Three paths to expanding felon voting rights in Iowa

A week ago today, four Iowa Supreme Court justices upheld the lifetime ban on voting for Iowans convicted of all felonies, which are defined as "infamous crimes" under a 1994 state law. Chief Justice Mark Cady’s opinion in Griffin v. Pate and three dissents are available here; Bleeding Heartland posted key excerpts here.

A decision in Kelli Jo Griffin’s favor could have made tens of thousands of Iowans newly eligible to vote in this year’s presidential election. Instead, Iowa will likely retain its place as one of the most restrictive states on felon voting for years.

In theory, those who have completed sentences can apply to have Governor Terry Branstad restore their voting rights. Griffin plans to do so, and I expect Branstad to make a big show of approving her application. In practice, though, that option will be available only to a small minority of those affected by the governor’s January 2011 executive order. During the first five years the new policy was in effect, less than two-tenths of 1 percent of disenfranchised felons managed to regain the right to vote, an average of fewer than 20 people per year.

I am awaiting information from the governor’s office on restoration numbers since the latest "streamlining" of the official form in April, but I don’t expect the number of applicants ever to become more than a trickle. The financial and other barriers will remain too great.

Even if Branstad started receiving substantially more applications and approved them at a rate of 20 per week—unlikely since this work already occupies "meaningful amounts of time every day" for the governor’s staff—only about 1,000 people annually would be able to regain their voting rights. That’s less than 2 percent of the estimated 57,000 Iowans who have been disenfranchised since January 2011. Thousands more join their ranks every year. So much for an "efficient and convenient" restoration process.

Three paths are available to bring Iowa in line with how most states approach voting rights for people with felony convictions.

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NRA's Iowa affiliate targeting four Senate Democrats

The Iowa Firearms Coalition, an affiliate of the National Rifle Association, has formed a political action committee that is targeting four Democratic-held Iowa Senate districts in its effort to strip power from "anti-gun Senate majority leaders." The strategy is logical, because in recent years several high-profile gun bills died in the upper chamber after clearing the Republican-controlled Iowa House.

However, I was surprised to see a couple of Senate races missing from the Iowa Firearms Coalition PAC’s list.

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Friends and former colleagues remember Rich Olive

Former State Senator Rich Olive died of cancer yesterday at the age of 66. He represented Wright and Hamilton counties, along with some rural areas in Story and Webster counties, from 2007 through 2010. During that time, he chaired the Iowa Senate Government Oversight Committee.

Many Iowans who knew Olive through his work in the legislature agreed to share some of their memories with Bleeding Heartland readers.

Photo of Rich Olive at the capitol taken by Senate Democratic staff; used with permission.

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Rick Bertrand "unlikely" to seek third term in Iowa Senate, may run again in IA-04

If the Iowa politics rumor mill can be believed, State Senator Rick Bertrand has been telling constituents for some time that he will not seek a third term in the legislature. Less than two weeks after losing the fourth Congressional district primary to Representative Steve King by a two to one margin, Bertrand told the Sioux City Journal’s Bret Hayworth that he is more likely to run for Congress or some other office in 2018 than for re-election.

I am skeptical.

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IA-Sen: EMILY's List backing Patty Judge despite imperfect pro-choice record

Former Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge got a boost this morning, with a poll showing her only seven points behind U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley. Yesterday her campaign received good news on the fundraising front: an endorsement from EMILY’s List, a political action committee focused on electing pro-choice Democratic women. Since endorsing Monica Vernon last year in Iowa’s first Congressional district, EMILY’s List has helped raise more than $60,000 for Vernon’s campaign. In addition, Women Vote!, a super-PAC affiliated with EMILY’s List, spent $149,000 on advertising promoting Vernon before the Democratic primary.

Though Judge is pro-choice, I didn’t see any mention of her reproductive rights record in the EMILY’s List press release announcing yesterday’s endorsement (enclosed below) or on the page promoting Judge on the PAC’s website. Instead, the group described other aspects of Judge’s political career, touting her as "a champion for Iowa women and working families" in a "high-stakes race against an out-of-touch GOP incumbent."

The omission made me wonder whether Judge was a consistent pro-choice vote in the Iowa Senate.

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Iowa Conservation Voters PAC

Guest posts on behalf of progressive advocacy groups are welcome here. -promoted by desmoinesdem

The following post is submitted by Mark Langgin, Mike Delaney and Rob Davis, board members of Iowa Conservation Voters. Langgin is a partner with GPS Impact and has worked with a number of local and national conservation organizations. Delaney is founder of the Raccoon River Watershed Association and a leading environmental activist. Davis is a former broadcast journalist, former business owner, and in retirement worked as a clerk in the Iowa House of Representatives.

If you’re interested in clean drink water, protection of Iowa’s water/land/wildlife, access and permanent protection of public lands, and fighting global climate change, listen up.

The 2016 legislative session was a major disappointment – with little to no progress on significant water quality legislation, continued underfunding of REAP and a wide array of other environmental failures. The lone exception was legislation to help protect turtles from overharvesting for profit.

If you are as disappointed as we are, then you know Iowa needs legislators who are committed to protecting Iowa’s water, land and wildlife from pollution and climate change.

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