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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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Iowa legislature funnel week discussion thread

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Feb 21, 2014 at 10:30:00 AM CST

This week marks the Iowa legislature's first "funnel" deadline of the 2014 session. With the exception of appropriations bills, most legislation that has not cleared at least one committee in at least one chamber is dead for the year. Only occasionally do House or Senate leaders revive bills that didn't get through the funnel.

Rod Boshart published a comprehensive list of bills that are still pending in either the Iowa House or Senate, as well as proposals that didn't make it this year. Notably, the ideas Governor Terry Branstad outlined in his Condition of the State speech last month are still alive, as are the top priorities House and Senate leaders mentioned on the opening day of this year's session.

Any comments about the legislature's work is welcome in this thread. Reading Boshart's lists, I felt a mixture of relief and disappointment. So many bad ideas died in the funnel, but so did a lot of proposals I would strongly support.

My dismay is probably nothing compared to what socially conservative Republicans are feeling. For the second year in a row, no bills aimed at "protecting" traditional marriage made it through the funnel. Every proposed anti-abortion bill died too, except for the ban on "telemedicine" abortions (which failed to move last year but passed the Iowa House last week). You would think that with a 53-47 Republican majority, the Iowa House would move more of these abortion bills through committee at least.

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More good news for legally married same-sex couples

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 14:45:00 PM CST

The U.S. Department of Justice announced today a new policy to "recognize lawful same-sex marriages as broadly as possible, and to recognize all marriages valid in the jurisdiction where the marriage was celebrated," even if the couple currently resides in a state that does not allow same-sex marriages. You can read the full text of Attorney General Eric Holder's memo here (pdf). Jaywon Choe reported for PBS,

Practically speaking, the decision means that same-sex couples will be given benefits that previously were only extended to heterosexual couples. For federal inmates, this includes spousal visits and the possibility of furloughs in the event of a crisis involving a spouse. Meanwhile in the courtroom, same-sex couples will now be given the right to refuse testimony that might incriminate their spouse, even in states where same-sex marriage is not recognized.

The policy stems from last June's U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Windsor case, which struck down key provisions in the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The DOJ memo makes clear that the policy does not apply to domestic partnerships or civil unions--only to the thousands of LGBT couples married in Iowa or one of the other states where marriage equality is the law.

The Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Treasury confirmed last summer that legally married same-sex couples will be able to file the same kind of federal tax returns (jointly or separately) as married heterosexual couples.

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Branstad names impeachment advocate to Judicial Nominating Commission

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Feb 05, 2014 at 08:55:26 AM CST

I knew that Governor Terry Branstad was trying to fill the State Judicial Nominating Commission with conservatives and big Republican donors.

I knew that Branstad liked naming former state legislators to prominent positions, sometimes without considering anyone else for the job, sometimes even when the former lawmaker hadn't asked for the job.

But until yesterday, I never imagined that Branstad would consider a Judicial Nominating Commission an appropriate place for someone who tried to impeach Iowa Supreme Court justices over the Varnum v Brien ruling on marriage.  

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New IA-03 Democratic candidate speculation thread

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Dec 20, 2013 at 07:10:00 AM CST

Time for a new thread on other Democrats who may join former State Senator Staci Appel and Gabriel De La Cerda as candidates for Congress in Iowa's third district. Right now my best guess is that State Senator Matt McCoy will throw his hat in. He was planning to run for Congress in IA-03 way back in 2001, but he stood aside when Representative Leonard Boswell decided to move to Des Moines. McCoy has said previously (and confirmed again this week) that he would consider running for an open Congressional seat. He could raise substantial money as the chair of the Iowa Senate Commerce Committee and is well-known in the LGBT community as our state's first out gay legislator. One complicating factor for McCoy: he is up for re-election next year in Iowa Senate district 21, covering parts of Des Moines and West Des Moines. He would have to give up his Senate seat in order to take a chance on IA-03.

