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No single issue is worth risking the Iowa Senate majority

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jun 16, 2015 at 08:22:02 AM CDT

Shortly before the end of this year's legislative session, former State Representative Ed Fallon announced "political action" to stop the proposed Bakken Oil Pipeline. He warned that if the Iowa House and Senate did not approve a bill to block the use of eminent domain for the project, he would organize and fundraise "to help defeat one or two Democratic Senators and one or two Republican Representatives" who oppose the bill.

On June 5, the Iowa House and Senate adjourned for the year without passing an eminent domain bill in either chamber. Last week Fallon confirmed that he is sticking to his goal of defeating one or two majority party members in both the House and Senate, adding that he had already raised $4,500 toward the cause.

All I can say is, count me out of that political crusade.

Come to think of it, I have a few more things to say on the subject.

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Democratic presidential candidates converging on Cedar Rapids, July 17

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jun 11, 2015 at 17:00:00 PM CDT

The Iowa Democratic Party's annual Hall of Fame dinner will draw a larger-than-usual crowd this year, thanks to confirmed appearances by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senator Bernie Sanders, former Governor Martin O'Malley, and former Senator Jim Webb. (I assume former Senator Lincoln Chaffee, who is also seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, will join the list of speakers as well.) Tickets for the event at the Cedar Rapids Convention Complex on Friday, July 17 are available here.

After the jump I've posted details on the seven Iowa Democrats who will be honored at the Hall of Fame event. No one deserves the "outstanding elected official" award more than Iowa Senate President Pam Jochum. Following Iowa statehouse politics closely can be a discouraging pastime, especially this year, but the highest-ranking Democratic woman to serve in the Iowa Senate always makes progressives feel well-represented. I can't think of a better candidate for governor in 2018.

Former State Representative and Cedar Rapids Mayor Kay Halloran will receive the Iowa Democratic Party's "outstanding supporter" award. Outside her home town, she is best known for having served as mayor during the devastating 2008 floods.

The "outstanding activist" award is going to Tri-County Democrats chair Kurt Meyer. He was the runner-up candidate to lead the Iowa Democratic Party in January. As I wrote at that time, Meyer has done tremendous organizing work in northern Iowa. His efforts contributed to Mitchell County being the whitest county in the U.S. to vote for Barack Obama (and Howard County the fifth-whitest to favor Obama over Mitt Romney), as well as to State Senator Mary Jo Wilhelm's narrow victory over Republican Senator Merlin "Build my fence" Bartz in 2012. Without Wilhelm, there's no Iowa Senate majority.  

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Iowa Senate confirms all but one Branstad appointee during 2015 session

by: desmoinesdem

Fri May 22, 2015 at 08:45:58 AM CDT

The Iowa legislature's 2015 session drags on amid unresolved conflict over various budget issues, especially K-12 school funding. But one aspect of the lawmakers' work is complete for this year. The Democratic-controlled Iowa Senate has confirmed all but one of Governor Terry Branstad's more than 200 nominees. The overwhelming majority of those votes were unanimous or nearly so.

In recent years, senators have voted against confirming one or two Branstad nominees. This year no nomination failed on the Iowa Senate floor, and only one department head was ever in real danger of not being confirmed to do his job: Department of Human Services Director Chuck Palmer.

Branstad has occasionally withdrawn nominees who didn't have support from the necessary two-thirds majority in the Iowa Senate. This year the governor didn't need to exercise that power, although he sidestepped a near-certain rejection by accepting Teresa Wahlert's resignation in January, rather than reappointing her to run Iowa Workforce Development. In addition, Iowa Law Enforcement Academy Director Arlen Ciechanowski recently announced plans to retire, tacitly acknowledging the votes weren't there to confirm him.

Follow me after the jump for background on the controversies surrounding Palmer and Ciechanowski and details on Palmer's confirmation vote--the closest call by far for any Branstad appointee this year.

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Disability rights advocates sound alarm about Iowa Medicaid privatization

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Apr 23, 2015 at 09:11:14 AM CDT

Iowans who advocate for people with disabilities have deep concerns about Governor Terry Branstad's plan to privatize Medicaid, shifting most recipients into managed care. Iowa Senate President Pam Jochum, who has been caregiver to a daughter with developmental disabilities, has been warning for weeks that the reorganization of Medicaid is too hasty and needs oversight from state lawmakers. Last week she discussed potential problems in more detail, citing the Kansas experience with Medicaid privatization as a cautionary tale. After the jump I've posted the transcript from that press conference. Supporting documents are available here on how managed care has affected Kansans with disabilities.

