Iowa Senate district 26 preview: Mary Jo Wilhelm vs. Waylon Brown

After several months of recruiting efforts, Republicans finally have a candidate willing to run against two-term State Senator Mary Jo Wilhelm in Iowa Senate district 26. This race is among a half-dozen or so contests that will determine control of the upper chamber after the 2016 elections. Since Iowans elected Governor Terry Branstad and a GOP-controlled state House in 2010, the 26 to 24 Democratic majority in the state Senate has spared Iowa from various disastrous policies adopted in states like Kansas, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Of the senators who make up that one-seat majority caucus, Wilhelm was re-elected by the narrowest margin: 126 votes out of nearly 31,000 cast in 2012.

I enclose below a map of Senate district 26, a review of its voter registration numbers and recent voting history, and background on Wilhelm and challenger Waylon Brown. Cautionary note: although Brown is the establishment’s pick here, he is not guaranteed to win the nomination. "Tea party" candidates won some upset victories in the 2012 Iowa Senate Republican primaries, notably Jane Jech against former State Senator Larry McKibben in Senate district 36 and Dennis Guth against former State Senator James Black in Senate district 4.

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Throwback Thursday: When Steve King said counties denying marriage licenses was "no solution"

I suppose it was inevitable that Representative Steve King would insert himself into the national debate over a Kentucky county clerk using her religious beliefs as an excuse not to do her job. King’s immediate reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality was to urge states to "just abolish civil marriage, let’s go back to holy matrimony the way it began." A couple of weeks later, he introduced a Congressional resolution saying states "may refuse to be bound by the holding in Obergefell v. Hodges" and "are not required to license same-sex marriage or recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states."

This past weekend, King lit up Twitter by saying of the Rowan County clerk who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses,

In 1963, we should not have honored SCOTUS decision to creat a wall of separation between prayer & school. Kim Davis for Rosa Parks Award.

On Tuesday, King doubled down in an interview with KSCJ radio in Sioux City: “Cheers for [Mike] Huckabee and [Ted] Cruz, whoever else has stepped up to defend Kim Davis. I think she deserves the Rosa Parks Award.”

Would you believe there was a time when King said calling for county officials to refuse to abide by a Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality was “no solution” in the battle to “protect marriage”?

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GOP State Representative Josh Byrnes will not run for Iowa Senate district 26

Republican State Representative Josh Byrnes will not run against Democratic State Senator Mary Jo Wilhelm in Iowa Senate district 26 next year. The Iowa House Transportation Committee chair has thrown his hat in the ring to replace Kraig Paulsen as House speaker. Regardless of how the speaker contest goes, Byrnes confirmed to Bleeding Heartland, "I am not running for Senate."

The news will lift Democratic spirits, as Byrnes would have been the obvious GOP recruit for this competitive Senate district. Democrats hold a 26 to 24 majority in the upper chamber, and Republicans will almost certainly target Wilhelm next year.

First elected to the upper chamber in 2008, the former Howard County supervisor was the Iowa Senate incumbent re-elected by the narrowest margin in 2012. Redistricting pitted Wilhelm against GOP State Senator Merlin “Build my fence” Bartz, whom she defeated by just 126 votes in a district where Barack Obama carried 55.6 percent of the vote.

Meanwhile, Byrnes was re-elected to the Iowa House by more than 4,000 votes in 2012, even as Obama carried 55.2 percent of the vote in House district 51. Only two other Republican-held House seats went to Obama by a larger margin: House district 91 (Muscatine area) and House district 58 (Maquoketa). Byrnes easily won re-election in 2014 as well. He disagrees with his more conservative House colleagues on some high-profile issues, giving him potentially strong crossover appeal.

I haven’t heard of any other Republicans taking a close look at Senate district 26. I encourage Bleeding Heartland readers who know differently to contact me. Since December 2012, Bartz has run Representative Steve King’s district office in Mason City. I will be surprised if he runs for the Iowa Senate again.

Senate district 26 includes all of Worth, Mitchell, Floyd, Howard and Chickasaw counties, part of Cerro Gordo County (but not Mason City or Clear Lake) and part of Winneshiek County (but not Decorah). A detailed map is after the jump. According to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, Senate district 26 contains 11,202 active registered Democrats, 11,101 Republicans, and 16,899 no-party voters.

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Three cheers for Iowa's county recorders

Less than a month after the U.S. Supreme Court majority struck down state-level bans on same-sex marriages, at least two county clerks in Kentucky have refused to issue marriage licenses to LGBT couples, prompting a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky on behalf of four couples. One of the county clerks has decided to stop issuing marriage licenses to anyone in her county so that she can’t be forced to perform that service for LGBT citizens. How embarrassing. You want nothing to do with same-sex marriages? Go work for a church that doesn’t recognize them.

I’m so proud that to my knowledge, no county recorder in Iowa ever used his or her religious convictions as an excuse for not doing a secular job in a professional way.

Not for lack of trying by some social conservative activists, egged on by certain Iowa Republican lawmakers. Follow me after the jump for a walk down memory lane and a list of Iowa counties where LGBT couples have exercised their right to marry since 2009.

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Weekend open thread: New jobs for former Iowa lawmakers edition

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

Looking through Governor Terry Branstad’s latest set of appointments and nominations, I was again struck by how many former Iowa House and Senate members end up on state boards and commissions. I remember Governors Tom Vilsack and Chet Culver appointing lawmakers to high-profile jobs too, but the trend seems more pronounced under the current governor. Background and details on the new appointees are after the jump.

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Fewer Iowa Senate Republicans eager to ban same-sex marriage

Ever since I saw how few Iowa House Republicans are still co-sponsoring a state constitutional amendment on marriage, I’ve been watching and waiting for Republicans in the state Senate to introduce their version of the same legislation. Any effort to overturn marriage equality will be a dead letter in the Iowa Senate as long as Democrats maintain their majority. Nevertheless, I was curious to see how many (or few) Republican senators are still willing to stand up and be counted on this issue.

Late last week, State Senator Dennis Guth, one of the leading social conservatives in the chamber, finally introduced Senate Joint Resolution 6, “specifying marriage between one man and one woman as the only legal union that is valid or recognized in the state.” Just eleven of the 24 Republicans are co-sponsoring this amendment. That’s a significant drop from two years ago, when three-quarters of the Iowa Senate GOP caucus co-sponsored the marriage amendment.

Looking more closely at who is and is not “loud and proud” about taking rights away from LGBT couples, some patterns emerge.

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