Several other prominent Democrats contacted by the Des Moines Register indicated directly or through associates that they are thinking about this race, but I just don't see former Governor Chet Culver, Polk County Democratic Party Chair Tom Henderson, former Des Moines City Council member Michael Kiernan or Dr. Andy McGuire following through.  

Any new Democrat who enters this primary will be playing catch-up. As of September 30, Appel's campaign had nearly $200,000 cash on hand. Perhaps more important, her campaign sent out a press release on December 18 highlighting more than a dozen groups that are standing by their endorsements of her candidacy. I've posted that release after the jump. The loyal Appel endorsers include several labor unions, Planned Parenthood Voters of Iowa, EMILY's List, and the LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign.

Democrats who have ruled out a candidacy in IA-03 include Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, State Senator Janet Petersen, and Boswell's 2008 Democratic primary challenger Ed Fallon. The Des Moines Register's Jennifer Jacobs mentioned Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie and both Tom and Christie Vilsack as possible candidates, but I would be shocked if any of them ran for Congress next year.  

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IA-03: Primary challenger for Latham, more endorsements for Appel

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 14:59:01 PM CST

For the first time, ten-term incumbent Tom Latham will face a GOP primary challenger when he seeks re-election to Congress. Des Moines-based teacher and business owner Joe Grandanette announced late last month that he is running for Congress because "The citizens of Iowa's Third Congressional District need someone who will represent them and not Washington, D.C. Republicans." Grandanette's on Facebook here, and I've posted more of his case against Latham after the jump. In 2004, Grandanette unsuccessfully challenged State Representative Jo Oldson in a Democratic-leaning Iowa House district on the west side of Des Moines.

I can't see Grandanette posing a serious threat to Latham, who has huge financial resources and the full backing of the National Republican Congressional Committee. Despite casting the occasional "establishment" vote, House Speaker John Boehner's close friend has mostly escaped criticism from strident Iowa conservatives such as radio host Steve Deace. But the challenge from the right could prompt Latham to spend some of his war chest before next June's primary.

Meanwhile, Democratic-aligned interest groups continue to line up behind former State Senator Staci Appel, the likely nominee to face Latham next year. On Monday, the LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign gave Appel its formal support. Today the Appel campaign announced an endorsement from the Iowa Electrical Workers State Conference, representing sixteen International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers locals statewide and six locals in IA-03. Seven other labor unions had previously endorsed Appel: AFSCME Council 61, the Iowa State Council of the UFCW Communications Workers of America, the Great Plains Laborers District Council, the Mailhandlers Local 333, the Teamsters Local 91, and the Central Iowa Building and Construction Trades Council. Appel's rival in the Democratic primary to represent IA-03, first-time candidate Gabriel De La Cerda, has a strong labor background but less political experience.

After Grandanette's comments below, I've posted more details on the IBEW and Human Rights Campaign endorsements. Incidentally, while Appel served in the Iowa Senate, her husband Brent Appel was one of the seven Iowa Supreme Court justices who struck down the state's Defense of Marriage Act in 2009.

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Mid-week open thread, with good news from Illinois

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Nov 20, 2013 at 21:11:08 PM CST

Sitting at Abraham Lincoln's desk, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed a marriage equality bill into law today. That makes 15 states plus Washington, DC where couples can marry regardless of sexual orientation. In the order where same-sex marriage was legalized, either by courts, legislation, or referendum: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, the District of Columbia, New York, Washington, Maine, Maryland, California, Rhode Island, Delaware, Minnesota, New Jersey, Hawaii, and Illinois.

More good news out of our neighbor to the east:

Chad Pregracke, an Illinois man who has dedicated his life to cleaning the Mississippi River and other U.S. waterways, was named the 2013 CNN Hero of the Year on Tuesday night.

Pregracke organizes community cleanups across the country through his nonprofit, Living Lands & Waters. About 70,000 volunteers have pitched in, helping Pregracke collect more than 7 million pounds of trash in the past 15 years.

