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Someone should investigate state's role in Iowa's health insurance coop failure

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jan 26, 2015 at 09:59:10 AM CST

What has seemed likely since Christmas Eve was confirmed on Friday: Iowa's non-profit health insurance coop is liquidating. At the end of this post, I've enclosed the e-mail CoOportunity Health members received on January 23. Members are strongly encouraged to enroll in other health insurance before February 15, the end of 2015 Open Enrollment under the federal health care reform law. In Iowa, only Coventry now sells policies through the exchange, allowing eligible people to receive federal tax subsidies to help cover the cost of insurance.

CoOportunity Health was created to sell individual, family, and small-business health insurance policies in Iowa and Nebraska. Its membership greatly exceeded projections, but so did the costs of insuring a population that had largely been uninsured before the 2010 Affordable Care Act went into effect in 2014.

Some politicians, like Senator Joni Ernst, have nothing to say about CoOportunity's collapse beyond empty talking points about Obamacare. Others, like Senator Chuck Grassley and Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02), are digging for answers on why federal officials didn't do more to help the health insurance coop survive. Those are important questions.

As far as I can tell, no one in a position of power is examining how decisions by Iowa officials stacked the deck against CoOportunity ever becoming solvent. Did Iowa's insurance commissioner Nick Gerhart seal the coop's fate by bending over backwards to suit the 800-pound gorilla in Iowa's health insurance market (Wellmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield)? Now that CoOportunity's failure leaves only one company selling policies on Iowa's health insurance exchange, what is Gerhart's "plan B" if Coventry decides later this year against continuing to participate on the exchange for 2016?

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Bully Bill Redux: 2015 Edition

by: natewithglasses

Mon Jan 19, 2015 at 09:30:58 AM CST

(Thanks for this in-depth look at one of Governor Terry Branstad's top priorities for the legislative session. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

For the past several legislative sessions - a bully bill in some form or another has been proposed and supported by Governor Branstad.  In each session, the bill has taken on many different forms and have gone from extreme (license to bully provision) to this year's shocking development.

Read on for the latest in the Governor's proposed 2015 Bully Free Iowa Act.  

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Three pros and three cons of Andy McGuire as Iowa Democratic Party chair (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Jan 17, 2015 at 15:59:23 PM CST

Earlier today the Iowa Democratic Party's State Central Committee selected Dr. Andy McGuire to lead the party for the next two years. McGuire was the favorite going into the election and won on the third ballot against Kurt Meyer. Another candidate for state chair, former Congressional candidate Jim Mowrer, then ran for first vice chair and was elected on the first ballot.

Dr. McGuire has been active in Iowa Democratic politics for more than 20 years, since working on her sister-in-law Sheila McGuire's 1994 Congressional campaign in Iowa's fifth district. (Sheila McGuire later served as state party chair for a term.) In the political world, Andy McGuire is best-known for being Mike Blouin's running mate during the 2006 Democratic primary for governor. The pro-choice mother of seven helped balance the ticket, as many Democratic activists were concerned about Blouin's stance on abortion rights.

In recent years, McGuire has often been mentioned as a possible Congressional candidate, but she ruled out running in Iowa's third district in 2016 if elected to lead the party. Many central Iowa Democrats expect her to run for governor in 2018.

Although I favored one of the other candidates, McGuire brings a lot to the table as a state party leader. My first thoughts on the pros and cons of her election are after the jump.  

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Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice calls for action on racial disparity, courthouse security

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jan 14, 2015 at 14:32:36 PM CST

Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady delivered his annual State of the Judiciary address to Iowa House and Senate members this morning. The full text is available here (pdf), and I've posted important sections after the jump. Cady hailed progress the court system is making on helping Iowa children and improving efficiency and transparency. He described ongoing initiatives to improve how Iowa courts handle family law cases and review guardianship and conservatorship laws and procedures. Cady also asked lawmakers to appropriate 4.7 percent more funding for the court system in the next fiscal year.

