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Rest in peace, Dwayne Alons

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Nov 30, 2014 at 19:40:00 PM CST

State Representative Dwayne Alons passed away last night after a battle with kidney cancer, Iowa House Republicans announced today. First elected to the state legislature in 1998, Alons represented a staunchly Republican northwest Iowa district for eight terms and was unopposed in this year's election.

A longtime farmer and retired brigadier general with the Iowa Air National Guard, Alons chaired the Iowa House Veterans Affairs Committee during the 2013 and 2014 legislative sessions. This year the state legislature passed and Governor Terry Branstad signed into law several bills designed to benefit veterans and encourage them to settle in Iowa.

Among many conservatives in the Iowa House Republican caucus, Alons stood out for his steadfast belief in prioritizing social issues such as opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion rights. In June 2010, he entered unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats' name in nomination for lieutenant governor, saying he was "speaking for a grassroots effort that has been going on since the beginning of Bob's campaign." Alons was one of five Iowa House Republicans to file articles of impeachment in 2011 against Iowa Supreme Court justices who concurred in the Varnum v Brien ruling on marriage. He repeatedly co-sponsored and tried to pass "personhood" bills that would ban abortion in all circumstances. Earlier this month, Vander Plaats' organization The FAMiLY Leader gave Alons its first annual "Family Champion Award," saying in its official statement, "When it comes to championing pro-family values in Iowa, nobody has stood stronger, longer, and with such grace as Dwayne."

Since Alons was just elected to another term, a special election will be needed to choose a new representative in Iowa House district 4, covering most of Sioux County (a detailed map is at the end of this post). Governor Branstad will likely set a date for that election in the coming week, and the election will probably happen sometime in January. The only real competition will be at the GOP nominating convention, since the area Alons represented is the most heavily Republican of the 100 state House districts, with nearly ten times as many registered Republicans as Democrats.

After the jump I've posted a selection of tributes from Alons' colleagues. I will continue to update as needed.  

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Iowa City recognized for strong LGBT equality policies

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Nov 13, 2014 at 17:41:44 PM CST

Iowa City received a perfect score and four other Iowa cities above-average scores in Human Rights Campaign's new Municipal Equality Index. The LGBT advocacy group evaluated 353 cities across the country to see how inclusive their "laws, policies, and services" were for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people "who live and work there." You can read more about the ratings criteria here. According to KCRG, the national average score was 59.

Iowa City was one of 38 municipalities to receive a perfect score of 100. Human Rights Campaign awarded scores of 86 to Davenport, 85 to Des Moines, 68 to Cedar Rapids, and 61 to Sioux City. Council Bluffs was not rated, but just across the Missouri River, Omaha received a score of 51.

KCRG noted in its report,

Iowa City did lose points in several areas, including not having transgender-inclusive health benefits or an ordinance requiring equal benefits from city contractors. However, the city also scored well in the bonus point system that was also part of the Human Rights Campaign's rating.

You can view the detailed Municipal Equality Index ratings on Iowa City here, Davenport here, Des Moines here, Cedar Rapids here, and Sioux City here.

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Iowa State ranked one of "30 Best Colleges for LGBT Students"

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Oct 07, 2014 at 16:52:15 PM CDT

Iowa State University was the only Iowa school included on a new list of "30 Best Colleges for LGBT Students," compiled by the Best Colleges site. The 30 schools were "not ranked in any particular order" but all met the following criteria:

* 4 or 5 Star Rating on the Campus Pride Index: This comprehensive college catalog rates schools based on a rubric of eight LGBT-inclusive factors. Since a three star ranking represents average performance, each of the schools included on our list are known for an above-average rating.

*Greek social organizations with one or both of these organizations in a chapter:
* Gamma Rho Lambda (GRL): This sorority was founded in 2003 and is open to members that identify across a wide range of gender and sexuality spectrums.
* Delta Lambda Phi (DLP): This fraternity is dedicated to creating friendly social spaces for gay and bisexual men to connect through campus activities.

It's worth noting that ISU currently has 4 stars on the Campus Pride Index. Two Iowa higher education institutions do better with a 4.5 star rating: the University of Iowa and Wartburg College. I assume those schools were not included on the Best Colleges list because they lack LGBT-friendly Greek affiliates. Since a lot of college students (straight or gay) have no interest in joining a fraternity or sorority, the Campus Pride Index strikes me as a better overall measure of inclusion. Wartburg leaders have made impressive efforts to create not just a tolerant, but a welcoming atmosphere.

