Incoming Iowa House Speaker promises to fund education "early," not fund Planned Parenthood

Incoming Iowa House Speaker Linda Upmeyer says the majority House Republican caucus will handle education spending early during the 2016 legislative session, and will likely not approve funding for Planned Parenthood clinics in Iowa. I recommend reading Erin Murphy’s whole interview with Upmeyer, which appeared in the Quad-City Times on Sunday. Follow me after the jump for more thoughts on Upmeyer’s comments and how state support for public school districts and Planned Parenthood’s family planning programs may play out next year.

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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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Kraig Paulsen lands sweetheart deal at Iowa State University

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When Kraig Paulsen announced plans to resign as Iowa House speaker and not seek re-election in 2016, he indicated he would continue to work as an in-house attorney for the trucking company CRST International Inc.

News broke last week that Paulsen has landed a high-paying position at Iowa State University’s College of Business. University officials waived a policy requiring such jobs to be advertised when they offered Paulsen the job, Vanessa Miller reported for the Cedar Rapids Gazette on November 6.

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Ray Zirkelbach becomes fourth Democrat to run for U.S. Senate--but why?


Former State Representative Ray Zirkelbach is officially exploring a candidacy for U.S. Senate in 2016, James Q. Lynch reported for the Cedar Rapids Gazette on November 7.

Although the field is getting crowded — former legislators Bob Krause of Fairfield and Tom Fiegen of Clarence, and State Sen. Rob Hogg of Cedar Rapids have all entered the race — Zirkelbach, 37, believes he’ll be the Democratic Party’s best candidate to defeat [Senator Chuck] Grassley. His ideas will set him apart from the others, Zirkelbach said. […]

“It’s about progress,” he said.

First elected to the Iowa House in 2004, Zirkelbach served three terms before losing his 2010 re-election bid. He missed the 2006 and 2007 legislative sessions, because his Iowa Army National Guard unit had been called up to serve in Iraq.

I have not seen a website or Facebook page for Zirkelbach’s U.S. Senate exploratory committee yet, but will update this post as needed. In lieu of an up to date official bio, I have posted the "member profile" that appeared on the Iowa House Democrats website during Zirkelbach’s third term. Zirkelbach’s Twitter account hasn’t been active since 2009; his personal Facebook feed is here.

I struggle to understand why Zirkelbach would run for Senate when we already have three progressive Democrats in the field, including one (Hogg) with a much stronger background of legislative accomplishments.

Meanwhile, to my knowledge, Democrats have no declared candidate against GOP State Representative Lee Hein in Iowa House district 96, where Zirkelbach lives (a map is at the end of this post). Hein defeated Zirkelbach in the 2010 wave election, and Democrats didn’t field a challenger against him in 2012 or 2014. Taking on the incoming House Agriculture Committee chair would be a long-shot race; House district 96 leans to the GOP with 4,386 active registered Democrats, 5,761 Republicans, and 8,483 no-party voters according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. But Zirkelbach would be much better positioned to defeat Hein than Grassley.

UPDATE: Pat Rynard spoke to Zirkelbach about his Senate bid. Added excerpts to that post below.

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Special election in Iowa House district 21 will be on December 8

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Today Governor Terry Branstad scheduled a special election in Iowa House district 21 for Tuesday, December 8. Voters will elect a successor to longtime State Representative Jack Drake, who passed away last weekend.

Iowa House district 21 covers all of Union and Adams counties, most of Cass County, and some rural areas of Pottawattamie County. A detailed map is after the jump. Like most of southwest Iowa, it leans heavily Republican. The latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office indicate that House district 21 contains 3,720 active registered Democrats, 8,256 Republicans, and 7,401 no-party voters. Mitt Romney carried 53.64 percent of the vote here in the 2012 presidential election, and Joni Ernst (who is from nearby Montgomery County) won 63.75 percent of the votes in House district 21 in last year’s U.S. Senate race.

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Throwback Thursday: The road not taken on Iowa's "Ag Gag" law

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A U.S. District Court ruling in August inspired today’s edition of Throwback Thursday. That ruling struck down an Idaho law making it a crime to lie to obtain employment at an agricultural facility, among other things. Iowa was the first state to adopt what critics call an "ag gag" law, aimed at making it harder for animal rights or food safety activists to obtain undercover recordings at farms or slaughterhouses. Idaho’s law went further than the bill Governor Terry Branstad signed in 2012; for instance, the Idaho statute also banned unauthorized audio or video recordings at a livestock farm or processing facility. Still, to this non-lawyer, some passages of federal Judge Lyn Winmill’s ruling (pdf) suggested that Iowa’s prohibition on "agricultural production facility fraud" might also violate the U.S. Constitution, specifically the First Amendment’s free speech clause and the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause.

Bleeding Heartland posted relevant excerpts from the Idaho ruling here, along with a brief legislative history of House File 589.

I sought Governor Terry Branstad’s comment on the court ruling and whether Iowa lawmakers should amend or rescind the language in Iowa Code about "agricultural production facility fraud." In response, the governor’s communications director Jimmy Centers provided this statement on August 6:

House File 589 passed with bipartisan support and under the advice and counsel of the Attorney General’s office. The governor has not had the opportunity to review the ruling from the federal court in Idaho and, as such, does not have a comment on the case.

"Under the advice and counsel of the Attorney General’s office" didn’t sound right to me. When I looked further into the story, I learned that the Iowa Attorney General’s office neither recommended passage of this law nor signed off on its contents.

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