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Iowa Senate

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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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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Iowa Senate district 7: "Sore loser" Maria Rundquist gives Bertrand breathing room

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Aug 01, 2014 at 09:12:36 AM CDT

Iowa's status as one of only three states to allow losers of major-party primaries to seek the same office as independents is good news for Republicans hoping to hold Iowa Senate district 7. First-term Senator Rick Bertrand is seeking re-election in the Sioux City-based seat, where President Barack Obama performed better than in any other Iowa Senate district now held by a Republican. Although midterm electorates sometimes favor GOP candidates, and Iowans tend to re-elect their statehouse incumbents, the voter registration totals here lean toward Democrats. Both parties are targeting Senate district 7, and a victory for challenger Jim France would virtually assure continued Democratic control of the Iowa Senate.

Enter Maria Rundquist, who lost the Democratic primary to France in June, but filed this week to run in Senate district 7 as an independent. Her campaign website provides a short bio and background on her civic involvement in the Sioux City area. I sought comment from Rundquist about why she is running as an independent, and how she would answer critics who say she can only help re-elect Bertrand. She responded, "I am running because, I can provide the leadership, integrity and ethics so needed in our government. I believe the people in the Iowa Senate District 7, deserve an honest and smart choice."

Following up, I asked Rundquist whether she was aware that a third-party candidate has not won an Iowa legislative election in several decades, if ever, and whether she would have any regrets if Bertrand were re-elected with fewer votes than she and France received combined. She answered,

Yes, I am aware about  third-party never won an Iowa legislation seat. So let make history and pass the word to elect Maria Rundquist to change the system. I don't have regrets to Rick Bertrand or any candidate. We leave in a Nation of Democracy and the voters have the right to chose the right person to represent them. So stop questioning me and get to work and campaign for Maria Rundquist.

Sorry, that's not going to happen. I've voted for lots of Democrats who didn't win their primary. None of them became what is known in political science as a "sore loser." One can argue that voters should be able to select any candidate they choose, but upholding state sore loser laws during the 1970s, the U.S. Supreme Court held that there is no constitutional right to continue an intra-party struggle during the general election. I'm with John Deeth: candidates who seek a party's nomination should abide by the primary voters' verdict. Rundquist must know that she won't "change the system" through this campaign. I hope she doesn't become a spoiler, but there's no question that her candidacy will hinder France's effort to unseat a Republican incumbent.

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Republicans nominate Jonathan Lochman in Iowa Senate district 17

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 28, 2014 at 07:05:00 AM CDT

After fielding candidates in every Iowa Senate district in 2012, Republicans left a bunch of low-probability seats uncontested this year. One of those districts now has a GOP candidate, however: a special convention on July 24 selected Jonathan Lochman to run in Iowa Senate district 17. I don't see a website for his campaign, but Lochman's on Facebook here. During 13 years of active duty in the U.S. Army, he served wartime tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq. He's now the Iowa coordinator for Team Rubicon (the Iowa chapter is on Facebook here).

Iowa Senate district 17 is open because State Senator Jack Hatch is running for governor. Tony Bisignano narrowly won a contentious three-way primary in this heavily Democratic seat covering parts of downtown Des Moines and the south side. In a press release, Lochman asserted that Bisignano would "be a rubber stamp for the radical, obstructionist agenda of Mike Gronstal," whereas the Republican would "be an independent voice for my community." Iowa Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix asserted, "Des Moines voters deserve a candidate​ like Jonathan Lochman, who has​ the integrity, honor and passion to effectively represent their interests at the State Capitol​." Judging from that comment and various Republican posts on social media, the plan is for Lochman to win by playing up Bisignano's drunk driving arrests and scandals from his previous term of service in the Iowa Senate during the 1990s.

It would be a historic upset for a Republican to win a state legislative seat here. The latest official figures show that Senate district 17 contains 16,388 active registered Democrats, 6,559 Republicans, and 9,792 no-party voters. Bisignano should have help from the Iowa Democratic Party's coordinated campaign, because other Democratic candidates (notably Hatch, U.S. Senate nominee Braley, and IA-03 nominee Staci Appel) are counting on good GOTV in strongholds like the south side of Des Moines.

