how many lawyers it takes to grease a combine? Only one but you gotta feed him in real slow."

According to Kathie Obradovich, the crowd of about 50 people in Boone found this quip funny, along with State Representative Chip Baltimore's follow-up crack about seeing trial lawyers on combines in the countryside. Obradovich added that in her view, the governor's joke was "a groaner, not to mention in poor taste." That's putting it mildly. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jack Hatch was more in the ballpark when he called Branstad's comments "offensive and sickening."

In a statement Hatch said "a governor should be focused on promoting farm safety during harvest and not making offensive jokes that play on the tragedies all too common with farm machinery."

I'm sure Branstad wouldn't laugh at any tragedy happening to a "real Iowan." He just enjoys portraying attorneys as lower life forms.

This lawyer's daughter is mortified that any public official, let alone the most senior person in state government, would think it's funny to joke about grinding up people you don't like. I get it: half the Iowa GOP campaign strategy this year is stirring up cultural resentment against "elitist trial lawyer" Bruce Braley. He supposedly doesn't represent "Iowa values," unlike Joni Ernst, the "farm girl" and Sunday school teacher whose husband cracked a joke about trying to murder his ex-wife.

If any Iowa Democratic official or candidate made a self-styled humorous appeal for violence, I'd be the first to call them out. Don't hold your breath waiting for some Republican to condemn our governor's sick sense of humor.  

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Democracy for America getting involved in seven Iowa House races

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Oct 08, 2014 at 07:10:00 AM CDT

The progressive political action committee Democracy for America announced this morning that it has endorsed seven Democratic candidates for the Iowa House: three incumbents, three challengers to Republican state representatives, and one candidate running in an open seat. Winning those seven races could flip the chamber to Democratic control--but only if Democrats do not lose any other Iowa House districts they currently hold. Republicans take a 53-47 Iowa House majority into next month's election, meaning Democrats need a net gain of four seats.

I've posted Democracy for America's full statement after the jump. The PAC will offer financial and organizational support to the following Iowa House candidates:

• Scott Ourth, a first-term incumbent seeking re-election in Iowa House district 26 (most of Warren County, including the Indianola area)
• Joe Riding, a first-term incumbent seeking re-election in Iowa House district 30 (most of eastern Polk County)
• Curt Hanson, an incumbent seeking re-election in Iowa House district 82 (most of Jefferson County including Fairfield, plus Van Buren and Davis counties)
• Charlie McConkey, first-time candidate in Iowa House district 15 (western half of Council Bluffs plus Carter Lake in Pottawattamie County, open because Republican State Representative Mark Brandeburg retired)
• Dave Grussing, challenger to first-term GOP State Representative Tedd Gassman in Iowa House district 7 (Emmet and Winnebago counties, plus part of Kossuth County)
• Teresa Meyer, challenger to first-term GOP State Representative Sandy Salmon in Iowa House district 63 (Bremer County and parts of northern Black Hawk County)
• Kristi Keast, challenger to first-term GOP State Representative Quentin Stanerson in Iowa House district 95 (much of Linn County outside the Cedar Rapids metro area, plus part of Buchanan County)

Gassman, Salmon, and Stanerson won their 2012 Iowa House races by margins of 44 votes, 115 votes, and 200 votes, respectively.

Extra help for Riding and Hanson could have collateral benefits for Democrats hoping to maintain their Iowa Senate majority. Riding's seat makes up half of the open Senate district 15, a Democratic-held seat that Republicans are targeting. Hanson's seat makes up half of Senate district 41, a Democratic-leaning district now held by Republican Mark Chelgren (the biggest surprise winner of 2010).

In an upcoming series of posts, Bleeding Heartland will review these and other Iowa House districts targeted by one or both parties. Thanks to Iowa's non-partisan redistricting process, in any given election year more than a dozen of the 100 Iowa House races are competitive. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee considers the Iowa House one of its top opportunities in the country to flip a state legislative chamber. GOP Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen has expressed confidence that his party will hold and possibly expand its majority.

UPDATE: The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee put two Iowa House districts and two Iowa Senate districts on its list of "2014 Races to Watch." I've added that announcement to the end of this post.