Pregracke has inspired many Iowans involved in river restoration and water quality work. He grew up in East Moline, just over the Mississippi.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

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Harkin yes, Grassley no as Senate approves ENDA

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Nov 07, 2013 at 16:10:00 PM CST

Ten Republicans joined all the Democrats present as the U.S. Senate approved the Employment Non-Discrimination Act by 64 votes to 32 (roll call). Ramsey Cox reported for The Hill,

Under the bill, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission would enforce the new workplace rules. Small businesses with fewer than 15 employees would be exempt.

The legislation also contains language that exempts religious organizations.

The Senate on Thursday adopted an amendment from [Republican Rob] Portman that would prevent government retaliation against religious organizations that don't hire someone because of sexual orientation or identity.

But Democrats rejected an amendment from [Republican Pat] Toomey that would have extended the religious exemption to any employer that is partially owned or funded by a religion or has religious affiliations - including universities.

Both Portman and Toomey voted for the bill. Iowa's Republican Senator Chuck Grassley voted against the cloture motion to end debate on ENDA as well as against the bill itself. I have not seen any statement from Grassley's office explaining why he opposes the bill. I will update this post if I see any new comment. House Speaker John Boehner has asserted that codifying workplace protections for LGBT Americans would generate "frivolous lawsuits" against businesses.

Iowa's Senator Tom Harkin chairs the committee that moved this bill over the summer and has been one of its staunchest advocates. At the Iowa Democratic Party's Jefferson-Jackson Dinner last Saturday, Senator Chuck Schumer hailed Harkin for allowing first-term Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley to be lead sponsor on the ENDA. Merkley is up for re-election in Oregon next year. After the jump I've posted Harkin's floor speech from Monday's session and a statement release after today's vote.  

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Fighting to End Discrimination: Demand Action on ENDA

by: PatMurphyforIowa

Wed Nov 06, 2013 at 09:39:14 AM CST

(Bleeding Heartland welcomes guest diaries by Democratic candidates. Here's a list of Iowa House members who voted for this bill in 2007. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

It may surprise many that in 2013, in some places in America, you can still be fired from your job simply because of who you are or who you love. But it's true. And because of dysfunction and backwards thinking in Washington, that injustice may continue.

On Monday, the U.S. Senate overcame a procedural hurdle and set up a crucial vote to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) later this week - 17 years after it was first introduced. In an era when the two parties agree on nothing, to have both Democrats and Republicans voting yes on ENDA in the Senate should send a message that we all agree it's time for this injustice to end. But incredibly, Speaker Boehner and the House Republicans vowed to continue the fight against what's right.

Five years ago, we passed a very similar law in Iowa, and it is time the rest of the country caught up. Believe me, I know the process can be messy, but I offer this look back on how we passed the civil rights expansion in 2007 as proof that our shared faith in the right to equality is a powerful thing, and the fight is worth it.

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U.S. Senate finally on verge of approving ENDA (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Nov 04, 2013 at 12:35:00 PM CST

Senator Tom Harkin promised Iowa Democrats Saturday night that the U.S. Senate would soon approve the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) to protect the workplace rights of LGBT Americans. Today a fifth Republican senator indicated that he will vote for the ENDA. Those five plus the 55 members of the Democratic caucus (including newly sworn-in Cory Booker of New Jersey) will give supporters the 60 votes needed to break the inevitable Republican filibuster. President Barack Obama has called on Congress to pass the law.

Passing ENDA was a priority for Senator Ted Kennedy, the longtime chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pension committee Harkin now leads. In 1996, an earlier version of this legislation fell just short of passage on the Senate floor. Harkin voted yes, while Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley voted no. In recent years, most Congressional Democrats have supported a version of ENDA that protects transgender employees as well as gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. Such a bill passed the U.S. House in 2007 but died in the Senate.

More details on the current bill's provisions are after the jump. House Speaker John Boehner opposes ENDA and would be unlikely to put it to a vote in the lower chamber.