Also on July 24, Polk County Republicans held a special convention to nominate Army veteran Tom Hess in Iowa House district 34, covering half of Senate district 17. Hess will challenge longtime Democratic State Representative Bruce Hunter and has about the same chance of winning as Lochman (slim to none). As of July 1, House district 34 contained 8,404 active registered Democrats, 3,497 Republicans, and 5,114 no-party voters.

P.S. - I would have posted the full press release on Lochman's campaign launch, but the "latest news" on the Iowa Senate Republicans website is a press release from mid-May.

UPDATE: Cityview's Civic Skinny published a detailed account of Tony Bisignano's drunk driving arrest and how the case unfolded from there. Many details were new to me, and I suspect that if they had been more widely known, Nathan Blake might have won the Senate district 17 Democratic primary.

The most surprising fact recounted by Civic Skinny is that Jennifer Jacobs apparently e-mailed her draft Des Moines Register story on the OWI to Bisignano before publishing. Double-checking quoted remarks is one thing, but I am not aware of any newspaper where it is standard practice to run a full draft by the public figure who is the subject of the article.

Discuss :: (2 Comments)

Martin O'Malley: Presidential candidate? Maybe. Clinton rival? No way.

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jul 25, 2014 at 14:45:00 PM CDT

It makes perfect sense for potential Democratic presidential candidates to visit Iowa, meeting activists and keeping their options open. That doesn't mean any of them would run against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Case in point: Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley. Having keynoted the Iowa Democratic Party's state convention last month, he's coming here again this weekend, headlining events for State Senator Rita Hart and state Senate candidate Kevin Kinney on Saturday, then Council Bluffs and Sioux City events for gubernatorial nominee Jack Hatch on Sunday. Politico's Maggie Halberman notes that O'Malley "has said he's exploring a 2016 presidential run." A Des Moines Register headline writer termed him a "possible rival" to Clinton. Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post speculated, "O'Malley is term limited out as governor at the end of this year and undoubtedly thinks a credible run for president might bolster his chances of a spot in a Clinton Administration."

I just don't see it. Laying the groundwork for a potential campaign is not the same thing as preparing to embark on a suicide mission. O'Malley doesn't come across as a guy like Senator Bernie Sanders, who knows he will never be president but might run to shine a light on issues important to him. O'Malley goes way back with Bill and Hillary Clinton. He stuck with Hillary for president even after Barack Obama dominated the 2008 Maryland primary. From where I'm sitting, CNN's Dan Merica had it exactly right when he described O'Malley as an "understudy," "angling to be the person who could step in" if Clinton does not run for president for whatever reason. Maryland's term limits for governors make 2016 an ideal time for O'Malley to run for president, but he's only 51 years old--young enough to wait until 2020 or 2024 if necessary.

Meanwhile, I hope all of this weekend's events are successful, because Hatch, Hart, and Kinney are very worth supporting.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

P.S. - Hart's re-election bid in Senate district 49 is a must-hold for Democrats. Kinney's running in the open Senate district 39, and if he wins, it would virtually guarantee a Democratic majority in the state legislature's upper chamber for the next two years.

Discuss :: (2 Comments)

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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Bisignano wins Iowa Senate district 17 as Blake opts against recount

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jun 11, 2014 at 09:51:00 AM CDT

Tony Bisignano will be the Democratic nominee in Iowa Senate district 17, as second-place finisher Nathan Blake declined to request a recount. From a Facebook status update Blake posted yesterday:

According to the official canvass from the Polk County Auditor's Office, I ended up 18 votes behind in the Democratic primary election for Iowa State Senate District 17. I congratulate Tony Bisignano on a hard-fought victory. Thank you to my supporters, volunteers, and all who voted. Thanks especially to my wife and partner, Andrea, and our two kids for their patience, support, and sacrifices over the last year. I am proud of the campaign we ran. We won over 60% of the Election Day vote, even if we came up a few votes short.

As for the future, I am committed to to electing Democrats up and down the ballot in Iowa this November. I will continue my work in public service, fighting for consumers as an Assistant Iowa Attorney General. I promise to stay involved in progressive politics and will seek future opportunities to serve in elective office. The issues we care about are too important to sit on the sidelines.

A recount wouldn't have changed the result, so I think Blake did the right thing not to go through the motions. He did manage a very strong election-day turnout, which is promising for any future candidacies.