The University of Northern Iowa matched Iowa State with 4 stars on the Campus Pride Index. To my surprise, Grinnell College, considered one of the most progressive islands in Iowa, scored just 3.5 stars. Luther College got 3 stars, Buena Vista University 2.5 stars, and Drake University and Marshalltown Community College got 2 stars each.

No Iowa schools made it onto the Campus Pride list of top 50 LGBT-friendly colleges, which came out in August. To be eligible for that list, schools needed to score 5 stars on the Campus Pride Index and "have the highest percentages across the eight LGBT-friendly benchmarks for policy, program and practice."

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End of the road for opponents of marriage equality? (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Oct 06, 2014 at 16:15:47 PM CDT

When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act last year, justices side-stepped the issue of state bans on same-sex marriage, either by statute or by constitution. Since that time, various U.S. Courts of Appeal have struck down state-level bans, using reasoning similar to the high court's in U.S. v. Windsor. Today, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it will not hear appeals of five such rulings. As Adam Liptak reported for the New York Times, the move "may signal the inevitability of a nationwide right to same-sex marriage."

The development, a major surprise, cleared the way for same-sex marriages in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. Officials in Virginia announced that marriages would start at 1 p.m. on Monday.

The decision to let the appeals court rulings stand, which came without explanation in a series of brief orders, will almost immediately increase the number of states allowing same-sex marriage from 19 to 24, along with the District of Columbia. The impact of the move will in short order be even broader.

Monday's orders let stand decisions from three federal appeals courts with jurisdiction over six other states that ban same-sex marriage: Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming. Those appeals courts will almost certainly follow their own precedents to strike down those additional bans as well, meaning the number of states with same-sex marriage should soon climb to 30. [...]

Other appeals courts are likely to rule soon on yet other marriage bans, including the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco. That court has jurisdiction over nine states. If it rules in favor of same-sex marriage, as expected, it is unlikely to enter a stay, and, given Monday's developments at the Supreme Court, there is no particular reason to think the justices will.

It's all over but the shouting. And speaking of shouting, I've enclosed below the reaction to today's news from the FAMiLY Leader organization, which spearheaded the backlash against the Iowa Supreme Court over its 2009 decision in Varnum v Brien. No Iowa Supreme Court justices are up for retention this year. The remaining three justices who were part of the Varnum ruling will be up for retention in 2016: Chief Justice Mark Cady (author of that unanimous decision), Justice Brent Appel, and Justice Daryl Hecht.

The Alliance for Justice has compiled details on every federal court ruling related to marriage equality here. That organization's president, Nan Aron, said in a statement today, "It is disappointing that the Supreme Court declined to take any of the marriage equality cases decided by federal appeals courts.  In 2013, in its decisions on the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and on Proposition 8, the Supreme Court began to bend the arc of history toward justice on this issue. By declining to take these cases, the Court passed up an opportunity to finish the job."

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. UPDATE: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is not going to fight against marriage equality in Wisconsin anymore. Accepting reality may work against him if he runs in the 2016 Iowa Republican caucuses.

SECOND UPDATE: I've enclosed below a statement from Republican Party of Iowa Co-Chair Cody Hoefert. I am intrigued that Iowa GOP Chair Jeff Kaufmann doesn't seem interested in speaking out on this issue anymore. In 2011, he voted for a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Kaufmann retired in 2012, and his son Bobby Kaufmann was elected to succeed him in the Iowa House. Bobby Kaufmann declined to co-sponsor a marriage amendment in 2013.  

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Attorney General Eric Holder stepping down, with Iowa reaction

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Sep 25, 2014 at 18:00:00 PM CDT

President Barack Obama announced today that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will resign as soon as a successor is confirmed. Carrie Johnson reported for National Public Radio,

Holder already is one of the longest-serving members of the Obama Cabinet and currently ranks as the fourth-longest tenured AG in history. Hundreds of employees waited in lines, stacked three rows deep, in early February 2009 to witness his return to the Justice Department, where he previously worked as a young corruption prosecutor and as deputy attorney general - the second in command - during the Clinton administration. [...]

