IA-Sen: Judge playing down, Hogg playing up differences on water quality

Photo of Iowa stream courtesy of InIowaWater.org, a project of the Environmental Law & Policy Center

By entering the U.S. Senate race, former Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge ensured that environmental issues would become salient for many Iowa Democrats trying to choose among the four candidates running against Senator Chuck Grassley.

During the past two weeks, Judge has sought to minimize the daylight between herself and State Senator Rob Hogg on the need to address water pollution. But Hogg, widely considered Judge’s leading rival for the nomination, has made environmental concerns a big part of his pitch to Democrats.

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Turtle Protection Bill passes and is signed by the governor

When a bill passes by an overwhelming bipartisan vote, like the turtle harvesting bill did in both the Iowa House and Senate, one might assume it was easy to persuade lawmakers and the governor to act. Not necessarily. Thanks to Mike Delaney for an in-depth look at how one good idea became state law. Delaney is a founder of the non-profit Raccoon River Watershed Association. Turtle graphic produced by the non-profit Iowa Rivers Revival. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Over the years I have noticed a decline in the number of Soft-shelled turtles on my sandbars along the Raccoon River in Dallas County. When I first bought my farm in 1988 12” and 14” Soft-shells would regularly slide into the river off the sand where they were warming their cold-blooded bodies. A few seconds later you could see their noses and foreheads pop up to look around. When my son and daughter were little I showed them (as my older brothers had shown me as a child) how to walk along the shore at night, focus a flashlight at the water’s edge and spot the heads of baby Softshells sticking out of the sand. However, we have not seen these little guys for many years.

I asked around about what happened to the turtles. County conservation folks told me that the commercial turtle trappers were selling them to China. I asked some “environmentally concerned” friends. One said that the DNR was worried about Iowa’s turtles and had proposed rules to limit turtle “harvest” during egg laying season and limits on the numbers that could be taken. Iowa had no rules preventing over-harvest of turtles. I was told that the rules were being held up in the governor’s office.

I decided to act on the matter.

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Two bizarre takes on the IA-Sen Democratic primary

Patty Judge’s decision to run for U.S. Senate was Iowa’s biggest political news last week. Taking their cue from Washington-based pols who recruited the former lieutenant governor, many national reporters who covered the story took for granted that Judge will be the Democratic challenger to six-term Senator Chuck Grassley, glossing over the fact that she will face serious competition in the June primary.

On the flip side, the Des Moines Register’s Kathie Obradovich and Howie Klein of the Down With Tyranny! blog recently made some odd assessments in their reviews of the Democratic race for Senate.

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Iowa House district 92 preview: Ross Paustian vs. Ken Krumwiede

Iowa House district 92, covering part of Davenport and other areas in Scott County, has changed hands more times in the last decade than any other seat in the Iowa legislature. Democrat Elesha Gayman defeated Republican incumbent Jim Van Fossen in 2006, when the district was number 84. She held that seat against Republican Ross Paustian in 2008, then retired rather than seeking a third term in 2010. Paustian won the open-seat race by a comfortable margin, with a GOP landslide putting the wind at his back. However, he lost his first re-election bid in the slightly reconfigured House district 92 to former State Senator Frank Wood. Undeterred, Paustian sought a rematch and defeated Wood with some help from another Republican wave in 2014.

Four party switches in the last five elections guarantees that both parties will target this district in the fall.

Paustian is a relatively obscure back-bencher. The vice chair of the House committees on agriculture and environmental protection rarely makes news, except for that time the Des Moines Register’s Brianne Pfannenstiel snapped a photo of him reading the book Sex After Sixty during a long debate over a collective bargaining bill. That story went viral nationally and even made it into a British newspaper.

As of last week, Paustian has a Democratic challenger in Ken Krumwiede. Like Wood, Krumwiede is a career educator, and his campaign announcement signals that school funding will be a central issue in this race. Every Democratic candidate for the legislature should do the same. Last July, Governor Terry Branstad vetoed supplemental spending for K-12 schools and higher education, blowing up a bipartisan budget compromise and blowing a hole in school district budgets. Paustian and most of his fellow statehouse Republicans failed to take up the call to override those vetoes.

I enclose below a district map and background on Paustian and Krumwiede. House district 92 is relatively balanced politically, with 5,686 active registered Democrats, 5,799 Republicans, and 8,820 no-party voters according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. (Those numbers do not include voters who changed party affiliation on February 1 to participate in the Iowa caucuses.) President Barack Obama outpolled Mitt Romney among voters in this district by 53.94 percent to 45.0 percent in 2012. But Joni Ernst prevailed over Bruce Braley here in the 2014 U.S. Senate race by a similar margin of 53.26 percent to 43.45 percent.

Any comments related to the House district 92 campaign or candidates are welcome in this thread. The presidential-year electorate may favor Krumwiede, although incumbents have a natural advantage, and Scott County Republicans have been better-organized lately than local Democrats. The Iowa Farm Bureau will surely get involved on Paustian’s behalf, while organized labor including the Iowa State Education Association will likely assist Krumwiede.