Meanwhile, Disability Rights Iowa Executive Director Jane Hudson shared her take on the "empty promises" in Branstad's plan for Medicaid. You can read the full text of her April 20 guest column for the Des Moines Register at the newspaper's website or at Disability Rights Iowa. I've enclosed a few passages after the jump, but you should click through to read the whole piece. Nearly 20 advocacy groups for Iowans with disabilities or mental health challenges signed on to Hudson's editorial; the full list is below.

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Term limits would be terrible for the Iowa legislature

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Apr 19, 2015 at 20:19:39 PM CDT

Annals of the absurd: Iowa's longest-serving state legislator, who sought a ninth Senate term last year at the age of 80, is now beating the drum for term limits.

What a terrible idea, especially for a state whose governor already takes an expansive view of his own powers.  

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Shorter Terry Branstad: It's good to be the king

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Apr 07, 2015 at 20:26:59 PM CDT

Governor Terry Branstad made a remarkable claim at his latest press conference: because "the people of Iowa elected me to reduce the size and cost of government," he has the authority to "make tough decisions" on closing state-run mental health facilities and reorganizing Medicaid services for more than half a million Iowans.

To justify his position, Branstad channeled President Harry Truman: "The buck stops with me." But his view of governance reminds me more of Mel Brooks in the movie "History of the World, Part 1": "It's good to be the king."

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Weekend open thread: Iowa marriage equality anniversary edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Apr 05, 2015 at 07:00:00 AM CDT

Happy Passover or Happy Easter to all who are celebrating this weekend. In past years Bleeding Heartland has posted links about those religious holidays. For today's open thread, I'm reflecting on the Iowa Supreme Court's Varnum v Brien ruling, announced on April 3, 2009.

Lambda Legal, which represented the Varnum plaintiffs, published a timeline of the case. The LGBT advocacy group filed the lawsuit in December 2005, banking on the Iowa Supreme Court's "extraordinary history" of independence and "civil rights leadership."

If Iowa lawmakers had approved a state constitutional amendment on marriage, the Varnum case might never have been filed (in anticipation of Iowans approving a ban on same-sex marriage, as voters had done in many other states). But during the 2004 legislative session, the marriage amendment failed by one vote in the upper chamber, thanks to the united Senate Democratic caucus, joined by GOP senators Maggie Tinsman, Don Redfern, Mary Lundby, and Doug Shull. All four Republican moderates had left the legislature by the time the Iowa Supreme Court ruled on Varnum. Redfern retired in 2004. Tinsman lost her 2006 primary to a social conservative challenger. Shull retired from the Senate in 2006 and unsuccessfully sought a seat in the state House that year. Lundby retired from the legislature in 2008 and passed away the following year.  

Reading through the early Democratic and Republican reaction to the Varnum decision should make all Iowa Democrats proud. Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and former House Speaker Pat Murphy deserve credit for their leadership at a time when some Democrats would have run for cover on an issue perceived to be unpopular. Minority civil rights should never be conditional on majority approval.

As for the Republicans in the Bleeding Heartland community, you can be proud that your party's state legislators seem less and less interested in fighting the losing battle to restrict marriage to heterosexual couples.

Three of the seven justices who concurred in Varnum v Brien (Chief Justice Marsha Ternus, Justice David Baker, and Justice Michael Streit) lost their jobs in Iowa's 2010 retention elections. Justice David Wiggins survived a campaign against his retention in 2012. The remaining three justices who concurred in the decision are up for retention in 2016: Chief Justice Mark Cady (author of the ruling), Justice Daryl Hecht, and Justice Brent Appel. It's not yet clear whether Bob Vander Plaats and his fellow-travellers will make a serious effort to remove them, or whether they will give up in the face of Iowans' growing acceptance of marriage equality.

The LGBT advocacy group One Iowa holds an annual gala around the anniversary of the Varnum ruling. Last night the group honored Iowa Senate President Pam Jochum and Des Moines Register columnist Rekha Basu, among others. I enclose below a statement from the group marking six years since gay and lesbian couples won the freedom to marry in Iowa.

