Iowa Senate district 30 preview: Jeff Danielson vs. Bonnie Sadler

A Republican challenger to three-term State Senator Jeff Danielson in Iowa Senate district 30 emerged last week. Bonnie Sadler is on Facebook here and on Twitter here. Danielson has a campaign website as well as a Facebook page and Twitter feed.

Danielson was the Iowa legislative incumbent re-elected by the narrowest margin in 2008, beating Walt Rogers by just 22 votes out of more than 32,000 cast. Although Danielson won his third term by a somewhat larger margin in 2012, Republicans are still likely to target this race as one of their top two or three pickup opportunities. The Republican State Leadership Committee has committed to play for the Iowa Senate majority in 2016. Democrats currently control the chamber by 26 votes to 24.

I enclose below a map of Senate district 30, a review of its voter registration numbers and recent voting history, background on both candidates, and first thoughts on what should be a central issue during next year’s campaign.

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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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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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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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Republicans not giving up efforts to defund Planned Parenthood in Iowa

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Iowa’s social conservatives have suffered several setbacks lately in their crusade against Planned Parenthood. The Iowa Supreme Court unanimously struck down an administrative rule that would have banned the use of telemedicine for medical abortions in several Planned Parenthood clinics. Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller informed a large group of Republican lawmakers that his office has neither "jurisdiction over transfers of fetal tissue" nor the "authority to investigate or demand information about the transfer of fetal tissue." (Not that it mattered, since Planned Parenthood clinics in Iowa have never participated in fetal tissue donation programs.)

Governor Terry Branstad, who has always opposed abortion rights, acknowledged two weeks ago that "we cannot defund Planned Parenthood," because a review of Planned Parenthood’s contracts with the state revealed that the health care provider has not "violated their responsibilities under the grants that they have received" for family planning services. An official review also confirmed no taxpayer money goes toward abortion services at Planned Parenthood clinics in Iowa.

During this year’s legislative session, Republicans successfully pushed for ultrasound requirements for women seeking abortions, but the final adopted language on ultrasounds did not add any new roadblocks or delays to the process of getting an abortion in Iowa.

Advocacy groups like Bob Vander Plaats’ FAMiLY Leader organization continue to pressure Branstad to keep his 2010 campaign promise to end Planned Parenthood’s state funding. Last week, Iowa House Republicans indicated that they plan to continue their "deliberate and unwavering battle" for the "pro-life" agenda.

Here’s how efforts to defund Planned Parenthood are likely to play out during next year’s Iowa legislative session. What happens after that depends mostly on whether the 2016 general election changes the balance of power at the statehouse.

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Iowa Republican lawmakers not eager to block Branstad's latest power grab

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Among the many examples of corporate cronyism Governor Terry Branstad’s administration has provided these past five years, getting the Iowa Department of Revenue and Finance to rewrite tax code without legislative approval "on behalf of the Iowa Taxpayers Association” is among the most brazen.

Not only does this unprecedented use of the rule making process usurp legislative authority, it may end up being more expensive than "the worst economic development deal in state history.” At least tax incentives benefiting Orascom (for a fertilizer plant the company would have built anyway) have an end point. The Iowa Department of Revenue’s proposed sales tax cut for manufacturers will cost the state of Iowa tens of millions of dollars in revenue every year, indefinitely.

Democratic state lawmakers weren’t happy that the Branstad administration unilaterally decided to let private insurance companies manage the state’s Medicaid program, especially since some corporate representatives were briefed on that managed care plan long before state officials informed lawmakers or the general public. But state lawmakers didn’t have a way to block the Medicaid privatization.

In contrast, the Iowa House and Senate could stop the Iowa Department of Revenue’s proposed rule and thereby assert the authority of the legislative branch to approve tax code changes. Alas, signs from Tuesday’s meeting of the legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee (ARRC) point to House Republicans going along with the Branstad administration’s ”serious overreach of executive power.”

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