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IA-03: Second Appel/Young debate liveblog and discussion thread

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Oct 06, 2014 at 20:24:38 PM CDT

Former State Senator Staci Appel and David Young are holding their second debate, hosted by KCCI-TV and the Des Moines Register at Simpson College in Indianola. I'm live-blogging after the jump. KCCI will have the video up later on their website.
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Polling . . House District 71?

by: idiosynchronic

Wed Sep 17, 2014 at 17:38:33 PM CDT

(For the past week or so, telephone polls have been in the field in many Iowa House districts, but this is the first I've heard about someone getting polled for the wrong statehouse race. Anyone else had the same experience? - promoted by desmoinesdem)

 . . but it's debateable how good the polling of House 71 is.

I got a call last evening on my cell which is issued to a number (I thought) in the Story County phone exchange.  It's from 801-685-8913, Murray, Utah, from "National Polling". Basic demographical data is asked, and then they ask me if I know these two names: Mark Smith & Jane Jech. Hell, no, I say. 

Okay, moving on, whom do you support for Governor, Senate . . etc. Operator specifically names *all* the names on ballot for each race, with party affliation. How likely am I to vote; what am I registered as? 

Getting back to Smith and Jech, do you like/dislike either? Whom will you vote for, Mr. Smith, the Democrat, or Ms. Jech, the Republican?

Thank you, end of call. 

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Another baby step toward making medical cannabis available in Iowa

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Sep 13, 2014 at 10:03:00 AM CDT

The Iowa legislature's Cannabidiol Implementation Study Committee met Thursday to discuss problems related to the implementation of the new law intended to allow Iowans to use cannabis oil to treat seizure disorders. Although the law went into effect on July 1, families who lobbied for measure are not yet able to purchase the oil derived from marijuana plants, because of various legal hurdles. Ten lawmakers (five from each chamber and five from each political party) serve on the study committee: State Senators Joe Bolkcom (D), Bill Dotzler (D), Steve Sodders (D), Charles Schneider (R), and Mike Brietbach (R), and State Representatives Walt Rogers (R), Clel Baudler (R), Linda Miller (R), John Forbes (D), and Bob Kressig (D).

Tony Leys reported for the Des Moines Register that the committee voted 9-1 to recommend that the state reschedule marijuana from "a Schedule I drug, meaning its use for any reason is illegal," to "a Schedule II drug, which could be used for medical purposes." Rogers was the dissenting vote. The committee voted 6-4 for "a motion to recommend allowing the closely regulated production and distribution of medical marijuana for approved patients. The motion did not specify what type of marijuana, but it did say the state should not tax the products." Baudler, at one time Iowa's most vocal opponent of medical marijuana, joined the five Democrats on the committee to approve that motion. However, Leys noted that Baudler "strenuously opposes expanding the law to let people possess marijuana to treat other conditions, such as cancer or Crohn's disease. The committee rejected a motion to recommend such an expansion."

The committee's recommendations are not binding on the Iowa House and Senate, which will go back into session next January.

Not to take anything away from the suffering of Iowans with seizure disorders, but I don't understand why lawmakers would want to approve medical cannabis for those conditions only and not for a range of other chronic or life-threatening diseases, which affect thousands of people here. Other states have created workable programs limiting access to those with genuine medical needs, and a majority of Iowans support legalizing the medical use of marijuana. Oncologists have been quietly recommending cannabis to cancer patients for at least four decades.

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Three reasons it's too soon for Iowa Democrats to celebrate an early voting lead

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Sep 09, 2014 at 16:35:42 PM CDT

Part of a series on GOTV in Iowa this year

Less than two weeks remain before county auditors start mailing absentee ballots to Iowa voters. On September 22, the Iowa Secretary of State's Office will start releasing updates on absentee ballots requested and returned statewide and by Congressional district. As in 2012, Bleeding Heartland will post those totals daily.

Data from a few of the larger counties indicate that the Iowa Democratic Party's head start on canvassing this summer has produced a clear advantage on absentee ballots requested. Iowa Republican blogger Craig Robinson is fretting about the GOP "getting out worked when it comes to early voting." Former Iowa Senate GOP staffer Don McDowell is upset with conservatives who refuse to vote before election day. He has seen more than a few statehouse races lost narrowly after Republican candidates were crushed in the early vote.