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Iowa Senate, House approve gas tax increase

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Feb 24, 2015 at 16:48:31 PM CST

A bill that would raise Iowa's gasoline tax by 10 cents a gallon is on its way to Governor Terry Branstad's desk after approval today by both chambers in the Iowa legislature. The Iowa Senate passed Senate File 257 this morning by 28 votes to 21. Sixteen Democrats and twelve Republicans voted for the bill, while ten Democrats and eleven Republicans opposed it. Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal had reportedly insisted on at least half the GOP caucus supporting a gas tax increase as a condition for bringing the bill to the floor.

A few hours later, the Iowa House took up the Senate bill (rather than the bill that cleared two House committees last week). Thirty Republicans and 23 Democrats voted yes, while 26 Republicans and 20 Democrats voted no.

Only two state legislators missed today's votes: Republican State Senator Mark Chelgren and Republican State Representative Chip Baltimore. Baltimore voted against the House version of this bill in committee last week, while Chelgren doesn't serve on the committees that approved the bill in the Senate. Chelgren appears to have been absent for all of today's votes, while Baltimore was at the Capitol but left the chamber when the gas tax bill came up. Speaking to reporters later, he tried to make a virtue out of his absence: "I refuse to legitimize either the bill or the process with a vote." Weak sauce from a guy who is widely expected to seek higher office someday.

Conservative groups are urging Branstad to veto Senate File 257, but that seems unlikely, given the governor's recent comments on road funding. Branstad's spokesman said today that the governor will carefully review the final bill before deciding whether to sign it.  

After the jump I've enclosed the roll call votes in both chambers, as well as Senate Transportation Committee Chair Tod Bowman's opening remarks this morning, which summarize key points in Senate File 257.

Final note: several of the "no" votes came from lawmakers who may face competitive re-election campaigns in 2016. Those include Democrats Chris Brase (Senate district 46), Steve Sodders (Senate district 36), and Mary Jo Wilhelm (Senate district 26), and Republicans Dennis Guth (Senate district 4) and Amy Sinclair (Senate district 14).

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Iowa legislative state of play on raising the gas tax

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Feb 19, 2015 at 18:01:47 PM CST

Iowa House and Senate members have taken several steps toward raising the state gasoline tax for the first time since 1989. Follow me after the jump for details on where the legislation stands and the latest signals from the governor.

One big political question was answered today, as House Speaker Kraig Paulsen not only endorsed the gas tax bill but personally intervened to make sure it would clear the House Ways and Means Committee. His support may bring some reluctant House Republicans on board. Conservative advocacy groups such as Americans for Prosperity and Iowans for Tax Relief are pushing hard against any gas tax increase. Governor Terry Branstad or Iowa Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix appear ready to back this bill but may need to spend more political capital to get it passed.

Two important policy questions remain unanswered. First, what will be done to lessen the blow on low-income Iowans, who would be disproportionately affected by any increase in a regressive tax? Iowa's tax system is already stacked against people with lower incomes.

Second, will the gas tax hike turn out to be a giant bait and switch? From business groups to road builders to heavyweights in the agricultural sector, advocates of a tax increase cite the poor condition of many Iowa roads and bridges. However, to my knowledge the pending legislation would not guarantee that any new Road Use Tax Fund revenues from gasoline taxes or vehicle fees be spent on repairing torn-up roads or structurally deficient bridges. Unless "fix it first" language or a change to the funding formula is added to the bill, the lion's share of additional revenues from a gas tax hike could go toward building new roads or new lanes on existing roads, such as U.S. Highway 20 in northwest Iowa or any number of local "economic development" projects. If crumbling roads and bridges are used to justify a gas tax hike, lawmakers should stipulate that most of the new money raised would go toward existing infrastructure rather than new roads and lanes, which only increase future maintenance costs.  

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Iowa legislative state of play on school funding

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Feb 11, 2015 at 12:30:37 PM CST

A standoff over state funding for K-12 education appears unlikely to be resolved anytime soon. The Republican-controlled Iowa House has approved legislation setting "allowable growth" in state funding to school districts at 1.25 percent for fiscal year 2016; the House Journal for January 27 includes details on the debate, during which members rejected on a party-line vote a Democratic amendment to increase school spending, and later approved House File 80, also along party lines. House Republicans reportedly support a 2.45 percent increase in school funding for fiscal year 2017 but have not brought legislation before the full chamber yet.