Senate district 17 was the best chance for Democrats to elect Iowa's first Latino state legislator, but two other opportunities remain this year in House district 60 and Senate district 47.

UPDATE: In a Facebook post, Bisignano said of Blake, "I can't say enough about his poise and character. He has a very bright future in public service and I'm looking forward to helping him. His positive and respectful campaign shows what people want and expect from their public officals."

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Prospects for increasing diversity in the Iowa legislature

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jun 10, 2014 at 08:10:18 AM CDT

Forty men and ten women currently serve in the Iowa Senate. No senators are African-American, Latino, or Asian-American.

Seventy-five men and 25 women currently serve in the Iowa House. Five state representatives are African-American and none are Latino or Asian-American.

Time for a look at how those numbers might change after the November election, now that primaries have determined the major-party nominees in all state legislative districts. Click here for the June 3 unofficial election results and here for the full list of candidates who filed to run in the primaries.

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Tony Bisignano's lead will hold up in Iowa Senate district 17

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jun 06, 2014 at 10:55:48 AM CDT

Tony Bisignano will be the next state senator representing Iowa Senate district 17, barring some extraordinary turn of events. The final election-night vote count showed him leading with 1,438 votes, to 1,425 for Nathan Blake and 1,001 for Ned Chiodo. Yesterday, officials counted six additional ballots, which all had been hand-delivered to the Polk County Auditor's office on June 3, primary election day. Bisignano gained five votes and Chiodo one. So the final unofficial result shows Bisignano leading Blake by 1,443 to 1,425.

According to the Polk County Auditor's elections office, three ballots from Senate district 17 arrived in the mail on June 4, but none will be counted, because they were postmarked June 3. In order to be counted, a late-arriving absentee ballot must be postmarked the day before the election at the latest.

On election night, Blake wrote on Facebook that his "campaign is reviewing all options to ensure that every vote is counted and accurately recorded." I haven't seen any statement since on whether he will request a recount. (There are no automatic recounts for Iowa primary elections.) I can't imagine that a recount would change an eighteen-vote margin. In recent years, recounts of various Iowa House and Senate races have typically only changed the totals by a handful of votes, at most.

No Republican has filed to run in Senate district 17, an overwhelmingly Democratic seat in terms of voter registration. I was hoping for a different outcome in this primary, but I wish Bisignano well in his Iowa Senate work and offer condolences on the loss of his mother. I've posted below his statement on his mother's passing and the primary election results. Bisignano won this race on early GOTV, building up a 102-vote margin on Chiodo and a 649-vote margin on Blake through absentee ballots. Blake had strong election-day turnout, especially considering that there were no competitive Democratic primaries for governor, U.S. Senate, or the third Congressional district, but it wasn't quite enough. No doubt he'll have other opportunities to run for office.

Final note for Iowa election trivia buffs: Patrick Rynard set a record this year that will likely never be broken. He has now managed two campaigns that spawned cases eventually reaching the Iowa Supreme Court. Rick Mullin's Iowa Senate race in Sioux City in 2010 led to the recent court ruling about negative political advertising. Bisignano's candidacy (or more accurately Chiodo's determination to drive his rival off the ballot) prompted a high court ruling that may lead to thousands of Iowans getting their voting rights back.

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Labor union endorsements in contested 2014 Iowa Democratic primaries

by: desmoinesdem

Wed May 21, 2014 at 12:17:37 PM CDT

With less than two weeks remaining before June 3, interest groups with a preference in competitive primaries have presumably made their views known by now. On the Democratic side, labor unions are most likely to get involved in primaries, so I wanted to compile in one place the full list of candidates in competitive Democratic races who have been endorsed by one or more organized labor group. None of the Democrats seeking statewide office in Iowa this year has a primary opponent, and I've omitted county-level races. The list below includes candidates running for Congress in the first district and seeking various Iowa House and Senate seats.

I will update this post as needed if I learn of other labor union endorsements. Note that many other Democratic candidates already have or will have organized labor's official support for the general election campaign. Blog for Iowa posted all of the Iowa Federation of Labor AFL-CIO's endorsements for 2014 here. A complete list of candidates who will appear on primary ballots is on this page of the Iowa Secretary of State's website.

