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Prospects for increasing diversity in the Iowa legislature

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jun 10, 2014 at 08:10:18 AM CDT

Forty men and ten women currently serve in the Iowa Senate. No senators are African-American, Latino, or Asian-American.

Seventy-five men and 25 women currently serve in the Iowa House. Five state representatives are African-American and none are Latino or Asian-American.

Time for a look at how those numbers might change after the November election, now that primaries have determined the major-party nominees in all state legislative districts. Click here for the June 3 unofficial election results and here for the full list of candidates who filed to run in the primaries.

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Highlights from this year's Iowa Senate votes on Branstad nominees

by: desmoinesdem

Thu May 08, 2014 at 07:38:29 AM CDT

During the 2014 legislative session, the Iowa Senate confirmed all but a handful of Governor Terry Branstad's more than 200 nominees for state boards and commissions. It's not unusual for senators to vote down one or two appointees, but this year the Senate confirmed everyone who came up for a vote on the floor.

The only close call was former Iowa House Republican Nick Wagner, confirmed to the Iowa Utilities Board last month with just one vote to spare. Branstad originally named Wagner to the three-member utilities board in 2013 but pulled his nomination when it became clear that senators would not confirm him. Branstad named Wagner to that board anyway, right after the Senate adjourned for the year in 2013. By the time his nomination came up for consideration this year, a couple of factors that worked against him were no longer relevant. Former State Senator Swati Dandekar had resigned from the board to run for Congress, so there would no longer be two of three members from Marion (a Cedar Rapids suburb). Furthermore, Branstad named attorney Sheila Tipton to replace Dandekar, so senators could no longer object to the lack of a lawyer on the Iowa Utilities Board.

Still, most of the Democratic caucus opposed Wagner's nomination. State Senator Rob Hogg cited the nominee's support for a bad nuclear power bill that the legislature considered a few years back. Meanwhile, State Senator Matt McCoy (who incidentally wanted to pass the nuclear bill) noted that as a key Iowa House Republican on budget matters, Wagner "was not willing to listen" and "took very difficult and very hard-line positions." After the jump I've posted the roll call on the Wagner nomination; 11 Democrats joined all 24 Republicans to confirm him.

As in recent years, the governor withdrew a handful of nominees who were not likely to gain at least 34 votes (a two-thirds majority) in the upper chamber. A few nominees for low-profile boards had to go because of party imbalance issues. Chet Hollingshead, one of seven Branstad appointees to the Mental Health and Disability Services Commission, never came up for a vote, presumably because of a theft incident Bleeding Heartland user Iowa_native described here.

I am not sure why Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal informed Branstad that Jason Carlstrom was unlikely to be confirmed as chair of the Iowa Board of Parole. The governor first appointed Carlstrom to that position in the summer of 2012, to fill out the remainder of someone else's term. The Iowa Senate unanimously confirmed him during the 2013 legislative session. When Branstad reappointed Carlstrom to the parole board this year, I didn't expect him to run into any trouble. I will update this post if I learn more details.

The highest-profile nominee withdrawn by Branstad was former Iowa House Republican Jamie Van Fossen, whom the governor wanted to chair the Public Employment Relations Board. Cityview's Civic Skinny described the backstory well; I've posted excerpts after the jump. Van Fossen still serves on that board, having been confirmed to a full term in 2012. But the new chair will be Mike Cormack, a Republican who served four terms in the Iowa House and later worked for the State Department of Education. Senators unanimously confirmed Cormack last month. The outgoing Public Employment Relations Board chair, Jim Riordan, has alleged that the board faced political pressure from Branstad staffers to hire an employer-friendly administrative law judge.

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Last-minute Iowa legislative scramble is nothing to brag about

by: desmoinesdem

Fri May 24, 2013 at 12:30:00 PM CDT

The Iowa Senate wrapped up its work for the year shortly after midnight on May 23, and Iowa House members adjourned about 11 hours later. Lawmakers in both parties have been congratulating themselves for compromising on some big issues that ended in stalemate the previous two years. Rod Boshart compiled an excellent list of what the legislature did and didn't approve during 2013.

We all can appreciate the desire to finish a big project before a holiday weekend, and since legislators stopped receiving per diem payments weeks ago, they understandably wanted to get out of town as quickly as possible. However, I found it disturbing that votes were held before most lawmakers, let alone members of the public, had time to digest final conference committee deals on education reform, an alternative to Medicaid expansion, property taxes, and the health and human services budget. Transparency isn't just a buzzword. Had journalists and advocacy groups been able to look over the last-minute compromises, people might have discovered problematic language or even simple drafting errors, which could produce unintended consequences after Governor Terry Branstad signs these bills into law.