Cady cited recent work within the judicial branch to "better understand and address the persistence of racial disparities" in the criminal justice system--a longstanding problem in Iowa. I enclosed below reaction from Assistant House Minority Leader Ako Abdul-Samad. Abdul-Samad is one of five African-American members of the Iowa House.

Finally, the chief justice alluded to a shooting last September during a meeting of the Jackson County Board of Supervisors as he called for action "to make every courthouse in Iowa safer and more secure."

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

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Highlights from Branstad's 2015 Condition of the State address

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jan 13, 2015 at 08:55:23 AM CST

Governor Terry Branstad will deliver his annual Condition of the State address to members of the Iowa House and Senate this morning at 10 am. You can watch the speech live on Iowa Public Television's website or on IPTV World (channel 119 on Mediacom in central Iowa). The full text as prepared will be available on the governor's official website.

Judging by yesterday's opening remarks from state legislative leaders, Iowa House Republicans most want to see new tax reform proposals from the governor. Iowa Senate Democrats are most closely watching to see whether Branstad will propose adequate funding for education at all levels, from pre-school to K-12 to community colleges and state universities. I'll update this post later with highlights from the day. Any comments about the governor's speech (content or delivery) or the upcoming legislative session are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: Added highlights and some reaction to the "Together We Can" speech below. James Q. Lynch created a graphic showing the words Branstad used most.

Chutzpah alert: Branstad is urging lawmakers to "bring together state agencies that have a shared interest in quality of life initiatives and invest in our parks, trails, lakes and museums." Maybe he's forgotten that the state legislature did that last year, before he vetoed millions of dollars that would have gone toward parks, trails, water quality programs and other amenities.

It's also disappointing that the governor can't quit lying about how many jobs have been created since he returned to public office.

It's encouraging to hear the governor call for stronger efforts to protect victims of domestic violence and end bullying in schools. The devil will be in the details of those proposals. Speaking to Radio Iowa, Iowa Senate President Pam Jochum said "the anti-bullying proposal as well as the anti-domestic violence proposal will get a very good response from the Iowa Senate." But she said the governor's proposed education funding is "less than what we know we need in order to bring Iowa's per pupil spending investment up to at least close the national average." Meanwhile, House Speaker Kraig Paulsen told Radio Iowa that his caucus will continue to look for tax cuts ("a way to for Iowans to leave more of their own money in their pockets").

SECOND UPDATE: As he did last year, the governor called for expanding access to broadband statewide. But strangely, Branstad does not plan to attend President Barack Obama's scheduled January 14 event in Cedar Falls, where the president will "propose plans to increase affordable access to high-speed broadband internet."

LATE UPDATE: Nate Monson, executive director for Iowa Safe Schools, characterized the governor's anti-bullying bill as a "giant leap forward for gay youth" in Iowa. I've enclosed excerpts from his Des Moines Register guest editorial at the end of this post.

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The face of the medical marijuana fight in Iowa has died

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jan 12, 2015 at 22:05:00 PM CST

Benton Mackenzie passed away at home this morning, his wife Loretta Mackenzie told Brian Wellner of the Quad-City Times. Mackenzie was convicted last summer on drug charges, having grown dozens of marijuana plants in order to treat his terminal cancer. During the trial, the judge did not allow Mackenzie or his attorney to say that the defendant was seeking to use cannabis as a cancer treatment. Mackenzie was later sentenced to probation. The family had hoped to move to Oregon; Mackenzie had visited the state and received a valid Oregon medical marijuana card before his health deteriorated late last year.

Many Iowans who favor legalizing medical marijuana were outraged by the prosecution of a terminal cancer patient. State Senator Joe Bolkcom described the case as a waste of taxpayer money. During last year's legislative session, Bolkcom defied long odds to get a baby step toward legalizing medical cannabis approved in the Iowa House and Senate. However, the new law only permits the use of cannabis oil in order to treat certain seizure disorders, and even the affected families have been unable to obtain the treatment so far.  

Thousands of Iowans are battling cancer or suffering from chronic illnesses that can be treated with cannabis or its derivatives. They should not be subject to criminal prosecution merely for attempting to obtain marijuana for personal use. Benton Mackenzie's death may not be enough to spur a majority of lawmakers to act this year, but I hope his sad story will eventually create the political space to expand Iowa's medical marijuana law.