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Cedar Rapids mayor won't give up casino dream

by: desmoinesdem

Wed May 14, 2014 at 09:53:00 AM CDT

Talk about opportunity costs: Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett will not pursue any alternative development plans for a downtown parcel of land where backers hope to build a casino. Rather, he will continue to pursue the casino project despite last month's 4 to 1 vote by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission to reject a gambling license for Cedar Rapids.

Speaking to Rick Smith of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, onetime Iowa House Speaker Corbett said he hopes the Iowa legislature will approve a bill granting a license for a smoke-free casino to Iowa's second-largest city. Democratic State Senator Wally Horn already tried to add such language to a bill limiting greyhound racing, but his amendment was ruled not germane.

Independent research has repeatedly shown that the hidden economic costs of casinos "far exceed their benefits and that [casinos] are a poor use of precious downtown land." But even if that were not true, why waste years trying to persuade the Iowa legislature to pass this kind of bill? What are the chances lawmakers will go along with a special deal for Cedar Rapids, when many of them represent districts with casinos that stand to lose market share? Furthermore, current Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, who represents a suburban Cedar Rapids district, screwed up Iowa's chance to get passenger rail to Iowa City (and possibly later to Des Moines and Council Bluffs).

Corbett seems to hope Jack Hatch will win the governor's race; Hatch has expressed support for a Cedar Rapids casino. If elected, he might sign a bill for this purpose, or might appoint like-minded people to the Racing and Gaming Commission. But that process would take years. Why not pursue plan B or plan C for Cedar Rapids? There are many other approaches to economic development that do not hurt other local businesses the way casinos do.

The spin about a smoke-free casino being a "healthy" option for a "Blue Zone" community like Cedar Rapids is a sick joke. Casinos are no benefit to public health. On the contrary, problem gambling increases with accessibility and incurs major hidden health costs.  

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Tom Miller endorses Nathan Blake in Iowa Senate district 17 primary

by: desmoinesdem

Sun May 11, 2014 at 19:10:00 PM CDT

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller has endorsed Assistant Attorney General Nathan Blake in the Democratic primary to represent Iowa Senate district 17. State Senator Jack Hatch is running for governor rather than seeking re-election in that heavily Democratic seat. Blake, former State Senator Tony Bisignano, and former State Representative Ned Chiodo are competing in the Democratic primary. No Republican has filed to run for the seat covering much of downtown Des Moines and the south side of the capital city (this post includes a detailed map). Several organized labor groups are backing Bisignano. Chiodo's supporters include U.S. Senator Tom Harkin.

After the jump I've posted Miller's statement, which the Des Moines Register published as a letter to the editor on May 10. I've also enclosed Blake's biography.

While Miller's public support for the assistant attorney general covering consumer protection is no surprise, it will likely enrage Chiodo. In a court challenge to Bisignano's eligibility, Chiodo argued that Miller should have recused himself from the three-member panel that originally cleared Bisignano to run for office despite an aggravated misdemeanor. Chiodo's court filing asserted that Miller had a conflict of interest, since Blake potentially would benefit from two heavyweights of south-side politics splitting the primary vote.

A Polk County District Court judge rejected that argument, and the Iowa Supreme Court did not rule on whether Miller should have recused himself when five justices determined Bisignano was eligible to run for office.

Any comments about the Senate district 17 race are welcome in this thread. From what I've heard, Chiodo was the first to go negative (against Bisignano) in direct mail. I encourage Bleeding Heartland readers who live in the district to save campaign flyers or mail pieces and, if possible, send me scanned copies: desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com . Before the June 3 primary, I plan to post an overview of key arguments for and against each candidate. I am encouraging my friends in the district to vote for Blake. Not only is Blake capable and progressive, I think the Iowa Senate has plenty of long-serving elected Democrats and would benefit from some new blood.

Blake's official bio also notes that if elected, he "would be the first Latino to serve in Iowa's legislature." Two Latina Democrats are running for the statehouse this year as well: Maria Bribriesco against Senator Roby Smith in Senate district 47, and Karyn Finn against Republican incumbent Walt Rogers in House district 60. CORRECTION: Bleeding Heartland user Mitch notes in the comments that I forgot to mention Maria Rundquist, a Latina who is one of two Democrats challenging incumbent Rick Bertrand in Iowa Senate district 7.