I have a lot of questions about the final education reform bill and the plan to provide health insurance to low-income Iowans, particularly those earning between 101 percent and 138 percent of the poverty level. I also need more time to sort through the budget numbers and final changes to the standings bill. After the holiday weekend Bleeding Heartland will examine the important results of the legislative session in more detail. For now, I've posted after the jump details on who voted for and against the major bills approved this week.

UPDATE: In the May 24 edition of the On Iowa Politics podcast, statehouse reporters Mike Wiser and James Lynch discussed how the big issues came together "behind closed doors," with no public scrutiny or oversight. Lynch commented that to his knowledge, the conference committee named to resolve the impasse over Medicaid expansion never formally met, except perhaps for one organizational meeting. Lynch recounted one occasion when Iowa House Republican Dave Heaton was briefing journalists about the health care talks, and the journalists asked when that happened, since there hadn't been any public notices of conference committee meetings. According to Lynch, Heaton replied, "We're not having meetings, but we're meeting." Senate President Pam Jochum said that negotiations between Democratic State Senator Amanda Ragan and House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer produced the "key to Iowa's health care compromise." Notably, Upmeyer didn't have a prominent role in passing the House health insurance plan, nor was she named to the conference committee assigned to merge the House and Senate proposals.

Speaking to journalists on May 22, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and Jochum weren't able to answer a specific question about compromise wording reached regarding Medicaid coverage of abortions. That was no minor issue--it was the last sticking point holding up approval of the health and human services budget. In effect, Gronstal told journalists, you can see the wording after the final bill is published.

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Another Iowa legislative victory for Big Ag

by: desmoinesdem

Wed May 08, 2013 at 09:49:00 AM CDT

Factory farm advocates failed in 2009 to circumvent the Iowa DNR's rulemaking on applying manure over frozen and snow-covered ground. Then they failed in 2010 to win passage of a bill designed to weaken Iowa's newly-adopted regulations on manure storage and application.

But this year, the Iowa Pork Producers Association succeeded in convincing state lawmakers to relax requirements for CAFO operators to be able to store their own manure properly. All they had to do was dress up their effort as an attempt to help families with aspiring young farmers.

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Iowa Medicaid expansion news roundup (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Apr 11, 2013 at 15:35:00 PM CDT

Last week Governor Terry Branstad finally introduced legislation to enact his Healthy Iowa Plan instead of the Medicaid expansion foreseen under the 2010 federal health insurance reform law. Strangely, neither the governor's office nor the Iowa House Republican caucus held a news conference or even posted a press release about House Study Bill 232. The bill arrived at the statehouse on Thursday, April 4, after many legislators had left for the weekend.

So far House and Senate Republicans appear united behind Branstad's approach, while the governor's office strives to counter the obvious case against his plan (costs more, covers less). I've posted arguments for both sides and other news links after the jump.

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Ghost of past vetoes haunts Iowa education reform negotiations

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Apr 10, 2013 at 06:50:00 AM CDT

Governor Terry Branstad has invested a lot of political capital in education reform. His staff organized a large conference on the topic in 2011, featuring U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and other nationally-recognized speakers. Later that year, the governor rolled out an ambitious blueprint for education reform, which was a focus of his "Condition of the State" speeches to state lawmakers in 2012 and 2013. Branstad wants something bigger and better than the narrowly-focused education reform deal approved last spring. To encourage legislators to work harder on this issue, the governor has even held up K-12 school funding decisions that should have been made a year ago under Iowa law.

Iowa House and Senate members are now negotiating over education reform bills approved in each chamber on party lines. But Branstad's past use of his line-item power is standing in the way of broad legislation.  

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IA-Sen: Most Democratic state legislators endorse Braley

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Apr 03, 2013 at 10:10:00 AM CDT

Representative Bruce Braley's campaign for U.S. Senate rolled out its largest batch of endorsements today: 71 state legislators. All 26 Iowa Senate Democrats plus 45 of the 47 Iowa House Democrats are named in the press release I've posted after the jump. For some reason, Iowa House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and former Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy are not in this group. Murphy is running for the first Congressional district seat Braley is vacating.

