Linda Upmeyer will be first woman Iowa House speaker; Chris Hagenow to be majority leader

Iowa House Republicans chose Linda Upmeyer to replace Kraig Paulsen as House speaker today. First elected to the legislature in 2002, Upmeyer has served as majority leader since 2011. House leaders did not release details on today’s vote. State Representative Josh Byrnes was the only other candidate to seek the speaker’s post, despite rumors that one or more other Republicans were sounding out colleagues about the race. All credit to Byrnes for putting himself out there against the party establishment favorite. That takes guts.

O.Kay Henderson posted highlights from Upmeyer’s remarks to reporters today, as well as the audio clip. Not known for showing a lot of emotions in public, Upmeyer’s voice broke as she talked about her late father, Del Stromer, who served as House speaker during the 1980s. She doesn’t sound inclined to change much about how Paulsen was running the lower chamber, but joked, “I use more words than Speaker Paulsen, and I will try to curb that temptation going forward.”

Chris Hagenow will move up from majority whip to replace Upmeyer as majority leader, and Joel Fry will move from an assistant majority leader position to majority whip. Matt Windschitl will continue to serve as House speaker pro-tem. Hagenow told reporters that no one else sought the majority leader post. Bobby Kaufmann ran for majority whip.

Henderson quoted Byrnes as saying,

“I feel like I’m in that movie, Groundhog Day….It’s the same leadership in the House, the same leadership in the Senate. It’s the same governor and the parameters just feel like they’re just set and we can’t move from them. We need new ideas. We need new energy, we need to be able to accept other people’s concepts and infuse those in and I hope that, you know, she can do that.”

According to Byrnes, rank-and-file legislators are upset with missed deadlines, as the legislature has failed to set state school aid levels on time and met for weeks past its scheduled adjournment date. Byrnes also said Iowans are soured by the hyper-partisanship they see from statehouse politicians. […]

Upmeyer told reporters she’ll address the concerns Brynes raised.

“We never should be comfortable with where we’re at,” Upmeyer said. “We always should be striving for innovation and to do things smarter and better and so I absolutely applaud that.”

No need for a lot of innovation here, Madam Speaker: just accept reasonable compromises instead of refusing to budge from your initial negotiating position, and approve school funding bills on time, as happened for a decade and a half before Iowa House Republicans decided to stop following state law a few years back.

After the jump I’ve enclosed official comments on the House leadership election from the Republican Party of Iowa and House Minority Leader Mark Smith, as well as a Facebook status update Byrnes posted after today’s vote.

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Where are they now? Mariannette Miller-Meeks edition

GOP county leaders in the second Congressional district elected Dr. Mariannette Miller-Meeks to the Republican Party of Iowa’s State Central Committee on August 1, the Iowa GOP announced in a press release. An Army veteran and ophthalmologist, Miller-Meeks was the Republican challenger to Representative Dave Loebsack in IA-02 three times: in 2008, 2010, and 2014. She also served as director of the Iowa Department of Public Health in Governor Terry Branstad’s administration from January 2011 to January 2014, when she stepped down in preparation for her third Congressional campaign. She currently lives in Ottumwa.

Although Miller-Meeks was not able to unseat Loebsack, she left a lasting mark on Iowa politics in at least one way. I am convinced that her coattails in the Ottumwa area pulled Mark Chelgren over the line in his 2010 Iowa Senate race against Democratic incumbent Keith Kreiman. Chelgren won that election by ten votes in a district considered so heavily Democratic that neither party spent any serious money there. Don’t get me started on how Chelgren managed to win re-election last November. Democrats should have been able to get Iowa Senate district 41 back. Chelgren may be the GOP nominee against Loebsack in IA-02 next year.

The Iowa GOP just opened a field office in Ottumwa, signaling that Republicans view that part of southeast Iowa as fertile ground. Thanks in part to a strong history of organized labor at area factories, Ottumwa has traditionally supported Democratic candidates. In fact, Wapello County was one of just five Iowa counties to vote for John F. Kennedy in the 1960 presidential election as well as one of just four counties to vote for Bonnie Campbell in her 1994 gubernatorial race against Terry Branstad.

Three silver linings from Iowa's 2014 elections

November 4 was a devastating day for Iowa Democrats, but let’s look on the bright side for a moment.

1. Democrats held the Iowa Senate majority.

Since 2011, the Iowa Senate has kept us off the disastrous path followed by Kansas, Wisconsin, Ohio, and other states where Republicans control the trifecta. I’m disappointed that with a favorable map, Democrats weren’t able to expand their Iowa Senate contingent to 27 or 28. State Senator Daryl Beall was one of the good ones and will be missed by many. But a wave like that could have done a lot more damage.