Holder most wants to be remembered for his record on civil rights: refusing to defend a law that defined marriage as between one man and one woman; suing North Carolina and Texas over voting restrictions that disproportionately affect minorities and the elderly; launching 20 investigations of abuses by local police departments; and using his bully pulpit to lobby Congress to reduce prison sentences for nonviolent drug crimes. Many of those sentences disproportionately hurt minority communities.

Republicans in Congress have long clashed with Holder over many issues, notably the "Fast and Furious" gun trafficking scandal and Holder's original plan to prosecute the alleged plotters in the 9/11 attacks in federal court in New York City. (Eventually those cases were moved to military courts.)

I had very high hopes for Holder when Obama appointed him, and while he's far from the worst in the current cabinet, he's probably the most disappointing from my perspective. As Eric Posner explains well here, "Holder's Justice Department has helped suppress civil liberties that interfere with what the Bush administration called the 'war on terror,' the currently nameless global operation to confront Islamic terrorism wherever it appears." Although Holder doesn't explicitly condone torture, the Department of Justice failed to prosecute CIA officials involved in torturing suspects.

Any comments about Holder's legacy are welcome in this thread. I've enclosed below Senator Chuck Grassley's comment on the attorney general's plans to step down, and will update this post as needed with other Iowa reaction to the news.

P.S.-Although an early 2009 speech by Holder is now considered a "stumble" or gaffe, there was some truth in his observation, "Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards."

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Terry Branstad's vendetta against Chris Godfrey looks even dumber

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Aug 05, 2014 at 11:15:47 AM CDT

Iowa Workers' Compensation Commissioner Chris Godfrey submitted his resignation to Governor Terry Branstad yesterday in order to become chief judge of the Employee's Compensation Appeal Board in Washington, D.C. later this month. I haven't seen any official reaction from the Branstad administration. The governor has been trying to get rid of Godfrey since late 2010, even though the Iowa Senate had unanimously confirmed him to a fixed term as Workers' Compensation Commissioner until 2015. During the summer of 2011, Branstad docked Godfrey's pay after sending his chief of staff and legal counsel to demand his resignation one more time. The governor couldn't articulate any reason for being dissatisfied with Godfrey, other than saying, "business groups in Iowa [...] told me in no uncertain terms that they were not happy with the direction under Mr. Godfrey." Branstad staffers publicly criticized Godfrey's work, which along with the pay reduction and pressure to resign led to a defamation and discrimination lawsuit against the state of Iowa and six senior officials, including Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds.

Last month, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that Godfrey can sue individual officials as well as the State of Iowa for defamation, extortion and other claims. Yesterday, Godfrey's attorney Roxanne Conlin confirmed that the lawsuit will move forward. I've posted her comments below, along with reaction from Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jack Hatch. Polk County District Court Judge Arthur Gamble told attorneys last week that a firm trial date will be set for sometime in 2015. Depositions are only just beginning in a case that has already cost the state of Iowa more than $500,000 in legal fees.

If Godfrey weren't doing his job well, he would not have been offered a more senior and prestigious position in the same line of work. I don't know whether Branstad wanted to get rid of him because Godfrey is openly gay, as the lawsuit alleges, or because the governor was taking marching orders from business groups. Either way, the governor never should have bullied and badgered this highly capable person, and the state should have settled this lawsuit a long time ago.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

P.S.- Has any Iowa governor ever hired a worse legal counsel than Brenna Findley? She's supposed to steer her boss away from legal problems, not provide fodder for a lawsuit. Nor is this case her only misstep. Last summer, Findley contradicted legal advice from the Iowa Attorney General's office and the attorney for the Iowa Board of Medicine, encouraging that board to move forward with abortion restrictions that have been temporarily blocked and will probably be struck down in a separate lawsuit.

UPDATE: Todd Dorman hits on the most disturbing aspect of this "saga": "Truth is, governors have the power to make dozens and dozens of powerful appointments. The fact that Branstad would go to these lengths to get his hands on one job that eluded his grasp tells you quite a bit about how he views the limits of executive power. After nearly 20 years, he doesn't see any."

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Obama executive order bans federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 21, 2014 at 11:40:00 AM CDT

President Barack Obama signed an executive order today that prohibits federal contractors from discriminating against workers based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Labor Secretary Tom Perez explained,

My colleagues in the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs have enforced the government's nondiscrimination laws for federal contractors for years. Their work ensures that contractors and subcontractors doing business with the government don't use taxpayer money to discriminate in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability or status as a protected veteran. With this executive order, it will also include America's LGBT workers.