UPDATE: On Monday night the Senate approved a motion to proceed with debating the bill by 61 votes to 30 (roll call). Grassley was one of the 30 Republicans who attempted to filibuster. After the jump I've posted a video of Harkin's floor statement supporting ENDA, which he called "another step in the direction of opening America up and making our society more inclusive rather than exclusive."

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Report details spending on 2012 Iowa judicial retention election

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Oct 25, 2013 at 06:55:00 AM CDT

Via Radio Iowa I saw that a report just came out about spending in judicial elections across the country in 2011 and 2012. Researchers from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, the National Institute on Money in State Politics, and the nonpartisan group Justice at Stake collaborated on the report, which you can download here (pdf). Excerpt:

Spending in the Iowa Supreme Court retention election totaled more than $833,000 in 2012, down from the $1.4 million spent in 2010 but still substantial in a state with no recorded spending on high court races during the previous decade. Anti-retention groups spent $466,000 on the 2012 election, including $318,000 by Iowans For Freedom and $148,000 by the National Organization for Marriage. Both groups ran television ads. Pro-retention groups spent $367,000, including $320,000 by Justice Not Politics, $37,000 by the Iowa State Bar and roughly $5,000 each by Progress Iowa and the Human Rights Campaign.

Major donors to Iowans for Freedom (a campaign group fronted by Bob Vander Plaats) included "CitizenLink, Patriot Voices, The Family Leader, the National Organization for Marriage, and CatholicVote." Of the $466,000 spent on the "No Wiggins" campaign, an estimated $163,600 went toward broadcasting two television commercials. Bleeding Heartland posted videos and transcripts of those ads here and here.

Justice David Wiggins didn't create a campaign fund or raise money directly. The largest donor to Justice Not Politics Action was the LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, which gave $135,000. That's more than a third of the total funds spent campaigning for retention.

Iowa voters retained Wiggins by a margin of 680,284 votes to 567,024 (about 54.5 percent to 45.5 percent). Whereas just ten counties had voted to retain the three Iowa Supreme Court justices up for retention in 2010, 36 counties voted yes on Wiggins in 2012.

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IA-01: Two celebrity endorsements for Anesa Kajtazovic

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Oct 23, 2013 at 13:25:00 PM CDT

During the past ten days, two people who are well-known to Iowa Democrats have endorsed Anesa Kajtazovic for Congress: Tim Dwight and Zach Wahls. A former Iowa Hawkeyes star and successful professional football player, Dwight now runs the solar energy company iPowerCorp and is president of the Iowa Solar/Small Wind Energy Trade Association. In recent years he has lobbied state legislators to help make Iowa a leader in "distributed generation, which is solar, small wind and also solar thermal." Distributed generation holds many economic benefits beyond what Iowa gains through large wind farms.

Since her first election to the Iowa House in 2010, Kajtazovic has recognized the huge potential for solar energy in Iowa. She has supported several bills to promote solar power, including new state tax credits enacted in 2012. That law reduced the payback time for small solar power systems installed in Iowa homes and businesses. Dwight described her as "a true champion for solar." After the jump I've posted the press releases announcing support from Dwight and Wahls and a video of Kajtazovic discussing her work on solar power.

Wahls gained national fame as an advocate for marriage equality when a video of his comments to an Iowa House hearing went viral in 2011. He was a speaker at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. John Deeth was to my knowledge the first to report that Wahls was supporting Kajtazovic for Congress. On Monday, her campaign confirmed that endorsement.

Underscoring the candidate's appeal to a younger generation, Dwight spoke of Kajtazovic's "fresh ideas," while Wahls said "it's time for fresh, new voices" in Washington. Kajtazovic is the only candidate under age 50 in the five-way Democratic primary to represent IA-01. In the press release announcing Wahls' support, she condemned former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum's views on equality for LGBT couples. Santorum recently endorsed State Representative Walt Rogers, a Republican candidate in IA-01. Whatever other issues may divide Democratic voters in this district, you can bet that all of them dislike Santorum's politics.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

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