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Preview of an Iowa House district 7 rematch: Tedd Gassman vs Dave Grussing

Democrat Dave Grussing announced earlier this month that he will challenge two-term Republican State Representative Tedd Gassman again in Iowa House district 7, which covers Emmet and Winnebago counties plus half of Kossuth County on Iowa’s northern border. A detailed district map is below, along with background on both candidates. Grussing’s campaign is on the web at Grussing for Iowa House and on Facebook here. His key campaign issues include job creation for rural Iowa, more funding for K-12 schools and community colleges, "encouraging veterans and military retirees to locate in Iowa," and raising the minimum wage. Grussing has also expressed concern about Governor Terry Branstad’s unilateral decision to close two in-patient mental health institutions and privatize Medicaid.

House district 7 has been one of the most competitive state legislative districts in recent election cycles. Democrat John Wittneben defeated Republican Lannie Miller in an open-seat race by just 32 votes in 2010. That campaign likely would have ended differently if Iowa Republican leaders and key GOP-leaning interest groups such as the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and the Iowa Association of Business and Industry had not left Miller behind. Redistricting following the 2010 census made House district less friendly territory for a Democrat, and Wittneben lost his 2012 re-election bid to Gassman by just 44 votes.

House district 7 leans Republican, with 5,269 active registered Democrats, 6,323 Republicans, and 8,307 no-party voters, according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. Voters living in the district supported Mitt Romney over Barack Obama by 51.82 percent to 46.97 percent in 2012 and favored Joni Ernst over Bruce Braley in last year’s U.S. Senate race by 55.71 percent to 38.56 percent, nearly double Ernst’s statewide margin of victory. Grussing’s challenge to Gassman was one of seven Iowa House races the progressive group Democracy for America targeted last cycle, probably because of Gassman’s narrow win in 2012. But Gassman easily won by more than 1,700 votes.

Even in a presidential election year, when more Democrats turn out to vote, Grussing will need to outperform the incumbent substantially among independents and win some crossover Republican votes. That’s not an insurmountable task for a hard-working candidate, though. Especially since Gassman promised during the 2014 campaign to "support education at all levels," saying "his first priority would be to approve a supplemental state aid bill for K-12 education." Although Gassman served as vice chair of the House Education Committee during the 2015 legislative session, to my knowledge he did not speak out for investing more in education as Republican House leaders refused for months to compromise on school funding. Nor did I hear of him criticizing Branstad’s decision to strike nearly $65 million in K-12, community college, and state university funding from the supplemental spending bill lawmakers approved. Gassman certainly didn’t try to override Branstad’s vetoes. Grussing should remind voters frequently that their elected representative stood by while the governor blew a hole in the budgets of K-12 school districts and Iowa Lakes Community College in Emmetsburg.

In addition, for lack of a more tactful way to say this, Gassman is kind of weird. He has often put himself way outside the mainstream, even in his own party. For instance, during an Iowa House subcommittee hearing to consider his 2013 bill to end no-fault divorce for couples with children under age 18, Gassman speculated that his daughter and son-in-law’s divorce put his 16-year-old granddaughter at risk of becoming "more promiscuous." Only six of his fellow Iowa House Republicans co-sponsored that no-fault divorce bill. The same year, Gassman was among just ten GOP state representatives to co-sponsor a bill that would have banned county recorders from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples "until such time as an amendment to the Constitution of the State of Iowa defining marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman is submitted to the electorate for ratification." The bill was clearly unconstitutional and would have created a circus like what Kentucky experienced this summer, thanks to rogue county clerk Kim Davis.

Gassman’s not a strong fundraiser, although his campaign disclosure reports for 2013 and 2014 (see here, here, and here) show that he receives a fair amount of "free money" from political action committees that give the same amount to dozens of state lawmakers. During the 2014 campaign, Grussing benefited from a number of labor union PAC donations, which will likely come through again if he can demonstrate he is running an active campaign.

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Iowa Senate district 26 preview: Mary Jo Wilhelm vs. Waylon Brown

After several months of recruiting efforts, Republicans finally have a candidate willing to run against two-term State Senator Mary Jo Wilhelm in Iowa Senate district 26. This race is among a half-dozen or so contests that will determine control of the upper chamber after the 2016 elections. Since Iowans elected Governor Terry Branstad and a GOP-controlled state House in 2010, the 26 to 24 Democratic majority in the state Senate has spared Iowa from various disastrous policies adopted in states like Kansas, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Of the senators who make up that one-seat majority caucus, Wilhelm was re-elected by the narrowest margin: 126 votes out of nearly 31,000 cast in 2012.

I enclose below a map of Senate district 26, a review of its voter registration numbers and recent voting history, and background on Wilhelm and challenger Waylon Brown. Cautionary note: although Brown is the establishment’s pick here, he is not guaranteed to win the nomination. "Tea party" candidates won some upset victories in the 2012 Iowa Senate Republican primaries, notably Jane Jech against former State Senator Larry McKibben in Senate district 36 and Dennis Guth against former State Senator James Black in Senate district 4.

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