Earlier this week, Braley's campaign announced that it raised more than $1 million during the first quarter. That is a solid number, and I'll be interested to see how the numbers break own (contributions from individuals vs PACs, for instance). Bleeding Heartland will publish a detailed roundup of Iowa Congressional fundraising after all the candidates have filed their reports with the Federal Election Commission. Those reports are due April 15.

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Iowa Senate approves Medicaid expansion along party lines

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Mar 26, 2013 at 12:55:00 PM CDT

Last night the Iowa Senate approved Senate File 296, a bill to expand Medicaid, on a strictly party-line vote of 26 to 23. You can listen to the entire Senate debate (approximately 90 minutes) at Radio Iowa. I've posted highlights from the debate after the jump, along with the full list of 52 organizations that have registered their support for Senate File 296. Some corporations and organizations have have registered their lobbyists as undecided on Senate File 296, but at this writing, not a single organization is registered against the Medicaid expansion.
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Will Branstad's "Healthy Iowa Plan" fly? (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Mar 04, 2013 at 11:57:00 AM CST

Governor Terry Branstad announced his administration's alternative to Medicaid expansion this morning at his regular weekly press conference. The "Healthy Iowa Plan" would cover approximately 89,000 Iowans with income below the federal poverty level. In contrast, Medicaid expansion would cover up to 150,000 Iowans with income below 133 percent of the poverty level.

Details on the new plan are after the jump. Early reaction from Senate President Pam Jochum suggests that the Iowa Senate will not be inclined to approve this proposal. I also question whether the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will grant a waiver for Branstad's plan. Federal officials have already denied requests from Branstad and other governors to allow a smaller Medicaid expansion than what the 2010 health care reform law provides.  

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Who's who in the Iowa Senate for 2013

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jan 14, 2013 at 13:18:54 PM CST

The Iowa legislature's 2013 session opened today. After the jump I've posted details on the Iowa Senate majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing Senate committees. Where relevant, I've noted changes since last year. Click here for a similar post on the new Iowa House.

Democrats hold a 26 to 24 majority in the upper chamber. The huge experience gap between the Iowa Senate caucuses is striking. Only seven of the 24 Republicans have served as lawmakers in either the House or Senate for more than four years, whereas 19 of the 26 Democrats have more than four years of legislative service. Click here for details on the tenure of all 50 Iowa senators.

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Iowa Senate Democrats announce committee chairs

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Dec 13, 2012 at 10:20:00 AM CST

One day after a special election confirmed there will be 26 Democrats and 24 Republicans in the Iowa Senate next year, Senate Democrats released updated committee assignments. After the jump I've posted the full list of committee chairs as well as the leadership team chosen a few weeks ago. Most committees have the same leaders as in 2012, but where relevant I've noted changes.
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Huge experience gap between Iowa Senate Democrats and Republicans

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Nov 26, 2012 at 06:55:00 AM CST

Democrats will hold a slim majority in the next Iowa Senate: most likely 26-24 or 27-23, depending on the outcome of one recount and one special election in December. But the experience gap between the two parties' caucuses is wider than I've ever seen, and perhaps unprecedented.

Only five Republicans who will serve in the next Iowa Senate have more than four years experience in the legislature's upper chamber. Most of the old hands aren't on the GOP leadership team. By comparison, eighteen Senate Democrats have held that office for more than four years. Thirteen of those have served in the upper chamber for at least a decade.

Many newcomers to the Iowa Senate have helped oversee public-sector budgets and programs as county supervisors, mayors, or members of city councils and school boards. Nevertheless, new legislators have a steep learning curve because state government is more complex than local government, and Iowa House and Senate members consider a wider range of issues during a typical legislative session. Whereas eleven Senate Democrats previously served in the Iowa House, only three sitting Republicans came to the Senate with that background. If the GOP had gained control of the upper chamber in this year's elections, they would have been forced to put quite a few rookies in charge of standing committees.

After the jump I've posted details on the tenure of all incoming Iowa Senate members, indicating members of each party's leadership team and past service in the Iowa House.

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New Iowa House and Senate will include more women

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Nov 08, 2012 at 11:12:41 AM CST

Americans elected record numbers of women to Congress on Tuesday. Beginning in January, 20 women will serve in the U.S. Senate, and 78 women will serve in the U.S. House. During the past two years, seventeen U.S. senators and 73 U.S. representatives were women.

Although Iowans continued our streak of not sending women to Congress, we did elect some new women to the state legislature, producing a slight gain in the total number of female lawmakers.  