We still need to go further. Passage of federal legislation to prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity would mean that all workers across the country would enjoy these protections. But with Congress failing to lead on this issue, the president is taking the initiative as part of this Year of Action.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed the U.S. Senate last fall with bipartisan support but is going nowhere in the Republican-controlled U.S. House.

Justin Sink noted in his report for The Hill that the president still wants Congress to pass that bill, although "some gay and civil rights groups have abandoned ENDA over concerns stemming from the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision." After the jump I've posted more background on that aspect of today's news. While the Hobby Lobby ruling ostensibly was limited to a religious exemption from the contraception mandate in the 2010 health care reform law, it's likely to have more far-reaching effects.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. I'll update this post if needed with Iowa political reaction.

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Des Moines ranked 4th most LGBT-friendly metro area in U.S.

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jun 12, 2014 at 06:50:00 AM CDT

Hardly a month goes by without news about Des Moines scoring a top-ten national ranking on some economic or livability metric. Here's something I didn't expect, though: the new "Vocativ Queer Index" rates the Des Moines metro fourth among the top 35 queer-friendly cities in the U.S.

Vocativ examined the 100 largest metro areas on sixteen factors related to the quality of life for the LGBT community. Click through to read the full list and how Des Moines scored in each category. In particular, the website hailed the Iowa capital's "inclusive attitude toward adoption and marriage equality, not to mention its high-profile out politicians" like State Senator Matt McCoy and State Representative Daniel Lundby (whom they mistook for a member of Congress).  

Happy Pride Month to everyone in the Bleeding Heartland community. After the jump I've posted recent news about how Iowa Safe Schools, a Des Moines-based advocacy group, is working to improve the environment for LGBTQ students in public schools all around the state.

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HIV transmission bill passes in end-of-session surprise

by: desmoinesdem

Thu May 01, 2014 at 13:36:00 PM CDT

Sometimes bills left for dead rise again in the final hours of the Iowa legislature's work. So it was for Senate File 2297, an "act relating to the criminal transmission of a contagious or infectious disease." If signed into law, this bill would replace current Iowa law on HIV transmission, under which a person can be sentenced to 25 years in prison, even if the virus that causes AIDS was not transmitted to anyone. For background on the old law, one of the harshest in the country, click here or here, or listen to this Iowa Public Radio program from March. (Incidentally, the Iowa Supreme Court has heard but not yet ruled on a case related to that law but not challenging its constitutionality.)

Whereas current law takes a "one size fits all" approach to HIV transmission cases, Senate File 2297 outlines more serious penalties for those who intentionally infect a partner (not just with HIV, but with any communicable disease) than for those who either didn't mean to transmit or did not transmit a disease. In addition,

under the new bill, Iowans would no longer be sentenced as sex offenders and a retroactive clause in the bill would remove anyone sentenced under 709c from the sex offender registry. Prosecutors would also have to prove substantial risk, rather than the current law which simply requires non-disclosure.

Senate File 2297 passed the Iowa Senate unanimously in February. Democratic State Senator Rob Hogg said it would update Iowa law to reflect modern medicine and replace a "badly outdated and draconian" part of the code. Republican State Senator Charles Schneider agreed that current law was "not always proportionate" to the crime committed.

So far, so good. But instead of sailing through the Iowa House, Senate File 2297 stalled. It cleared a House Judiciary Subcommittee but not the full committee in time for the "second funnel" deadline in mid-March. The bill landed on the "unfinished business" calendar, which kept it eligible for debate.

I hadn't heard anything about this bill for some time, until I saw this morning that it came up for debate in Iowa House a little before 2 am. It passed by 98 votes to 0. After the jump I've posted a statement from the LGBT advocacy group One Iowa, which has pushed for similar legislation for years.  

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More background on Iowa GOP platform dispute on marriage

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Apr 30, 2014 at 09:29:00 AM CDT

Republican Party of Iowa State Central Committee member David Chung wrote a must-read post at his Hawkeye GOP blog about Saturday's dispute over marriage language in the first district Iowa GOP platform. Excerpt:

In the platform committee multiple attempts to add a pro-marriage plank failed. [Liberty faction State Central Committee member] Tony [Krebsbach] only proposed the government-out-of-marriage plank because he did not want the platform to be silent on the issue. In the committee, Tony wanted a pro-marriage plank included. So in the committee (and on the convention floor) he wanted a pro-marriage plank to appear in the platform as it has for several years. As a compromise, he proposed the current plank taking the more libertarian position.

