Who's who in the Iowa Senate for 2016

The Iowa legislature’s 2016 session began on Monday. For the sixth year in a row, the 50 state senators include 26 Democrats and 24 Republicans. Just seven senators are women (six Democrats and a Republican), down from a high of ten women serving in the chamber during 2013 and 2014. All current senators are white. To my knowledge, the only African-American ever to serve in the Iowa Senate was Tom Mann, elected to two terms during the 1980s. No Latino has ever served in the Iowa House or Senate; Nathan Blake fell 18 votes short of becoming the first in 2014. No Asian-American has served in the state Senate since Swati Dandekar resigned in 2011.

I enclose below details on the Iowa Senate majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing Senate committees. Little has changed since last year, in contrast to the Iowa House, which saw some big changes in the majority Republican caucus since the legislature adjourned in June.

Term limits are a terrible idea generally but would be especially awful if applied to the Iowa Senate, as the longest-serving current senator bizarrely advocated last year. The experience gap between Democrats and Republicans is striking. As detailed below, only four of the 24 Senate Republicans have ten or more years of experience in the Iowa legislature, compared to seventeen of the 26 Democrats. No current Iowa Senate Republican has more than 20 years legislative experience, whereas six Democrats do.

Some non-political trivia: the 50 Iowa Senate members include three Marks, three Bills, three Richards (who go by Rich, Rick, and Dick), two Mikes, two Toms, two Joes, and two men named Charles (one goes by Chaz).

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The 15 Bleeding Heartland posts that were most fun to write in 2015

While working on another piece about Iowa politics highlights from the year, I decided to start a new Bleeding Heartland tradition. Writing is a labor of love for me, as for many bloggers, but let’s face it: not all posts are equally lovable.

The most important political events can be frustrating or maddening to write up, especially when there is so much ground to cover.

Any blogger will confirm that posts attracting the most readers are not necessarily the author’s favorites. The highest-traffic Bleeding Heartland post of 2015—in fact, the highest-traffic post in this blog’s history—was just another detailed account of a message-testing opinion poll, like many that came before. Word to the wise: if you want a link from the Drudge Report, it helps to type up a bunch of negative statements about Hillary Clinton.

Sometimes, committing to a topic leads to a long, hard slog. I spent more time on this critique of political coverage at the Des Moines Register than on any other piece of writing I’ve done in the last decade. But honestly, the task was more depressing than enjoyable.

Other pieces were pure pleasure. Follow me after the jump for my top fifteen from 2015.

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Weekend open thread: Threat assessments

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

Arguments over the appropriate U.S. response to refugees from Syria were a hot topic this week in personal conversations as well as in the news media. I saw some longtime friendships strained over heated Facebook threads about the question. Governor Terry Branstad’s order "to halt any work on Syrian refugee resettlements immediately in order to ensure the security and safety of Iowans" provoked commentaries in several major newspapers and an unusually strong statement from Iowa’s four Catholic bishops.

The U.S. House vote to in effect stop the flow of refugees from Syria and Iraq generated passionate comments from supporters and opponents of the measure. Dozens of Iowans expressed their disappointment on the thread under Representative Dave Loebsack’s official statement explaining his vote. In an apparent response to negative feedback from progressives, Loebsack’s Congressional campaign sent an e-mail to supporters the following day, trying to distinguish his position on refugees from the Middle East from that of many Republicans, and assuring that "we will not turn our backs on those in need." (Scroll to the end of this post to read that message.)

Calls by some politicians to admit only certifiably Christian refugees from the Middle East triggered strong emotions in many American Jews this week. I saw it on my social media feeds, where many people reminded their non-Jewish friends and acquaintances that the U.S. turned away a ship carrying hundreds of Jews fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum issued a rare statement on a political matter (enclosed below), urging "public figures and citizens to avoid condemning today’s refugees [from Syria] as a group."

I’ve seen many people object to that analogy, saying reluctance to admit Syrian refugees is grounded in legitimate fears for public safety, unlike the prejudice that influenced U.S. immigration policy during the 1930s. But as historian Peter Shulman explained in this commentary for Fortune magazine,

Opposition to Jewish refugees was not simply timeless bigotry. With today’s talk of “Judeo-Christian” values, it is easy to forget the genuine alienness and threat to national security these refugees represented. […]

Behind these [1939 poll] numbers [showing widespread hostility toward Jews] lay a toxic fear of Jewish subversion. For decades, Jews had been linked to various strains of un-American threats: socialism, communism, and anarchism, of course, but also (paradoxically) a kind of hyper-capitalism. Many believed that the real threat to the United States lay not from abroad, but within.

One author of a recent letter to the Des Moines Register called for vetting Syrian refugees at the U.S. facility for holding suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay: "My Irish ancestors went through a similar process at Ellis Island. The vetting procedure was very different for them. They were checked to be sure they weren’t carrying diseases into America. We need to be sure that the refugees coming into our country don’t come with a mind disease goal of killing us, instead of seeking a new life for themselves, like my Irish ancestors did." Here’s some news for letter-writer Janet Boggs: when the first large waves of Irish ancestors entered this country during the 1840s and 1850s, many native-born Americans considered them and other Catholic immigrants an existential threat to this country, not harmless migrants seeking a better life. Read up on the Know-Nothing Party.