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Themes from the opening day of the Iowa legislature's 2015 session

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jan 12, 2015 at 18:16:59 PM CST

Exciting times for Iowa politics watchers: the state legislature's 2015 session began in Des Moines today. A tentative schedule for this year's work is available here (pdf). The last day lawmakers will receive per diem expenses is on May 1, but for the past four years of divided control between a Republican House and a Democratic Senate, the session has always gone into overtime--sometimes by a little and sometimes by a lot. Bleeding Heartland previously posted details on the each chamber's majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing committees. Click here for who's who in the Iowa House, and here for who's who in the Iowa Senate.

Today legislative leaders from both parties pledged to work together. After the jump I've enclosed the full texts of opening day remarks. Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal called for making Iowa's middle class the "focus of the 2015 session" by ensuring adequate education spending, fighting wage theft, and expanding worker training while keeping a balanced budget. He praised Governor Terry Branstad for agreeing to go back to setting K-12 school funding a year in advance, as is required by state law, but warned the governor not to make a partisan statement by proposing too little funding for education when he addresses the legislature tomorrow.

Echoing some of the priorities she named last year, Senate President Pam Jochum said building an economy that "works for everyone" means supporting families and especially children: "For too long, the well-being of children has been considered a woman's issue.' It is not just a 'woman's issue'. It is an American issue. It is an Iowan issue." Jochum urged lawmakers to expand access to education from pre-K through college, make "quality, affordable childcare" more available across the state, and boost an initiative to "detect and help prevent mental health and developmental problems among young children."

Iowa House Minority Leader Mark Smith said the top priorities for House Democrats are strengthening the middle class and re-vitalizing rural Iowa. In addition to expanding early childhood education and providing adequate funds for K-12 schools, Smith called for raising the minimum wage, though GOP leaders have shown no willingness to negotiate on that issue.

As has been true in recent years, top Iowa House and Senate Republicans focused on fiscal issues and mostly avoided social issues. Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen challenged his colleagues "to ensure that government do less and do it better" when "others bring forward their laundry list of funding opportunities, spending priorities, or flashy government programs." He called for more tax cuts along the lines of a 2006 bipartisan agreement to eliminate the state tax on Social Security benefits. (Mike Owen of the Iowa Policy Project explained in a guest column for the Quad-City Times why that tax cut was passed "under false pretenses" and skewed Iowa's tax code "further to the benefit of the wealthy.") House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer emphasized the need to "craft a responsible budget." She singled out the Medicaid program for criticism, claiming growth in Medicaid spending is "not sustainable" and will threaten lawmakers' ability to invest in education, job training, infrastructure, and renewable energy. Iowa Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix called on senators to "work together to rein in spending, make cuts and reduce the size of government and lift up all Iowans in the process by reducing their tax burdens."

None of the Republicans set a goal of undoing marriage equality, and only House Speaker Pro Tem Matt Windschitl made passing reference to other top priorities for social conservatives when he said, "Let us work together to make Iowa the best place to live, where taxes are low, jobs are abundant, education is top of the line, innocent life is protected and Second Amendment rights are fully embraced."

Any comments about the legislative session are welcome in this thread. By the way, here's some trivia you may not know about Speaker Paulsen.  

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John Kooiker wins special election to represent Iowa House district 4

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jan 07, 2015 at 06:52:35 AM CST

Republican John Kooiker easily won today's special election in Iowa House district 4, which covers most of Sioux County in northwest Iowa (scroll down this page for a map). Unofficial results published on the Sioux County website indicate that Kooiker received 2,064 votes to 456 for Democrat John Buntsma. I was surprised to see that Dennis Wright, a Republican former county supervisor, managed 840 votes (about a quarter of all votes cast) as a write-in candidate. That's a huge number of votes for a write-in, especially in a low-turnout special election. Wright should seriously consider challenging Kooiker in the 2016 GOP primary to represent House district 4.