The floor votes happened because somehow the "government-out-of-marriage plank did not make it into the printed version of the proposed platform that was distributed to delegates." Three times IA-01 delegates rejected amendments that would have restored language opposing same-sex marriage rights. Eventually the wording about keeping the government out of marriage was added to the platform.

Delegates to the statewide GOP convention are not ready for a real debate on marriage equality yet, but it will happen by 2018 or 2020 at the latest. Chung is committed to making sure the statewide party platform includes a "one man, one woman marriage" plank, even though he recognizes that "traditional marriage is probably a losing issue today" and "is one of the biggest issues that keeps young people out of the Republican Party." At some point a critical mass of party activists will get tired of fighting this battle.

Meanwhile, the governor's office is trying to straddle the fence.

"The governor and lieutenant governor believe in traditional one-man and one-woman marriage," spokesman Jimmy Centers told the Register. "(They) do not try to influence or counsel delegates on what planks they should or should not offer and support."

So they agree with social conservative activists on "traditional marriage," but they don't care whether the Republican platform reflects that position? Doesn't make a lot of sense. But then, they've never been coherent on this issue. In 2010, Branstad's campaign spokesman had to backpedal fast after the candidate indicated he had no problem with gay couples adopting children. Soon after Reynolds joined the ticket, she got in trouble for comments indicating support for civil unions.

UPDATE: Added more Republican reaction below.

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Weekend open thread: Big Iowa GOP changes

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Apr 27, 2014 at 10:10:00 AM CDT

The Republican Party of Iowa and the Iowa Democratic Party held district conventions yesterday. Nothing particularly important happened at the Democratic conventions, but the GOP gatherings continued the march toward overthrowing the "Liberty" faction that gained control soon after the 2012 caucuses. No one from the Ron Paul orbit won a seat on the newly-elected State Central Committee, which will take over after the party's state convention in June. They are likely to replace Danny Carroll and Gopal Krishna in the party's top leadership positions.

I've listed the new State Central Committee members after the jump. Notable names include Governor Terry Branstad's legal counsel Brenna Findley and William Gustoff, both elected to represent the third district. Gustoff is a partner in the law firm headed by U.S. Senate candidate Matt Whitaker and State Representative Chris Hagenow. In 2011, Branstad named Gustoff to the State Judicial Nominating Commission, but the Iowa Senate did not confirm him. Findley briefly was an attorney with Whitaker Hagenow after she left Representative Steve King's staff to run for Iowa attorney general in 2010.

According to Kevin Hall of The Iowa Republican blog, "Liberty" activists handed out flyers at all four district conventions urging delegates not to vote for fourteen State Central Committee candidates. All fourteen of them won seats on the committee anyway.

Another interesting development: the GOP platform committee in the first district removed the plank declaring marriage to be between one man and one woman. Katherine Klingseis reported for The Des Moines Register that the new platform language asserts the government should have no role in marriage. Some delegates tried and failed three times yesterday to restore the traditional marriage plank through amendments. UPDATE: According to conservative blogger Shane Vander Hart, one of the IA-01 convention votes on platform language went 116 to 89 to remove so-called "defense of traditional marriage" from the district GOP platform.

Kathie Obradovich wrote up the six IA-03 candidates' pitches to Republican convention delegates. For now I consider it more likely than not that the nomination will be decided at a special district convention.

UPDATE: More thoughts on the Iowa GOP State Central Committee changes after the jump.

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Weekend open thread: Church and state edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Apr 13, 2014 at 07:15:00 AM CDT

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

The non-profit advocacy group Secularity USA brought world-famous evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins to Des Moines on Saturday. I couldn't make it to the event; if you were there, please share your impressions. The mission of Secularity USA is to raise public awareness "of the dangers of religious bias in government and promoting the traditional separation of church and state." While Dawkins is a well-known atheist, Secularity USA seeks to unite "religious and nonreligious supporters of church-state separation."