However, it's way too soon for Democrats to be over-confident about this year's early vote lead, for three reasons.

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The 2014 Iowa ground game: 12 Canvassing dos and don'ts

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Sep 02, 2014 at 12:21:02 PM CDT

First in a series of posts on GOTV in Iowa this year

Air time for television advertising has become the most expensive line-item in many election campaigns. Outside groups have spent millions of dollars already on Iowa commercials targeting U.S. Senate candidates Bruce Braley and Joni Ernst, with millions more to be spent over the next 60 days. Nevertheless, I don't know many people who believe attack ads will determine the outcome of close races like Iowa's U.S. Senate battle. Barring some extraordinary campaign event (such as a meltdown in the debates), the winner will be the candidate whose side does a better job of identifying its supporters and turning them out to vote.

The number of Iowans who voted in each of the last two midterm elections was about a third lower than the number who had voted in the most recent presidential election. If that trend holds, approximately 1.1 million Iowans will cast ballots in the 2014 general election. Braley and other Democrats can't afford to have turnout resemble 2010, when only 56.5 percent of registered Iowa Democrats voted, as opposed to 69 percent of registered Republicans.

The Iowa Democratic Party has been crowing about its bigger and better "coordinated campaign," an effort to build on the successful 2012 early voting program here. No question, Democrats got a big jump on the ground game while the Iowa GOP was mired in poor fundraising and a messy leadership transition. Democrats have had canvassers out every weekend for months, and so far have generated many more absentee ballot requests than Republicans. The Iowa GOP has stepped up its door-knocking over the past several weeks, and Governor Terry Branstad will spend part of his war chest to assist the early voting efforts.

Knocking on doors is one of the most valuable ways to volunteer for a campaign. For those willing to spend a few hours on a weeknight or a weekend afternoon, I've enclosed my best advice for canvassing after the jump. Please feel free to share your own experiences with canvassing (on either side of the door) in this thread. Six years ago, a guest diarist posted his top tips here.

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Republicans left Iowa House seats uncontested in nearly every battleground Iowa Senate district

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Aug 25, 2014 at 12:41:54 PM CDT

The filing period for general-election candidates closed on August 15. You can view the full candidate list for federal and state offices on the Iowa Secretary of State's website. John Deeth briefly reviews all 100 House races here. Next month, I'll be posting on the most competitive Iowa House races.

For today, I'm interested in what appears to be a pattern of Republicans letting Iowa House seats go in battleground Iowa Senate districts. I suspect a strategy is in play to depress GOTV in the more Democratic halves of these districts.  

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New data bolster supporters of raising Iowa's gas tax

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Aug 18, 2014 at 07:33:30 AM CDT

The average cost of owning a car is lower in Iowa than in any other state, the Cedar Rapids Gazette's B.A. Morelli reported on August 16, citing an analysis by Bankrate.com. Car insurance costs an average of $630 per year in Iowa, the lowest in the 50 states. Vehicle repairs cost Iowa drivers an average of $315 per year, also the lowest number for any state. The average cost of gasoline for Iowa drivers worked out to $998 a year, taking into account not only the price of gas but also vehicle miles traveled and fuel efficiency rates. That's "middle of the pack," Morelli noted.

Iowa's gasoline tax has not been increased since 1989, reaching a historic low in real terms. Meanwhile, Iowa road and bridge conditions continue to deteriorate. Three years ago, our state ranked third-worst in the country for structurally deficient bridges. The latest data indicate we are second-worst in that category, with more than 20 percent of the state's bridges in need of repairs or replacement.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jack Hatch supports raising the gas tax, while Governor Terry Branstad has said he favors other ways to finance road and bridge work. The candidates clashed over that issue during last week's debate. Branstad has left himself some wiggle room by not pledging to veto a gas tax increase.