Kooiker will succeed longtime conservative stalwart Dwayne Alons, who passed away in November shortly after being re-elected to a ninth term in the Iowa House.

House district 4 is the safest legislative district in the state for the GOP, with roughly nine times as many registered Republicans as Democrats. I admire Buntsma for making sure voters would have a choice, even in a hopeless district for a Democrat.  

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Mark Costello will represent Iowa Senate district 12

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Dec 31, 2014 at 07:05:00 AM CST

Republican State Representative Mark Costello easily won yesterday's special election to represent Iowa Senate district 12. The seat became vacant after Joni Ernst's victory in the U.S. Senate race. According to unofficial results posted on the Iowa Secretary of State's website, Costello received 3,068 votes, to 924 votes for Democrat Steve Adams and 131 votes for Libertarian Don Brantz. Adams deserves credit for stepping up to give voters a choice in the second- or third-most Republican Iowa Senate district. Although the Libertarians were smart to nominate a candidate here, they didn't have anything like the Iowa GOP's resources for voter turnout, and their nominee got the worst kind of publicity a candidate can have when he was charged with several crimes earlier this month.

Democrats retain a 26 to 24 majority in the Iowa Senate, but Costello told Radio Iowa he's optimistic and hopeful Republicans will win a majority after the 2016 elections. They certainly will have better opportunities to gain Iowa Senate seats in the coming cycle than they did in 2014. Blowing the chance to defeat GOP State Senator Mark Chelgren this year could prove costly for Iowa Democrats.

Costello's victory will force a special election in Iowa House district 23, which he has represented for the last two years. Like Senate district 12, the House district should be safe for Republicans, allowing them to maintain a 57 to 43 majority in the Iowa House next year.

I expect another crowded GOP nominating convention when House district 23 delegates meet to choose a new candidate. Several people who sought the GOP nomination in Senate district 12 live in communities Costello has represented. Republicans would do well to nominate a woman. It's embarrassing that Amy Sinclair is the only woman left in their Iowa Senate caucus, and the Iowa House GOP caucus includes 51 men (including Costello) to just six women.

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Iowa House district 4: John Kooiker vs. John Buntsma

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Dec 26, 2014 at 07:45:00 AM CST

In what might be described as a Christmas miracle, a Democrat has stepped up to run in the January 6 special election to represent Iowa House district 4. The vacancy arose when State Representative Dwayne Alons passed away last month.

John Buntsma is the first Democrat since 2008 to contest the Iowa House district covering most of Sioux County (scroll down for a detailed map). Of the 100 Iowa House districts, this is the most Republican, with only 1,498 active registered Democrats, 13,279 Republicans, and 3,555 no-party voters according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State's office. GOP presidential candidates routinely top 80 percent in Sioux County, and Governor Terry Branstad got about 91 percent of the votes there this year. In a statement I've enclosed below, Buntsma said he is running because "It is important for all of us to have choices. I felt that the voters should have more than one choice." Good for him. I would love to see Democratic candidates compete in every Iowa House and Senate district, no matter how hopeless the race may appear.

I haven't seen any detailed background on John Kooiker, the "military veteran, family farmer and retired postal service worker" who won a Republican nominating convention in House district 4. A short press release noted that Kooiker "heavily emphasized his social conservative beliefs," which helped him secure the GOP nomination on the third ballot. That probably makes him a pretty good fit for the district. Alons was one of the most outspoken social conservatives in the Iowa House Republican caucus.

After the jump I've enclosed two press releases containing background on Buntsma. Note the difference between the version circulated by the candidate himself and the shorter release from the Iowa Democratic Party. I've often heard Democratic candidates complain that party types warn them against speaking their minds on potentially controversial issues. In a race like this, what difference could it make to downplay Buntsma's beliefs on immigration, the minimum wage, or the exemption casinos received from Iowa's public smoking ban?

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Iowa Senate district 12 special: Mark Costello vs. Steve Adams and Don Brantz

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Dec 12, 2014 at 06:45:00 AM CST

Republicans nominated State Representative Mark Costello for the December 30 special election to replace Joni Ernst in Iowa Senate district 12. The district covers Mills, Fremont, Montgomery, Page, Taylor, and Ringgold counties in southwest Iowa. This post includes a map.