Meanwhile, Democrats who control the Iowa Senate are committed to setting allowable growth at 4 percent for each of the next two fiscal years. Many education groups have lobbied lawmakers for at least 4 percent allowable growth, and in a Senate Democratic survey of Iowa superintendents, 96 percent of respondents said the appropriate level of supplemental state aid for the coming fiscal year should be 4 percent or higher.

Yesterday four education funding bills passed the upper chamber; a statement enclosed after the jump covers the key points in each bill. The legislation setting allowable growth at 4 percent for fiscal year 2016 and 2017 passed on party-line votes (roll calls are in the Senate Journal). Republicans joined their colleagues to unanimously approve the other two bills, which would "have the state pick up the 12.5 percent property tax share under the state's foundation aid formula for both fiscal years." Rod Boshart summed up the bottom line:

Under the GOP approach, current state per-pupil funding of $6,366 would grow by $80 in fiscal 2016 and another $158 in fiscal 2017. By contrast, the Senate's 4 percent position would boost per-pupil funding to $6,621 for the 2015-16 academic year and $6,886 the following school year.

Or to view it another way, the House approach would include nearly $100 million in additional K-12 school funding for fiscal year 2016, while the Senate approach would provide an additional $212 million this coming year and $217 million the following year.

The obvious compromise would be to increase school aid by somewhere between 2-3 percent for each of the next two years, but Republican lawmakers and Governor Terry Branstad insist there's no room in the state budget for that much additional spending. Note that no one questioned whether Iowans could afford an extra $100 million in tax cuts, mostly for business, which just passed the Iowa House unanimously.

During yesterday's debate, Democratic State Senator Tony Bisignano argued that the big commercial property tax cut approved in 2013 will shortchange Iowa students. (Indeed, when that commercial property tax bill passed, many people warned that it would lead to cuts in public services.) State Senator Joe Bolkcom also criticized "messed up" priorities that favor "special interests" in the state tax code. As long as I've been paying attention to the Iowa legislature, tax expenditures have always been an easier sell than more money for schools or other public services. That dynamic won't change this year.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.  

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IA-01: More than a dozen Democratic legislators endorse Monica Vernon

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jan 16, 2015 at 08:58:50 AM CST

Some of the most prominent Democratic legislators living in Iowa's first Congressional district have endorsed Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon, a day after she announced she will run for Congress again in 2016. The group includes lawmakers from the three largest metro areas in IA-01:

Cedar Rapids (State Senators Liz Mathis and Rob Hogg, State Representatives Art Staed, Kirsten Running-Marquardt and Liz Bennett)

Waterloo/Cedar Falls (State Senator Bill Dotzler and State Representative Timi Brown-Powers)

Dubuque (Iowa Senate President Pam Jochum)

Support from Mathis is particularly noteworthy, because many Iowa Democrats encouraged her to run for Congress in 2014. Mathis endorsed Vernon shortly before last year's five-way primary.

Former State Senator Jack Hatch and several current lawmakers who live outside IA-01 also endorsed Vernon today: State Senators Joe Bolkcom, Bob Dvorsky, and Rich Taylor, and State Representatives Vicki Lensing, Mary Mascher, and Sally Stutsman. All besides Taylor represent parts of Johnson County, which is part of the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City corridor.

The full press release from Vernon's campaign is after the jump. It sends a strong signal to any other Democrats who may be considering this race, including former State Senator Swati Dandekar and Ravi Patel, the president of Hawkeye Hotels.

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Highlights from Branstad's 2015 Condition of the State address

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jan 13, 2015 at 08:55:23 AM CST

Governor Terry Branstad will deliver his annual Condition of the State address to members of the Iowa House and Senate this morning at 10 am. You can watch the speech live on Iowa Public Television's website or on IPTV World (channel 119 on Mediacom in central Iowa). The full text as prepared will be available on the governor's official website.

Judging by yesterday's opening remarks from state legislative leaders, Iowa House Republicans most want to see new tax reform proposals from the governor. Iowa Senate Democrats are most closely watching to see whether Branstad will propose adequate funding for education at all levels, from pre-school to K-12 to community colleges and state universities. I'll update this post later with highlights from the day. Any comments about the governor's speech (content or delivery) or the upcoming legislative session are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: Added highlights and some reaction to the "Together We Can" speech below. James Q. Lynch created a graphic showing the words Branstad used most.