The current leaders of the Iowa House and Senate Transportation Committees strongly support raising the gas tax to pay for road work. Bills to increase the tax by a total of 10 cents per gallon over several years passed committees in both chambers in recent years, but advocates were unable to recruit enough bipartisan support to pass them in the full Iowa House or Senate in either of the past two legislative sessions. Iowa House Transportation Committee Chair Josh Byrnes has promised to keep working on this issue, and State Representative Brian Moore, the vice chair of that committee, said this spring that a gas tax hike is "in the works" for 2015. He has emphasized that weight limits on structurally deficient bridges are bad for businesses like the livestock transportation company he owns.

Republicans Byrnes and Moore both represent Iowa House districts that may be targeted this fall, as does Iowa Senate Transportation Committee Chair Tod Bowman, a Democrat. Prospects for raising the gas tax will depend in part on whether key advocates are re-elected in November. Regardless of which parties control the Iowa House and Senate after the midterm elections, a gas tax increase would have to be a bipartisan effort.

Democratic and Republican critics of increasing the gasoline tax have pointed out that consumption taxes tend to be regressive, hitting lower-income people harder. A gas tax hike would also disproportionately affect rural residents, who may need to travel further to work or shop. The Washington-based Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy has recommended reforms to address those concerns. I've posted the short summary after the jump; you can read more in depth on their ideas for "building a better gas tax" here. I would add that any increase to Iowa's gas tax should be accompanied by "fix-it first" language, so that new road construction doesn't swallow the most of the revenue that should be earmarked for repairs. Fixing roads and bridges gives taxpayers more bang for their buck and creates more jobs than building new roads or putting new lanes on existing roads, which (while sometimes needed) increase future maintenance costs.

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State Representative Henry Rayhons charged with abusing his incapacitated wife

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Aug 16, 2014 at 07:25:00 AM CDT

When I criticized State Representative Henry Rayhons for announcing his retirement so late in an election year, I had no idea this was coming down the pike:

Today, 78 year old Henry Rayhons of Garner, Iowa was arrested after charges were filed against him for 3rd Degree Sexual Abuse, a class C Felony. [...]

The criminal complaint states that on or about May 23, 2014, Rayhons committed sexual abuse upon the victim [Donna Rayhons] by performing a sex act upon her as a person suffering from mental defect or incapacity, after he had been told that the victim did not have the cognitive ability to give consent to any sexual activity.

You can view the complaint and affidavit here (pdf). After the jump I've posted the full text of the Iowa Department of Public Safety press release, a statement released by Henry Rayhons' attorney, and excerpts from relevant news coverage. Henry Rayhons has been released from jail after posting bail. Donna Rayhons passed away on August 8.

It appears that the prosecution's case against Rayhons will rely on testimony from Donna Rayhons' roommate at the nursing home, surveillance camera footage from the nursing home, and statements the state lawmaker made while being interviewed by a Department of Criminal Investigations agent on June 12. Judging from comments made yesterday by Rayhons' son and by his attorney, the defense will argue that Rayhons is the victim of a "witch hunt," that he loved his wife, and that the "sexual contact" he admitted to "could be anything from a hug or a kiss."

Rayhons' late retirement makes a lot more sense now. By the way, on August 14 local Republicans held a special election to nominate Terry Baxter in Iowa House district 8, the seat Rayhons will vacate. Baxter will face Democrat Nancy Huisinga in a district that strongly favors Republicans in voter registrations and presidential voting in 2012.

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How not to retire from the Iowa legislature (revisited)

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Aug 05, 2014 at 09:33:21 AM CDT

A few months ago, Bleeding Heartland criticized the practice of longtime Iowa legislators announcing their retirements within a day or two of the filing deadline for primary candidates. Too many incumbents in both parties have pulled that stunt over the years. Respect for one's constituents demands giving people outside a small circle of party activists a few weeks, or ideally a few months, to consider running for the Iowa House or Senate.

Yesterday, State Representative Henry Rayhons demonstrated an even worse way to retire from the Iowa legislature. Just eleven days before the deadline for getting a candidate on the general election ballot, the nine-term Iowa House Republican announced that he would not seek re-election, citing "ongoing family and health matters." Rae Yost reported for the Mason City Globe-Gazette that the Rayhons family "has been dealing with issues regarding appointment of a guardian and conservator" for the 78-year-old lawmaker's wife.