For at least two more years, the Iowa Senate will continue to be a firewall against all kinds of horrible legislation that Iowa House Republicans will pass and Governor Terry Branstad would sign.

2. Iowa is no longer in a club with Mississippi.

All week, I’ve been reflecting on the many thoughtful and capable women who have been involved in Iowa politics during my lifetime. Not only Democrats, but also Republicans from Mary Louise Smith to Joy Corning to Mary Lundby and most recently, Mariannette Miller-Meeks. These women cared about public policy and ran for office to get things done. They weren’t recruited by strategists who thought they would be a marketable package. For this place in history to go to someone as ignorant and stage-managed as Joni Ernst feels very wrong.

That said, at least my children will not grow up believing that Iowans are too narrow-minded to elect a woman to Congress.

3. The Iowa Supreme Court is more likely to expand voting rights for thousands of non-violent ex-felons.

I had hoped Staci Appel would become Iowa’s first woman in Congress, but this wasn’t the year to be running against a guy who projects as a generic Republican.

The good news is that Iowa Supreme Court Justice Brent Appel will almost certainly be able to hear a lawsuit expected to be filed soon, which would challenge Iowa’s current law on voting rights. In April, a divided Iowa Supreme Court allowed Tony Bisignano to appear on the ballot despite a aggravated misdemeanor conviction. Three of the seven justices indicated that they were prepared to strike down a 1994 law defining all felonies as “infamous crimes,” which under the Iowa Constitution lead to the loss of a citizen’s voting rights. Three other justices disagreed with that opinion for various reasons and would uphold current law.

Justice Appel recused himself from the Bisignano case, but in other non-unanimous rulings he has usually joined the justices who believe not all felonies should disqualify Iowans from voting (Chief Justice Mark Cady and Justices Daryl Hecht and Bruce Zager).

Iowa Supreme Court justices tend to err on the side of recusing themselves, rather than hearing cases where there could be any appearance of a conflict of interest. Had Staci Appel won on Tuesday, I suspect Brent Appel would not have weighed in on any case affecting who might be able to vote to re-elect his wife. His participation could make the difference between a 3-3 split and a 4-3 majority ruling rendering the legislative definition of an “infamous crime” as unconstitutional. Thousands of Iowans with non-violent felony convictions might then be able to vote, as felons can do in most other states upon completion of their sentences.

UPDATE: When I wrote this post, I didn’t know the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa was planning to file a lawsuit today challenging Iowa’s restriction on felon voting rights. The ACLU of Iowa is acting on behalf of Kelli Jo Griffin, who was tried and acquitted for voter fraud earlier this year. After the jump I’ve enclosed the announcement, with more background and detail on the lawsuit.  

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Latest Iowa absentee ballot numbers (as of November 3)

We won’t know the final early voting numbers until the Iowa elections are certified a few weeks from now, but after the jump I’ve posted absentee ballot figures based on the final daily update from the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office. Click here for previous tables going back to September 22.

As of yesterday, more than 455,000 Iowans had already returned early ballots to county auditors, a huge increase on total early voting in the 2010 midterm election. Registered Democrats have returned about 8,000 more ballots statewide than Republicans have. If Democrats identified and mobilized more independents to vote early (as happened in 2012), Bruce Braley could go into election day tens of thousands of votes ahead of Joni Ernst. Iowa Republicans typically perform better on election day than Democrats; how much better is open for debate, since the GOP encouraged many more people to vote early this year who previously voted on election day.

Statewide, about 33,000 Democrats, 19,000 Republicans, and 23,000 no-party voters had requested absentee ballots that county auditors had not received as of yesterday. Not every unreturned ballot represents an Iowan who will not vote. Some people mailed ballots that hadn’t reached county auditors by yesterday, but those will still count if they either arrive today or arrive before next Monday with a postmark on or before November 3. Other people will hand-deliver ballots to the county auditors today; those will be counted as long as they arrive by 9 pm.

While canvassing the last few days, I’ve met a bunch of people who plan to “surrender” their absentee ballots at the regular polling place today, then vote with a regular ballot.  

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Latest Iowa absentee ballot numbers (as of November 2)

More than 430,000 Iowans have already returned absentee ballots to county auditors, but nearly 90,000 absentee ballots requested statewide are still outstanding. If you have not yet returned your absentee ballot, either "surrender" it tomorrow at the polling place (and receive a new ballot to vote like everyone else on election day), or hand-deliver a completed ballot to your county auditor’s office today or tomorrow by 9 pm.

Today is the last day for in-person early voting: all 99 county auditors’ offices are open until 5 pm.

I’ve enclosed below the latest data on absentee ballots requested and returned statewide and in each of Iowa’s four Congressional districts. All figures come from the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office. Click here for previous tables going back to September 22.

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