Chutzpah alert: Branstad is urging lawmakers to "bring together state agencies that have a shared interest in quality of life initiatives and invest in our parks, trails, lakes and museums." Maybe he's forgotten that the state legislature did that last year, before he vetoed millions of dollars that would have gone toward parks, trails, water quality programs and other amenities.

It's also disappointing that the governor can't quit lying about how many jobs have been created since he returned to public office.

It's encouraging to hear the governor call for stronger efforts to protect victims of domestic violence and end bullying in schools. The devil will be in the details of those proposals. Speaking to Radio Iowa, Iowa Senate President Pam Jochum said "the anti-bullying proposal as well as the anti-domestic violence proposal will get a very good response from the Iowa Senate." But she said the governor's proposed education funding is "less than what we know we need in order to bring Iowa's per pupil spending investment up to at least close the national average." Meanwhile, House Speaker Kraig Paulsen told Radio Iowa that his caucus will continue to look for tax cuts ("a way to for Iowans to leave more of their own money in their pockets").

SECOND UPDATE: As he did last year, the governor called for expanding access to broadband statewide. But strangely, Branstad does not plan to attend President Barack Obama's scheduled January 14 event in Cedar Falls, where the president will "propose plans to increase affordable access to high-speed broadband internet."

LATE UPDATE: Nate Monson, executive director for Iowa Safe Schools, characterized the governor's anti-bullying bill as a "giant leap forward for gay youth" in Iowa. I've enclosed excerpts from his Des Moines Register guest editorial at the end of this post.

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Themes from the opening day of the Iowa legislature's 2015 session

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jan 12, 2015 at 18:16:59 PM CST

Exciting times for Iowa politics watchers: the state legislature's 2015 session began in Des Moines today. A tentative schedule for this year's work is available here (pdf). The last day lawmakers will receive per diem expenses is on May 1, but for the past four years of divided control between a Republican House and a Democratic Senate, the session has always gone into overtime--sometimes by a little and sometimes by a lot. Bleeding Heartland previously posted details on the each chamber's majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing committees. Click here for who's who in the Iowa House, and here for who's who in the Iowa Senate.

Today legislative leaders from both parties pledged to work together. After the jump I've enclosed the full texts of opening day remarks. Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal called for making Iowa's middle class the "focus of the 2015 session" by ensuring adequate education spending, fighting wage theft, and expanding worker training while keeping a balanced budget. He praised Governor Terry Branstad for agreeing to go back to setting K-12 school funding a year in advance, as is required by state law, but warned the governor not to make a partisan statement by proposing too little funding for education when he addresses the legislature tomorrow.

Echoing some of the priorities she named last year, Senate President Pam Jochum said building an economy that "works for everyone" means supporting families and especially children: "For too long, the well-being of children has been considered a woman's issue.' It is not just a 'woman's issue'. It is an American issue. It is an Iowan issue." Jochum urged lawmakers to expand access to education from pre-K through college, make "quality, affordable childcare" more available across the state, and boost an initiative to "detect and help prevent mental health and developmental problems among young children."

Iowa House Minority Leader Mark Smith said the top priorities for House Democrats are strengthening the middle class and re-vitalizing rural Iowa. In addition to expanding early childhood education and providing adequate funds for K-12 schools, Smith called for raising the minimum wage, though GOP leaders have shown no willingness to negotiate on that issue.

As has been true in recent years, top Iowa House and Senate Republicans focused on fiscal issues and mostly avoided social issues. Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen challenged his colleagues "to ensure that government do less and do it better" when "others bring forward their laundry list of funding opportunities, spending priorities, or flashy government programs." He called for more tax cuts along the lines of a 2006 bipartisan agreement to eliminate the state tax on Social Security benefits. (Mike Owen of the Iowa Policy Project explained in a guest column for the Quad-City Times why that tax cut was passed "under false pretenses" and skewed Iowa's tax code "further to the benefit of the wealthy.") House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer emphasized the need to "craft a responsible budget." She singled out the Medicaid program for criticism, claiming growth in Medicaid spending is "not sustainable" and will threaten lawmakers' ability to invest in education, job training, infrastructure, and renewable energy. Iowa Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix called on senators to "work together to rein in spending, make cuts and reduce the size of government and lift up all Iowans in the process by reducing their tax burdens."