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IA-03: A brilliant pander by Brad Zaun

by: desmoinesdem

Fri May 09, 2014 at 09:30:00 AM CDT

I don't see State Senator Brad Zaun winning the GOP nomination in Iowa's third Congressional district. From the numbers I've seen, Republican donors and voters are looking elsewhere. But give credit where credit is due: Zaun made the most of his interview with Des Moines Register editors this week. GOP activists will eat up news that Zaun "sometimes carries a 9 mm handgun while working in the Senate chamber" or appearing at public events. Never mind that the rules are clear, and legislators are not exempt from the ban on carrying firearms or other dangerous weapons in the capitol complex. The GOP base will love Zaun's explanation of why the rules shouldn't apply to him: "I went through all the lawful procedures that were required of me [to carry a concealed weapon]. I am going to defend myself if someone attacks me, and I have a right to do that."

Click here for other highlights from Zaun's sit-down with Register staff. Explaining why he is "smarter and wiser" than during his 2010 Congressional bid, Zaun explained that he now supports government subsidies for the biofuels industry. I took issue with this whining, though:

On another note, Zaun said he doesn't think it's fair for news organizations to keep bringing up a 2001 West Des Moines police report that surfaced during the 2010 campaign. The police report detailed his conflict with a former girlfriend at a time when he was divorced. No charges were filed. Zaun has since remarried.

Zaun pointed out that the woman provided a statement to The Des Moines Register just days before the 2010 election in which she said she remained friends with Zaun and she planned to vote for him. "It is something that we have just both moved on from, and I think it is unfortunate that this keeps getting brought up," he said.

No, what's unfair is that the mayor of Urbandale was able to keep this incident covered up for so long, including during his first campaign for the Iowa Senate in 2004. When a person's harassment of someone else becomes intense enough for police to be involved, that's a red flag voters should know about. I'm glad Zaun and his onetime girlfriend have reconciled, but that "unfortunate" part of his record was newsworthy and should have been public knowledge way before he ran for Congress in 2010.

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IA-Sen: Joni Ernst has done what she needed to do (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Thu May 08, 2014 at 18:25:05 PM CDT

The more I see of the Republican race for U.S. Senate, the more I'm convinced that State Senator Joni Ernst will win the GOP nomination, barring some major gaffe or new revelation about her record.

Three reasons are after the jump.

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Highlights from this year's Iowa Senate votes on Branstad nominees

by: desmoinesdem

Thu May 08, 2014 at 07:38:29 AM CDT

During the 2014 legislative session, the Iowa Senate confirmed all but a handful of Governor Terry Branstad's more than 200 nominees for state boards and commissions. It's not unusual for senators to vote down one or two appointees, but this year the Senate confirmed everyone who came up for a vote on the floor.

The only close call was former Iowa House Republican Nick Wagner, confirmed to the Iowa Utilities Board last month with just one vote to spare. Branstad originally named Wagner to the three-member utilities board in 2013 but pulled his nomination when it became clear that senators would not confirm him. Branstad named Wagner to that board anyway, right after the Senate adjourned for the year in 2013. By the time his nomination came up for consideration this year, a couple of factors that worked against him were no longer relevant. Former State Senator Swati Dandekar had resigned from the board to run for Congress, so there would no longer be two of three members from Marion (a Cedar Rapids suburb). Furthermore, Branstad named attorney Sheila Tipton to replace Dandekar, so senators could no longer object to the lack of a lawyer on the Iowa Utilities Board.

Still, most of the Democratic caucus opposed Wagner's nomination. State Senator Rob Hogg cited the nominee's support for a bad nuclear power bill that the legislature considered a few years back. Meanwhile, State Senator Matt McCoy (who incidentally wanted to pass the nuclear bill) noted that as a key Iowa House Republican on budget matters, Wagner "was not willing to listen" and "took very difficult and very hard-line positions." After the jump I've posted the roll call on the Wagner nomination; 11 Democrats joined all 24 Republicans to confirm him.