Today’s Sunday Des Moines Register includes a letter to the editor from Republican State Representative Steve Holt, who thanked Branstad for making "the safety of Iowans" his priority. Holt warned, "If we expect Western civilization to survive, we must abandon political correctness and educate ourselves on the realities of Islam, and the instrument of its implementation, Sharia law." Holt represents half of GOP State Senator Jason Schultz’s constituents in western Iowa; Schultz has been beating the "Sharia law" drum for months while agitating against allowing any more refugees from the Middle East to settle in Iowa. UPDATE: I should have noted that today’s Register also ran a letter to the editor from Democratic State Representative Marti Anderson, who made the case for welcoming refugees. I’ve added it after the jump.

Speaking of security risks, yesterday Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press on questions surrounding the threat assessment teams many universities formed after the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech. I didn’t know that the University of Iowa sent "a detective with the campus threat assessment team" to a fake news conference communications Professor Kembrew McLeod organized in August to poke fun at efficiency measures outside consultants recommended for Iowa’s public universities. I had forgotten about the lawsuit stemming from false accusations that a whistleblower employee in the Iowa State College of Engineering’s marketing department might be a "potential terrorist or mass murderer." Officials spreading such rumors about the employee included the former boss whose shady conduct he had exposed. Excerpts from Foley’s article are below, but click through to read the whole piece.

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Branstad joins rush to slam door on Syrian refugees

Yesterday Governor Terry Branstad joined the club of 24 governors (23 Republicans and a Democrat) who have said their states will not accept refugees from Syria. They don’t have the power to block resettlement of refugees within their state borders, any more than pandering presidential candidates would be able to adopt unconstitutional religion-based criteria for deciding which people to allow into this country.

Still, Branstad’s knee-jerk reaction to Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris is a disappointing retreat from the more reasonable stance he took earlier this fall on refugees from Syria coming to Iowa.

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Veterans Day links, with thanks to the Iowans in public life who have served

November 11 first became a day to honor war veterans in 1919, one year after the First World War ended. Congress officially designated "Armistice Day" a national holiday in 1926 and changed its name to Veterans Day in 1954. Many Americans will make a special effort today to thank the veterans they know. In that spirit, Bleeding Heartland acknowledges some of the Iowans in public life who have served in the armed forces.

Iowa’s Congressional delegation includes only one person who has served in the military: Senator Joni Ernst. The number of veterans in Congress has declined dramatically over the last 40 years. In 1971, "when member military service was at its peak, veterans made up 72 percent of members in the House and 78 percent in the Senate." But in the current Congress, just 81 U.S. House representatives and 13 U.S. senators have served in the military. I enclose below more statistics from Rachel Wellford’s report for NPR.

Governor Terry Branstad is the only veteran among Iowa’s current statewide elected officials.

Of the 50 Iowa Senate members, seven are veterans: Democrats Jeff Danielson, Tom Courtney, Dick Dearden, Bill Dotzler, and Wally Horn, and Republicans Bill Anderson and Jason Schultz.

Of the 100 Iowa House members, nineteen are veterans: Republicans John Kooiker, Stan Gustafson, John Landon, Dave Maxwell, Kraig Paulsen, Sandy Salmon, Quentin Stanerson, Guy Vander Linden, Matt Windschitl, Dave Heaton, Darrel Branhagen, Ken Rizer, Zach Nunn, John Wills, and Steve Holt, and Democrats Dennis Cohoon, Jerry Kearns, Todd Prichard, and Brian Meyer.

The population of veterans faces some special challenges, including higher rates of mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). An estimated 22 U.S. military veterans die by suicide every day, which means suicide "has caused more American casualties than wars in Iraq and Afghanistan." The Military Suicide Research Consortium provides information on the problem and resources for those needing help, in addition to white papers summarizing current research on factors that contribute to suicides. For instance, sexual assault in adulthood or childhood sexual abuse both increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and attempts. Also, veterans who know someone who died by suicide "reported more than twice the frequency of suicidal ideation." I was surprised to read in this paper that major public holidays are not associated with higher rates of suicide. On the contrary, "holidays may act as more of a protective factor" against suicide, possibly because of greater "social integration during holiday periods."

Last month the Iowa Department of Public Health released the Iowa Plan for Suicide Prevention 2015-2018, which "seeks to reduce the annual number of deaths by suicide in Iowa by 10 percent by the year 2018 – a reduction of 41 from the 406 three-year average from 2012-2014 – with an ultimate goal of zero deaths by suicide." The full report (which does not focus on veterans) is available here (pdf). Iowans with suicidal thoughts or who are concerned a loved one may be considering suicide can call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK or Your Life Iowa at (855)-581-8111. For online assistance: Suicide Prevention Lifeline or Your Life Iowa.

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State Senator Jason Schultz still stirring up fear and loathing of Syrian refugees

State Senator Jason Schultz continues to lead the charge against Iowa accepting any refugees from war-torn Syria. He gained attention last month for warning on a popular conservative talk radio program that migrants from the Middle East "want to live under Sharia law," and their presence would constitute "an invasion" spreading Muslim "ideology by force." This week, Schultz beat the drum again as a guest on Jan Mickelson’s WHO Radio program.  

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