Seven candidates sought the GOP nomination in this strongly Republican district, containing more than twice as many registered Republicans as Democrats. Besides the five candidates Bleeding Heartland discussed here, David Sieck and Charla Schmid joined the GOP race. Sieck is a Mills County farmer who has been active on Missouri River management issues. Schmid has served several terms on the Montgomery County School Board and is active in Business and Professional Women/Iowa. She also serves on the board of directors of 50/50 in 2020, a bipartisan group encouraging more Iowa women to run for office.

The Iowa Republican's Craig Robinson wrote up last night's nominating convention, where Costello led from the beginning and secured the nomination on the fourth ballot.

A Democratic district convention will meet this weekend to nominate Steve Adams of Red Oak. He is a community development specialist with Iowa State University Extension.

Earlier this week, Libertarians nominated Don Brantz for the Senate district 12 special. He is "a longtime Mills County supervisor and southwest Iowa social worker" who is running on a platform of increasing funding for rural schools and abolishing the state Department of Education. It's smart for Libertarians to compete here. Odds are long, but anything can happen in a low-turnout environment, and how many people will show up to vote on December 30?

Costello is the heavy favorite. If he wins, a special election will be needed in Iowa House district 23, covering Mills and Fremont counties, plus most of Montgomery County. House Republican leaders did not assign any committee chairmanship to Costello, perhaps expecting that he would soon leave for the Iowa Senate.

Regardless of who wins the Senate district 12 special, the number of women in the Iowa Senate will drop from ten the past two years to seven for the next two years. First-termer Amy Sinclair will be the only woman in the Iowa Senate GOP caucus.  

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Mike Gronstal staying on as head of DLCC

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Dec 11, 2014 at 19:30:49 PM CST

Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal is staying on as board chairman of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, the group announced today. I've enclosed the full statement after the jump.

The DLCC focuses on state legislative elections around the country. The group has its work cut out, because Republicans made huge gains in state legislatures in November. In fact, "The GOP now controls 68 out of 98 partisan state legislative chambers -- the highest number in the history of the party." Holding the 26-24 Iowa Senate majority was one of the few bright spots for Democrats, along with maintaining a majority in the Kentucky House of Representatives (which complicates life for potential presidential candidate Rand Paul).

The Iowa GOP will have more state Senate pickup opportunities in 2016 than they did this year. Twelve Iowa Senate races saw significant spending by one or both parties in 2012, whereas only a half-dozen or so Senate seats looked competitive going into 2014. By October of this year, most of the spending by Iowa Democrats and Republicans was concentrated in four state Senate races. Depending on retirements and candidate recruitment, at least ten Iowa Senate districts will be potentially competitive during the 2016 cycle.

Incidentally, the only other Iowan on the DLCC's board of directors is Senator Wally Horn of Cedar Rapids. Just re-elected to another four-year term in Senate district 35, Horn has served in the Iowa legislature for 42 years (10 in the state House and 32 in the Senate), longer than any other sitting lawmaker.

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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2015

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Dec 09, 2014 at 16:14:06 PM CST

The Iowa House will begin its 2015 session on January 12 with 57 Republicans and 43 Democrats (assuming a Republican wins the January 6 special election in House district 4). Depending on who wins that special election, the 100 state representatives will include either 27 or 28 women, and either 72 or 73 men.

After the jump I've posted details on the Iowa House majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing House committees. Where relevant, I've noted changes since the previous legislative session.

Some non-political trivia: two of the three state representatives with the surname Olson retired this year, as did one of the two Iowa House members named Smith. There are still two Millers and two Taylors in the legislature's lower chamber, one from each party. As for first names, the new cohort contains five Davids (four go by Dave), four Roberts (two Robs, one Bob, and a Bobby), four Marys (one goes by Mary Ann), three Johns, and three Brians. There are two Lindas, two Elizabeths (a Beth and a Liz), and two men each named Dan, Mark, Greg, Chuck, Bruce, Todd, and Chris.  