Rayhons should have announced his retirement earlier this year, anticipating that he would be unable to serve another two-year term. Then other Republicans could have competed in a primary to represent Iowa House district 8, covering part of Kossuth County and all of Hancock and Wright counties. Now only a handful of GOP activists will have a say in choosing Rayhons' successor. They need to convene a nominating convention in the middle of vacation season and the Iowa State Fair. The GOP nominee will face Democrat Nancy Huisinga in a district that strongly favors Republicans in voter registrations and presidential voting in 2012.

Arguably, Rayhons should have stepped aside gracefully three years ago, after Iowa's new map of political boundaries threw him and two House GOP colleagues into House district 8. Instead, House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer moved to the Clear Lake area to run in House district 52. It made no sense for Upmeyer to defer to an eight-term backbencher like Rayhons when doing so meant bigfooting Gabe Haugland, the ambitious young Republican who was already planning to run in HD-52. Everyone could see that Rayhons didn't have a long political career ahead of him and wasn't a key member of the House GOP caucus. We haven't seen the last of Haugland, who was elected to the Iowa GOP's State Central Committee earlier this year. But he could be seeking a second term in a safe Iowa House seat by now if Rayhons had allowed Upmeyer to stay in HD-08.

I'm glad there is no mandatory retirement age for Iowa legislators, but sometimes our older incumbents are too reluctant to step aside for a younger generation.

UPDATE: I was sorry to hear that Donna Lou Young Rayhons passed away on August 8.

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A smoke-free Cedar Rapids casino is not a public health initiative

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 19:34:00 PM CDT

The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission sent a strong message last week to backers of a casino project in Cedar Rapids: don't bother trying to get a license for at least the next three years.

Rational actors would have started working on Plan B for prime downtown real estate as soon as commissioners voted down the application for a Cedar Rapids casino in April. But Mayor Ron Corbett and some other movers and shakers are determined to chase the gambling dream, through legislative or judicial means. Instead of taking the hint from the Racing and Gaming commissioners, Corbett is ratcheting up his strategy for gaining legislative approval for a new casino. He's smart and experienced enough to know that state lawmakers need a better excuse for acting than "we don't like what the commission did." So, he's now dressing the casino project up as a public health initiative. Lawmakers shouldn't fall for or hide behind this ruse.

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July 4 weekend open thread: Iowa fireworks debate

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jul 04, 2014 at 12:34:00 PM CDT

Happy Independence Day to the Bleeding Heartland community. We're heading out to the Windsor Heights parade soon. Holiday parades and summer festivals are great outreach opportunities for candidates and their campaigns. Please share any favorite parade stories in this thread.

Last weekend Democratic State Senator Jeff Danielson and Republican State Senator Jake Chapman co-authored an editorial promising to work together next year to legalize fireworks in Iowa.

Senate File 2294 had several provisions that would allow fireworks to be safely regulated. Those stipulations would include prohibiting minors from purchasing fireworks, giving local municipalities the ability to restrict fireworks and the fire marshal the ability to regulate fireworks in the case of droughts.

The fireworks ban originally was a result of a Depression-era fire created by a sparkler in the middle of a drought when temperatures were nearing 100 degrees.

There also are misnomers and myths surrounding the fireworks-related injuries. In fact, the number of fireworks-related injuries in the U.S. has decreased drastically - nearly 61 percent - from 1994 to 2011, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. This decrease in reported injuries is noteworthy considering the use of fireworks increased nearly 100 percent during the same time period.

We remind Iowans that as we near the celebration of our independence, fireworks remain illegal in Iowa. About 42 states have legalized some form of fireworks. We encourage all those who wish to have the same freedom to display fireworks, to please contact your legislators and let them know it is time for Iowa to join America in celebrating our Independence Day with fireworks.

Here's some background on "The Great Spencer Fire" of 1931.

I'm a bit surprised to see Danielson taking the lead on this issue, as he is not only a firefighter but also a veteran. Amateur fireworks can prompt anxiety or panic attacks for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Playing with sparklers, which are legal, as well as fireworks purchased from neighboring states, contributes to a surge in eye injuries around July 4. Interest groups representing doctors have lobbied strongly against lifting the ban on most fireworks because of the risk of burns.

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