As in recent years, the governor withdrew a handful of nominees who were not likely to gain at least 34 votes (a two-thirds majority) in the upper chamber. A few nominees for low-profile boards had to go because of party imbalance issues. Chet Hollingshead, one of seven Branstad appointees to the Mental Health and Disability Services Commission, never came up for a vote, presumably because of a theft incident Bleeding Heartland user Iowa_native described here.

I am not sure why Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal informed Branstad that Jason Carlstrom was unlikely to be confirmed as chair of the Iowa Board of Parole. The governor first appointed Carlstrom to that position in the summer of 2012, to fill out the remainder of someone else's term. The Iowa Senate unanimously confirmed him during the 2013 legislative session. When Branstad reappointed Carlstrom to the parole board this year, I didn't expect him to run into any trouble. I will update this post if I learn more details.

The highest-profile nominee withdrawn by Branstad was former Iowa House Republican Jamie Van Fossen, whom the governor wanted to chair the Public Employment Relations Board. Cityview's Civic Skinny described the backstory well; I've posted excerpts after the jump. Van Fossen still serves on that board, having been confirmed to a full term in 2012. But the new chair will be Mike Cormack, a Republican who served four terms in the Iowa House and later worked for the State Department of Education. Senators unanimously confirmed Cormack last month. The outgoing Public Employment Relations Board chair, Jim Riordan, has alleged that the board faced political pressure from Branstad staffers to hire an employer-friendly administrative law judge.

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Iowa legislature not serious yet about preserving soil and clean water

by: desmoinesdem

Wed May 07, 2014 at 08:16:45 AM CDT

The Iowa House and Senate wrapped up the 2014 session during "Soil and Water Conservation Week." While certain environmental programs did well in the budget for fiscal year 2015, the legislature did not adequately address some of the biggest problems affecting Iowa's soil and water.

The Iowa Environmental Council blog linked to several recent articles by "top experts on Iowa soil conservation," who "expressed alarm about the state of our soil" and in particular the rapid rate of erosion. Along with other kinds of agricultural runoff, soil erosion contributes to toxic algae blooms in rivers and lakes, not only in Iowa and neighboring states but also across much of the U.S. Nutrient pollution is a major reason that more than half of the country's rivers and streams are "in poor condition for aquatic life."At the end of this post, I've enclosed an infographic explaining how toxic algae blooms form and how to prevent them.

Iowa lawmakers continue to throw money at the state's Nutrient Reduction Strategy, without insisting on numeric criteria for nitrogen and phosphorous levels in water and without the goals, timelines and monitoring needed to assure Iowans that waterways are becoming cleaner. In fact, the fiscal year 2015 appropriation for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship removed wording requiring that money for watershed projects be used to reduce nutrients. Follow me after the jump for the disturbing details.

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2014: A good legislative session for Iowa environmental funding

by: desmoinesdem

Tue May 06, 2014 at 06:45:00 AM CDT

During the legislative session that just ended, the Iowa House and Senate approved substantial increases in funding for some key environmental programs.

Lawmakers committed to providing $25 million to mark the 25th anniversary of the Department of Natural Resources' Resource Enhancement and Protection program (REAP) achieved their goal. REAP had only been funded at the $20 million level once before during the past two and a half decades. The REAP money came from three separate bills appropriating funds for the 2015 fiscal year; I've posted details after the jump. Many REAP-funded projects have a lasting positive impact on local communities for decades. Click here for more background on the kind of projects REAP has supported around Iowa.

Last month, Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson posted a guest diary warning about legislative proposals that would indirectly undermine REAP by changing the program's funding formula. Fortunately, the conference committee agreement negotiated by Iowa House and Senate members did not include that language in the final bill.

Senate File 2349 allocates Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund money, which mostly comes from gambling revenues. That bill included $9.6 million for lake restoration funding during the 2015 fiscal year, a big improvement on the recent past when lawmakers approved just $5.5 million for lake restoration projects. The Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund bill also included $2 million "for the administration of a water trails and lowhead dam public hazard statewide plan." Just a few years ago, environmental groups including Iowa Rivers Revival were fighting for even $1 million in state funding for rivers. The only downside to the river funding was that the conference committee went with House-approved language allocating the whole $2 million to low-head dam removal and water trails. Iowa Rivers Revival preferred the Senate-passed bill, which contained $1 million for that purpose and $1 million to launch a new Iowa River Restoration Program. You can find the Senate-passed version of Senate File 2349 here and the conference committee report describing agreed changes in detail here (the river funding is discussed on pages 4-5 of the Senate bill).