None of the Republicans set a goal of undoing marriage equality, and only House Speaker Pro Tem Matt Windschitl made passing reference to other top priorities for social conservatives when he said, "Let us work together to make Iowa the best place to live, where taxes are low, jobs are abundant, education is top of the line, innocent life is protected and Second Amendment rights are fully embraced."

Any comments about the legislative session are welcome in this thread. By the way, here's some trivia you may not know about Speaker Paulsen.  

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Who's who in the Iowa Senate for 2015

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jan 12, 2015 at 09:33:24 AM CST

The Iowa legislature's 2015 session begins today. Democrats maintained their 26 to 24 majority in the upper chamber. 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 from the previous committee assignments. Click here for a similar post on the new Iowa House.

I've also enclosed below details on the tenure of all 50 Iowa senators. The experience gap between the caucuses is striking, even more so since three of the longest-serving GOP state senators retired in 2014. Only seven of the 24 Republicans have served in either the state House or Senate for more than four years, whereas nineteen of the 26 Democrats have more than four years of legislative service. Only four of the 24 Senate Republicans have ten or more years of experience in the Iowa legislature, compared to seventeen of the 26 Democrats. No current Iowa Senate Republican has more than 20 years legislative experience, whereas six Democrats do.

Just seven of the 50 senators are women, down from ten women in the chamber two years ago. The Democratic caucus includes 20 men and six women; the Republican caucus 23 men and one woman.

All current Iowa senators are white. To my knowledge, no African-American has ever served in the Iowa Senate. CORRECTION: Bleeding Heartland reader northwest points out that I forgot Tom Mann, who represented part of Des Moines in the Iowa Senate during the 1980s.

No Latino has ever served in the Iowa House or Senate; Nathan Blake fell 18 votes short of becoming the first in 2014. No Asian-American has served in the state Senate since Swati Dandekar resigned in 2011.

Some non-political trivia: the 50 state senators include three Marks, three Bills, three Richards (who go by Rich, Rick, and Dick), two Mikes, two Toms, two Joes, and two men named Charles (one goes by Chaz).  

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New Iowa caucus thread: Jeb Bush exploring and a "Run Warren Run" event in Des Moines

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Dec 16, 2014 at 20:22:06 PM CST

Who's up for a new thread on possible presidential candidates? The big news on the Republican side today was former Florida Governor Jeb Bush announcing that he will "actively explore" a presidential bid. Bush is forming a leadership PAC to raise huge piles of money "help me facilitate conversations with citizens across America to discuss the most critical challenges facing our exceptional nation."

I can't see Bush winning the GOP nomination, given his past support for immigration reform including a path to citizenship. Among Iowa conservatives, his support for "Common Core" educational standards will be a deal-breaker too. On the other hand, Bush poses an immediate threat to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. The two would be competing for many of the same donors and Republican moderate voters.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio's staff says Bush's decision won't influence Rubio's plans for 2016. I am 100 percent convinced that Florida's junior senator will run for re-election. He has pretty good odds of winning a second term but would be a long-shot to win the presidential nomination.

On the Democratic side, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont (technically an independent) was in central Iowa today. I've posted excerpts from news coverage after the jump. It's Sanders' fourth Iowa visit this year, but he told a supportive Ames crowd he hasn't decided whether to run for president.

Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren continues to repeat that she is not running for president in 2016. But MoveOn.Org's "Run Warren Run" project is organizing an event at Java Joe's coffee house in downtown Des Moines. Some central Iowa Democrats received phone calls from MoveOn today inviting them to the pro-Warren event, which is set for 5:30 pm on Wednesday, December 17.

I still think the draft Warren effort is a waste of time and energy. Apparently, so does progressive hero Al Franken. Minnesota's junior U.S. senator is "ready for Hillary" Clinton:

"I mean, I think that we've not had someone this experienced, this tough, and she's very, very impressive. People have asked me about Elizabeth Warren. She is great, but she's not running. She says she's not running. So I don't-I think Hillary would be great."