Governor Terry Branstad signed a proclamation this week inviting "all Iowans who choose to join in thoughtful prayer and humble repentance according to II Chronicles 7:14 in favor of our state and nation to come together on July 14, 2014." I wouldn't go so far as one blogger, who declared that Branstad "signed away separation of church and state," but it does seem inappropriate for the governor to lend his support to such a specific religious movement. The "Prayer 7-14-14" group, which is calling for the national day of prayer, sounds pretty far out there. Endorsing this project is different from routine appearances by governors at prayer breakfasts, or the prayers that typically open daily sessions in the Iowa House and Senate.

I wonder whether the governor's staff sensed that he crossed a line, because I didn't see any announcement of this event on the governor's official news feed. Normally that feed highlights several proclamation signings each week. It mentioned more than half a dozen other documents Branstad signed this past week--including, ironically, a proclamation for Muslim Recognition Day. Perhaps Branstad viewed inviting Iowans to pray on July 14 as nothing more than empty pandering to the FAMiLY Leader contingent, which is promoting the national prayer day. The governor hasn't elevated social conservative goals in most of his public speeches or in his legislative agenda.

Former Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan headlined an Iowa GOP fundraiser in Cedar Rapids last night. O.Kay Henderson posted the audio at Radio Iowa. As usual for Ryan, he said little about social conservative priorities, focusing instead on federal budget and tax issues, Obamacare, and the need for Republican unity. But he did nod to his religious heritage by urging his audience to give up "infighting," "tunnel vision," and "acrimony" for Lent.

Last month I never managed to post a thread on one of this year's biggest news stories related to church-state separation: the U.S. Supreme Court considering what has become known as the Hobby Lobby case. After the jump I've posted six links on the oral arguments in that case, which will determine whether two corporations are entitled to a religious exemption from the 2010 health care reform law's contraception mandate.  

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Iowa marriage equality five-year anniversary thread

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Apr 03, 2014 at 10:40:00 AM CDT

Five years ago today, the Iowa Supreme Court announced its unanimous decision in Varnum v Brien, striking down our state's Defense Of Marriage Act. Some Democratic politicians welcomed the change, while others were more circumspect or ducked the issue for a few days. The early Iowa Republican reaction to the court ruling will sound more pathetic and cowardly with each passing year.

At this point I can't see any realistic path for conservatives to undo marriage equality. Even if Republicans held their Iowa House majority and gained control of the state Senate (which I consider unlikely), passing a constitutional amendment in both chambers in two separately elected legislatures would be a heavy lift. Last year and this year, an amendment to ban same-sex marriages didn't even make it through committee in the Republican-controlled Iowa House.

Bob Vander Plaats spent most of 2009 and 2010 trying to take rights away from same-sex couples and force justices off the Iowa Supreme Court. Five years ago today, he was the front-runner in the GOP race for governor. Now he's out hawking a book. His standing among Iowa Republicans has fallen so far that he is essentially invisible in the Congressional campaign of Robert Cramer, a guy who donated $30,000 to "Team Vander Plaats" during the 2010 election cycle.

Somehow my hetero union has survived five years of sharing rights with Iowa's LGBT couples. And it's not just my marriage soldiering on: the latest statistics show Iowa's divorce rate at its lowest point since 1968. Several factors account for the trend, including the high cost of divorce and more couples delaying or forgoing marriage. Regardless, it's nice to see the divorce rate falling, because if the trend were going the other way you can be sure self-styled "marriage defenders" would blame the "homosexual agenda," among other things.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. Highlights from the latest Des Moines Register poll findings on gay marriage are after the jump.

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Political April Fool's thread

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Apr 01, 2014 at 09:51:40 AM CDT

I've never been a fan of April Fool's pranks or the April Fool's Day fake news genre, but my friend Mark Lambert gave me permission to share this story. It made me smile. He was an administrative law judge at the time in the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals. Like many state employees, he worked in the Wallace Building near the Capitol.

In 2010, Mark took State of Iowa letterhead and added "Iowa Civil Rights Commission" in a realistic-looking font on it. He got to work before 6 am and hung signs on all the bathroom doors in the Wallace Building saying that due to a new interpretation by the Iowa Supreme Court, gender-specific restrooms were considered a violation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act and the Iowa Constitution, and that all restrooms would now be unisex. "We realize this will take some time before you feel comfortable, but we are confident you will get used to it. In the mean time, please be considerate of your co-workers." He figured some people would fall for the joke, because this was only a year after the Iowa Supreme Court's Varnum v Brien decision on marriage.