Governor Terry Branstad hasn't signed any of these appropriations bills yet, so funding for REAP and Iowa lakes are rivers is not a sure thing. I would be surprised if he item-vetoed any of these appropriations, although in 2011, Branstad vetoed river restoration funds that lawmakers had allocated for fiscal year 2012.

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Weekend open thread: End of 2014 legislative session edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sat May 03, 2014 at 09:46:47 AM CDT

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

The Iowa legislature got out of town on May 2, 110 calendar days after the 2014 session began. That's ten days after lawmakers' per diem payments ran out but earlier than in any year since 2010, when Democrats held majorities in both chambers. After the jump I've posted closing remarks delivered by the top Iowa Senate Democrats (Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and President Pam Jochum) and the top Iowa House Republicans (Speaker Kraig Paulsen and Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer). A series of posts next week will focus on some of the more significant legislative results from the session, as well as important bills that never did pass.

I've also enclosed Gronstal's prepared remarks on the final Iowa Senate vote of the session: granting subpeona power to the Government Oversight Committee to continue investigating various scandals in Governor Terry Branstad's administration. Gronstal emphasized that the resolution is "narrowly drafted" and "not a criminal investigation. The goal is not to convict people. The only goal is to find out what went wrong [in state government] and how to fix it." The resolution passed by voice vote just before the Senate adjourned on Friday morning. Iowa Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix blasted what he called a "dangerous" and "underhanded partisan move." He claimed the "disruption of separation of powers" will invite "a state constitutional crisis," and that the Oversight Committee's investigation is politically motivated.

Finally, in non-legislative news, Patrick Caldwell reported for Mother Jones this week on a remarkably shady deal involving Danny Carroll in 1996. At the time, Carroll was a real estate agent in the Grinnell area and an Iowa House Republican. He currently chairs the Republican Party of Iowa--though probably not for much longer. After reading Caldwell's piece, I want to know why anyone supposedly committed to Christian values would participate in a scheme to take advantage of an elderly widow with debts.  

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HIV transmission bill passes in end-of-session surprise

by: desmoinesdem

Thu May 01, 2014 at 13:36:00 PM CDT

Sometimes bills left for dead rise again in the final hours of the Iowa legislature's work. So it was for Senate File 2297, an "act relating to the criminal transmission of a contagious or infectious disease." If signed into law, this bill would replace current Iowa law on HIV transmission, under which a person can be sentenced to 25 years in prison, even if the virus that causes AIDS was not transmitted to anyone. For background on the old law, one of the harshest in the country, click here or here, or listen to this Iowa Public Radio program from March. (Incidentally, the Iowa Supreme Court has heard but not yet ruled on a case related to that law but not challenging its constitutionality.)

Whereas current law takes a "one size fits all" approach to HIV transmission cases, Senate File 2297 outlines more serious penalties for those who intentionally infect a partner (not just with HIV, but with any communicable disease) than for those who either didn't mean to transmit or did not transmit a disease. In addition,

under the new bill, Iowans would no longer be sentenced as sex offenders and a retroactive clause in the bill would remove anyone sentenced under 709c from the sex offender registry. Prosecutors would also have to prove substantial risk, rather than the current law which simply requires non-disclosure.

Senate File 2297 passed the Iowa Senate unanimously in February. Democratic State Senator Rob Hogg said it would update Iowa law to reflect modern medicine and replace a "badly outdated and draconian" part of the code. Republican State Senator Charles Schneider agreed that current law was "not always proportionate" to the crime committed.

So far, so good. But instead of sailing through the Iowa House, Senate File 2297 stalled. It cleared a House Judiciary Subcommittee but not the full committee in time for the "second funnel" deadline in mid-March. The bill landed on the "unfinished business" calendar, which kept it eligible for debate.

I hadn't heard anything about this bill for some time, until I saw this morning that it came up for debate in Iowa House a little before 2 am. It passed by 98 votes to 0. After the jump I've posted a statement from the LGBT advocacy group One Iowa, which has pushed for similar legislation for years.  

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