Any comments about the next presidential campaign are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: Democracy for America announced on December 17 that it will invest $250,000 in the Draft Warren effort. I've added the group's press release at the end of this post. Run Warren Run ran a full-page ad in the Des Moines Register on December 17, featuring hundreds of Iowans who are urging the Massachusetts senator to run for president.

Iowa Senate President Pam Jochum attended the "Run Warren Run" event in Des Moines and called Warren "brilliant" and "courageous." But Jochum is not endorsing Warren over Hillary Clinton and hopes the Democratic field will include both women, as well as Vice President Joe Biden and others.

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Mid-week open thread: 2018 IA-Gov scenarios edition

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Nov 12, 2014 at 21:15:00 PM CST

All topics are welcome in this open thread. I'd like to hear from Bleeding Heartland readers about the next race for Iowa governor. Winning that election needs to be a top priority for Iowa Democrats.

I remain 100 percent convinced that Terry Branstad will not serve out his entire sixth term. By the end of 2015, he will have set a record as the longest-serving governor in U.S. history. He is committed to "grooming" Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds to be the next governor. But Reynolds was almost unknown when Branstad selected her as his running mate. She had only two years of experience in the state legislature, all of it in the Iowa Senate minority. Before that, she had a long tenure as the Clarke County treasurer, a job that doesn't allow politicians to build up a profile outside their home county.

Since Reynolds has no constituency in the Republican base, I find it hard to imagine she could win the nomination for governor campaigning from her current job. However, if she has a year or more under her belt as governor by the spring of 2018, she might have a fighting chance in the GOP primary. Even then, I don't think other Republicans would give her a pass. Plenty of people have ambitions to succeed Branstad. I'll be surprised if Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey doesn't run for governor during the next cycle.

On the Democratic side, several state lawmakers could be credible candidates for governor. Iowa Senate President Pam Jochum considered it this past cycle but opted out for family reasons. I hope Jochum will take the plunge in 2018, as she would be a great candidate and a fantastic governor. State Senators Janet Petersen and Rob Hogg would also be excellent leaders and will probably also give this race a look.

UPDATE: Two-time candidate for secretary of state Jake Porter is considering a gubernatorial bid on the Libertarian ticket and sees both outgoing Secretary of State Matt Schultz and newly-elected Secretary of State Paul Pate as likely Republican candidates. Pate sought the GOP nomination for governor in 1998 after one term in the secretary of state's office, so he could easily do that again. I find it hard to believe that the Madison County attorney position will give Schultz a good launching pad for a gubernatorial campaign, but anything is possible.

Porter also mentioned State Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald as a possible Democratic candidate. Fitzgerald considered running for governor in 2013.

SECOND UPDATE: Lots of names being floated in the comments: Bob Vander Plaats, Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, State Representative Peter Cownie, and State Senator Amy Sinclair on the Republican side; newly elected State Senator Chaz Allen or State Representative Nancy Dunkel on the Democratic side.

Erin Murphy, who covers Iowa politics for Lee Enterprises newspapers, has predicted a matchup between Jochum and Reynolds in 2018. I like Jochum's odds there, a lot.

Associated Press reporter Ryan Foley reports that Republican strategists are "keeping a close eye" on Chaz Allen. I wonder whether that may be wishful thinking on their part, as they appear to have no chance of winning Iowa Senate district 15 as long as Allen is around. I think 2018 would be a little early for him to run for governor.

I should also mention that incoming U.S. Senator Joni Ernst will probably go all-in for Reynolds in the 2018 primary. Reynolds helped to recruit Ernst for the Iowa Senate and later for the U.S. Senate race.

THIRD UPDATE: Some Iowa politics-watchers expect State Senator Liz Mathis to run for governor in 2018. I don't think she would run against Petersen or Jochum in a primary, though, and I consider either of them more likely to run than Mathis.

Discuss :: (15 Comments)

IA-01: Who should run against Rod Blum?

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Nov 06, 2014 at 11:56:27 AM CST

Judging by the comments in this thread, Bleeding Heartland readers are eager to discuss who should take on Republican Rod Blum in the next election to represent Iowa's first Congressional district.