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Where things stand in the Iowa Senate races

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 10:51:34 AM CST

Democrats are assured of maintaining their majority in the Iowa Senate, with one race headed for a recount and another to be decided in a December 11 special election.
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Huge day for marriage equality in Iowa

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 07:25:00 AM CST

Supporters of LGBT equality are celebrating yesterday's votes for same-sex marriage rights in Maine, Maryland, and Washington, as well as Minnesotans rejecting a constitutional amendment designed to restrict marriage rights to heterosexuals.

The election also slammed the door on any prospect of overturning marriage equality in Iowa.

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Democratic and Republican party spending in the Iowa Senate races

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Nov 05, 2012 at 19:16:09 PM CST

Candidates for the Iowa legislature were required to submit campaign finance disclosure reports on October 19 and November 2. The Schedule E forms on "In-Kind Contributions" contained the most interesting numbers, because they showed how Democratic and Republican party leaders are allocating resources across the battleground districts.

After the jump I've enclosed in-kind contribution figures for the Senate districts expected to be in play tomorrow. Candidates running in other Senate races did not report large in-kind contributions from their respective parties.

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Vander Plaats group on radio in two races, conspicuously absent in one

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Nov 03, 2012 at 16:15:00 PM CDT

Three-time candidate for Iowa governor Bob Vander Plaats has made news this fall primarily on the "No Wiggins" campaign trail. However, the social conservative group he runs is supporting some Republican Iowa Senate candidates as well.

Last week the FAMiLY Leader launched radio advertising campaigns in two competitive Senate races--but notably, not in the district where Vander Plaats' longtime right-hand man Matt Reisetter is running.  

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Iowa Senate ad watch: Water bottles (really)

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Oct 25, 2012 at 14:10:00 PM CDT

In a surprising turn of events, Republican challengers are putting an obscure vote on water bottles at the center of their attacks on Iowa Senate Democrats. Follow me after the jump for background on this year's equivalent to the non-existent "heated sidewalks" of 2010.
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Hello Dolly! The War on Women, Iowa Edition

by: 2laneIA

Mon Oct 15, 2012 at 08:41:14 AM CDT

(Great post. Iowa Senate District 26 is one of the tossup races that will determine control of the Senate for the next two years. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Merlin Bartz is an Iowa State Senator who carries around an unusual picture of his opponent, State Senator Mary Jo Wilhelm.  The photo is a life-size legless paper doll. At public events he sets his creepy companion in a chair next to him.  If Senator Wilhelm arrives at the event, she has to move it so she can sit down.
lakemillsforum-sm
What message do you think this sends to Iowans? To women? To Senator Wilhelm?

There is more below the fold.
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Weekend open thread: Iowa state legislative race edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Oct 14, 2012 at 07:00:00 AM CDT

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? A bunch of posts on Iowa House and Senate races are in the works for the next couple of weeks. Several Democratic candidates for the Iowa House have been targeted by push-polls similar to the one I received attacking Susan Judkins in House district 43. Direct mail pieces are resurrecting some of the dishonest Republican talking points of the 2010 campaign, including non-existent "heated sidewalks" allegedly funded with state money, fancy flowerpots and "bus service for lobbyists."

Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee strategists included three Iowa Senate races in the new list of 50 essential state legislative races around the country. Those are Senate district 26, where Democratic incumbent Mary Jo Wilhelm faces Republican incumbent Merlin "build my fence" Bartz, Senate district 46, pitting Republican incumbent Shawn "Go Home" Hamerlinck against challenger Chris Brase, and Senate district 49, an open seat pitting almost-elected 2010 GOP candidate Andrew Naeve against longtime teacher and planning and zoning commissioner Rita Hart on the Democratic side.

Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, who is working hard to preserve his 26-24 edge in the chamber, has chaired the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee since 2007. Republicans failed to recruit a strong candidate against Gronstal in the new Senate district 8, covering Council Bluffs and Carter Lake.

This is an open thread. If you've noticed any interesting direct mail, phone calls, radio or television commercials supporting or attacking Iowa House and Senate candidates, please post a comment here, put up your own diary, or send a message to desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com. Most of the candidates are not uploading their campaign advertising to YouTube. Remember not to hang up the phone when you get calls targeting your local state legislative candidates. Instead, take detailed notes if you can, and don't be afraid to ask the caller to repeat the questions.

UPDATE: Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak and Democratic Representative Dave Loebsack will be at today's Reichert Oktoberfest in Muscatine supporting state Senate Candidates Brase and Tom Courtney and state House Candidates John Dabeet and Sara Sedlacek.  

Discuss :: (6 Comments)
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