All of the signs were taken down by 8:30 am, but still--a pretty good April Fool's prank.

Share any relevant memories in this thread. I wonder which Iowa candidates and elected officials will circulate a fake press release or pull off some publicity stunt today.

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IA-03: First look at Robert Cramer's campaign messaging

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Mar 31, 2014 at 08:27:24 AM CDT

With six candidates seeking the Republican nomination in Iowa's open third Congressional district, I've decided to focus on individual campaigns rather than news roundups on the whole field at once. Robert Cramer's up first, since he is already running his introductory ad on television.

Cramer is defining himself as the business mind in the field, not a bad place to be in a GOP primary. Although he is emphasizing his connection to "conservative principles and enduring values," he is downplaying his social conservative activism. If you need any proof that Bob Vander Plaats' ship has sailed, even in Iowa Republican circles, look no further than Cramer's case to primary voters.

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Please stop paying attention to the Westboro Baptist Church

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Mar 20, 2014 at 15:13:43 PM CDT

Fred Phelps, the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, has reportedly died at the age of 84. I have nothing profound to say about his passing. Anyone who made it his life's work to hold "God Hates Fags" signs at funerals is a sad commentary on his upbringing and the failures of our country's mental health system.

Five years ago this spring and summer, the Phelps crowd came to central Iowa to protest the arrival of marriage equality and picket Jewish sites around town. The Jewish community chose not to engage with them. I wholeheartedly agreed with that decision, because the Westboro Baptist Church does not represent a social movement. They are basically a family cult of mentally ill people. I believe that they thrive on the negative attention they receive from those offended by their message. Being denounced on social media or confronted by a counter-protest is likely more gratifying than having no one react to their bigotry.  

I urge people who believe in tolerance to ignore everything the Westboro Baptist Church leaders say and do from now on. Focus your outrage on something more constructive.

Any relevant thoughts are welcome in this thread. I've enclosed below comments from State Senator Matt McCoy, who credited Phelps with inadvertently helping the gay rights movement.

P.S.- I am aware that it's ironic for me to write about a topic I would rather see ignored.  

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Iowa Senate district 45: Joe Seng has a primary challenger, Mark Riley

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Mar 12, 2014 at 15:22:00 PM CDT

If any Iowa Democrat deserves a primary challenge, it's three-term State Senator Joe Seng. Although the Davenport-based veterinarian represents one of the Democrats' safest urban districts, Seng is anti-choice and supported Republican calls for a vote against marriage equality in 2010. As chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, he has helped pass several bills that are good for industrial agriculture but bad for the environment, especially clean water. In addition, Seng himself challenged three-term U.S. Representative Dave Loebsack in the IA-02 Democratic primary two years ago, so he couldn't claim the moral high ground against a primary challenger for his state Senate seat.

I was excited to see yesterday that another Democratic candidate, Mark Riley, had filed papers to run in Senate district 45. When I realized Riley was Seng's Republican opponent in 2010 and ran an independent campaign against Iowa House Democrat Cindy Winckler in 2012, I became disappointed. Was he just a fake like the "Democrat" who ran against State Representative Ako Abdul-Samad in 2010?

I sought comment from Riley about why he was running as a Democrat in Iowa Senate district 45, having campaigned as a Republican in the same district a few years ago. I've posted his response after the jump. You be the judge. Riley would have my serious consideration if I lived on the west side of Davenport.  

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Can Josh Byrnes escape a GOP primary challenge in Iowa House district 51?

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 11:39:10 AM CST

Since last summer, many Iowa politics watchers have had Republican State Representative Josh Byrnes on retirement watch. However, he announced this week that he will seek a third term in Iowa House district 51. After the jump I've posted a district map and Byrnes' re-election statement.

Democratic candidate Laura Hubka has been actively campaigning for months. She's facing a relatively strong incumbent in this district, which covers Howard, Mitchell, Worth, and part of Winneshiek Counties along Iowa's northern border. Byrnes was comfortably re-elected in 2012 even as President Barack Obama won more than 55 percent of the vote in House district 51. The latest totals from the Secretary of State's office indicate that the district contains 5,765 registered Democrats, 6,470 Republicans, and 8,643 no-party voters.