Blum should be a one-termer. Unofficial results show he beat Pat Murphy by about 7,000 votes (51.2 percent to 48.7 percent) in a banner year for Iowa Republicans. Democratic turnout should be much higher for a presidential election than it was this year. Blum's record in Congress will also make him an easier target for the next Democratic opponent. He didn't campaign like an extreme right-winger, but he's about to start voting like one, which will hurt him with independents. The next Paul Ryan budget (which Blum will support) will include big cuts to entitlement programs. I wouldn't be shocked to see Blum help House Republicans shut down the federal government again.

Who should be the next Democratic nominee in IA-01? My first thoughts are after the jump.

There's More... :: (16 Comments, 308 words in story)

Fewer women will serve in the Iowa Senate, more in Iowa House

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Nov 06, 2014 at 09:50:59 AM CST

For the past two years, ten women have served in the Iowa Senate (20 percent of the chamber's membership). That number will fall to seven or eight by the time the newly-elected legislature begins its 2015 session.

However, the number of women who will serve in the Iowa House will grow from 25 to 27 for the next two years. Follow me after the jump for details and a full list of Democratic and Republican women who will serve in the newly-elected Iowa legislature.

Following up on prospects for increasing racial and ethnic diversity in the Iowa legislature, all five African-American state representatives were re-elected to the Iowa House this week: Helen Miller (House district 9), Ruth Ann Gaines (House district 32), Ako Abdul-Samad (House district 35), Deborah Berry (House district 62), and Phyllis Thede (House district 93). Neither party nominated any African-American candidates for the Iowa Senate, which remains all-white.  

Iowans have yet to elect a Latino candidate to the state legislature. Democrats nominated Karyn Finn in House district 60 and Maria Bribriesco in Senate district 47, but both lost to Republican incumbents on Tuesday.

As has been the case since Swati Dandekar left the Iowa Senate in 2011, the Iowa legislature includes no Asian-American lawmakers. Neither party nominated any Asian-American candidates in 2014.

There's More... :: (8 Comments, 622 words in story)

Rest in peace, Paulee Lipsman

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Sep 13, 2014 at 22:17:02 PM CDT

People who choose a career in politics tend to fall into one of two groups: the "hacks" who work on campaigns, and the "wonks" who immerse themselves in public policy. Paulee Lipsman, who passed away on Thursday in Des Moines, was a rare person who excelled in both fields. She worked on many election campaigns and was a dedicated volunteer for the Iowa Democratic Party at all levels, from the Scott County Democrats all the way up to representing Iowa on the Democratic National Committee. Arguably, she had more influence on the state during more than 20 years of work on the Iowa House Democratic research staff (the later years as director). Staff rarely if ever receive public recognition for any legislation that comes out of the Iowa House or Senate, yet lawmakers could not do the job without them.

I didn't know Paulee well, but when I talked with her, I was always impressed by her deep knowledge of state government and policy. She enjoyed spinning scenarios as much as the next political junkie, but her passion didn't end with getting Democrats elected. She was driven to improve public policy, and her views were grounded in facts.

Over the past few days, Iowa Democrats have posted many tributes to Paulee on social media. I enclose some of those words below, along with excerpts from her obituary. Several staffers, lawmakers, or lobbyists expressed gratitude for how Paulee helped them learn the ropes when they were newbies at the State Capitol. She was a role model for women working at the statehouse and a strong supporter of Democratic women running for state office.

Phil Specht's words in one thread rang especially true: "One of the things I loved about her was even though both of you knew she was smarter and knew more (about practically anything) she would never talk down to anyone." Presidential candidates sought out Paulee Lipsman's support--both John Kerry and Joe Biden bragged about her endorsement in press releases. But she wasn't the type to drop names or pull rank on anyone.

Until I read the Des Moines Register's piece on Paulee's passing, I did not know that she had been raped or that she filed an influential lawsuit related to that case during the 1980s. Roxanne Conlin was one of Paulee's closest friends and represented her in that lawsuit. I've enclosed some of her comments about the case below. Paulee retired from the Iowa House Democratic research staff in 2010 to work on Conlin's campaign for U.S. Senate.

UPDATE: During a stop in Des Moines on September 17, Vice President Joe Biden said, "Paulee Lipsman was a remarkable, remarkable woman. She was not only a friend of mine, but she was a tireless advocate for fairness and equality. I know that she will be greatly missed."

There's More... :: (0 Comments, 1712 words in story)

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.

There's More... :: (2 Comments, 1013 words in story)
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