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Bleeding Heartland 2014 general election prediction contest results

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Dec 08, 2014 at 09:00:50 AM CST

The last U.S. Senate election of 2014 concluded over the weekend, with Republican Bill Cassidy defeating Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu. So, I was finally able to tabulate results from Bleeding Heartland's general election prediction contest.

Thanks to all who entered. Follow me after the jump for full results.  

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Iowa House district 4 special election coming on January 6

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Dec 05, 2014 at 16:20:00 PM CST

Governor Terry Branstad has set the special election in Iowa House district 4 for January 6, 2015. The vacancy arose when State Representative Dwayne Alons passed away last weekend. Of the 100 Iowa House districts, this is the most Republican, with only 1,498 active registered Democrats, 13,279 Republicans, and 3,555 no-party voters according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State's office. Democrats have not nominated a candidate in this district since James Van Bruggen won less than 20 percent of the vote against Alons in 2008.

Although the Republican special nominating convention will likely determine Alons' successor, a competitive special election is still possible. It only takes 50 signatures on a nominating petition to file as an independent or third-party candidate, and the filing period is open until December 23. Anything can happen in a low-turnout special election, so I wouldn't be too surprised to see some other conservative file papers here, perhaps running as an independent or a Libertarian.

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Chutzpah alert: Branstad as defender of the separation of powers

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Dec 03, 2014 at 19:58:40 PM CST

In the busy days before Thanksgiving, I missed this unintentional comedy from Governor Terry Branstad's weekly press conference (hat tip to Todd Dorman):

"There's also a constitutional question about whether the president of the United States has the authority to act unilaterally on issues like this [immigration policy]," Branstad said. "So I expect there's going to be a lot of unanswered questions that I need to get information about and what the impact would have on our state."

Asked if he would take executive action on state immigration policy, Branstad responded, "We don't operate that way in Iowa."

"That's the difference between Washington, D.C., and Iowa," Branstad said. "In Iowa, I'm very careful to recognize the separation of powers and to work with the Legislature."

Where to begin?

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Rest in peace, Dwayne Alons

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Nov 30, 2014 at 19:40:00 PM CST

State Representative Dwayne Alons passed away last night after a battle with kidney cancer, Iowa House Republicans announced today. First elected to the state legislature in 1998, Alons represented a staunchly Republican northwest Iowa district for eight terms and was unopposed in this year's election.

A longtime farmer and retired brigadier general with the Iowa Air National Guard, Alons chaired the Iowa House Veterans Affairs Committee during the 2013 and 2014 legislative sessions. This year the state legislature passed and Governor Terry Branstad signed into law several bills designed to benefit veterans and encourage them to settle in Iowa.

Among many conservatives in the Iowa House Republican caucus, Alons stood out for his steadfast belief in prioritizing social issues such as opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion rights. In June 2010, he entered unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats' name in nomination for lieutenant governor, saying he was "speaking for a grassroots effort that has been going on since the beginning of Bob's campaign." Alons was one of five Iowa House Republicans to file articles of impeachment in 2011 against Iowa Supreme Court justices who concurred in the Varnum v Brien ruling on marriage. He repeatedly co-sponsored and tried to pass "personhood" bills that would ban abortion in all circumstances. Earlier this month, Vander Plaats' organization The FAMiLY Leader gave Alons its first annual "Family Champion Award," saying in its official statement, "When it comes to championing pro-family values in Iowa, nobody has stood stronger, longer, and with such grace as Dwayne."

Since Alons was just elected to another term, a special election will be needed to choose a new representative in Iowa House district 4, covering most of Sioux County (a detailed map is at the end of this post). Governor Branstad will likely set a date for that election in the coming week, and the election will probably happen sometime in January. The only real competition will be at the GOP nominating convention, since the area Alons represented is the most heavily Republican of the 100 state House districts, with nearly ten times as many registered Republicans as Democrats.

After the jump I've posted a selection of tributes from Alons' colleagues. I will continue to update as needed.  

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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 27 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.

There's More... :: (8 Comments, 622 words in story)
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