Although I have not heard of any Republican planning to challenge Byrnes, three factors make me suspect he will not get a free pass in the GOP primary.

1. Byrnes is the leading Iowa House proponent of raising the gasoline tax, a popular view among some rural constituencies but not in the Republican base. He even taunted the advocacy group Iowans for Tax Relief after this year's subcommittee hearing, where the gas tax bill advanced.

2. While many Iowa House Republicans are quietly satisfied to see a constitutional amendment on marriage die in the funnel for two years running, to my knowledge Byrnes is still the only person in his caucus who openly supports same-sex marriage rights.

3. Last year Byrnes was one of just two GOP legislators to support the Democratic position on expanding Medicaid in Iowa. (The other one, Brian Moore, represents the most Democratic-leaning Iowa House district Republicans now control.)

It will be a St. Patrick's Day miracle if no anti-tax zealot, social conservative, or "Liberty" activist steps up to challenge Byrnes by the March 14 filing deadline.  

UPDATE: Amazingly, no other Republican filed papers to seek the GOP nomination in House district 51.

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DCCC flags Jim Mowrer in IA-04 as "emerging race"

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Mar 03, 2014 at 14:34:00 PM CST

Jim Mowrer, the Democratic challenger to Representative Steve King in Iowa's fourth Congressional district, is one of twelve candidates the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee considers to be "emerging races" in 2014. According to the statement from the DCCC, enclosed below, this category "highlights candidates and districts that are making themselves competitive by running smart campaigns which are becoming increasingly competitive." Mowrer's campaign out-raised the six-term Republican incumbent in both the third quarter and the fourth quarter of 2013. He is running as a "common-sense" candidate more in touch with the values of Iowans than King, who gets bogged down in "reckless partisan politics." Mowrer's official comment on today's news is after the jump.

Candidates in "emerging races" do not receive as much financial or logistical support from the DCCC as the top-tier "Red to Blue" candidates, but in past years a fair number of these races were bumped up to "Red to Blue" status during the general election period. IA-04 is an uphill climb for any Democrat, with 123,932 registered Democrats, 174,879 Republicans, and 174,235 no-party voters as of March 2014.

Speaking of King, he has long been one of the House Republicans progressives most "love to hate," and he is commonly quoted in fundraising appeals by a wide range of Democratic Party committees and Democratic-aligned organizations. But he does have limits. I noticed last week that someone came up with an anti-gay bill that was too stupid and bigoted even for King to co-sponsor. Some idiot lobbyist claims five House Republicans and one senator are interested in co-sponsoring a bill to stop gay athletes from playing in the National Football League. King commented,

"I don't support the idea that we advertise our sexuality, whatever it might be," said King. "So, therefore I don't support the idea of legislation addressing anyone's unidentified, unadvertised sexuality."

King presumably doesn't have a problem with heterosexuals "advertising" their sexuality by appearing in public with their spouses.  

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Mid-week open thread: Equal rights edition

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 07:05:00 AM CST

Here's an open thread for discussing anything on your mind, Bleeding Heartland readers. Most Iowans I've run into lately are a little down about the seemingly endless cold winter. (Single-digit highs in the Des Moines area today, and the 10-day forecast shows only one day that might reach the 30s.) How about some good news?

Dominoes continue to fall in the march toward equal rights for LGBT Americans. Yesterday Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a bill that would have allowed private businesses to discriminate against gay customers because of their religious beliefs. I posted an excerpt from her veto statement below. Before Brewer announced her decision, both of Arizona's Republican U.S. senators, Jeff Flake and John McCain, spoke out against the legislation. Even a few years ago I would not have expected conservative Republicans to take a stand against this kind of discrimination.  

Meanwhile, last summer's U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down a key provision of the Defense Against Marriage Act is influencing other judicial rulings. Yesterday a federal judge struck down the Texas ban on same-sex marriage, only two weeks after a similar ruling came down in Virginia. Federal judges struck down Utah's same-sex marriage ban in December and Oklahoma's in January. Eventually the U.S. Supreme Court will need to weigh in on a question it ducked last summer: whether state constitutional amendments on marriage violate equal protection rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution.

And now for something completely different: "74,476 Reasons You Should Always Get The Bigger Pizza." Granted, the author doesn't take into account any lingering New Year's resolutions.

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