Who's who in the Iowa Senate for 2017

The Iowa legislature’s 2017 session begins today with minor adjustments to business in the state House but massive changes in the Senate. After ten years of Democratic control, the last six with a one-seat majority, the upper chamber now contains 29 Republicans, 20 Democrats, and one independent (former Republican David Johnson).

I enclose below details on the Iowa Senate majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing Senate committees. Click here to find the same information from the 2016 legislative session.

Just six senators are women (five Democrats and a Republican), down from ten women serving in the chamber in 2013 and 2014 and seven during the past two years. All current senators are white. To my knowledge, the only African-American ever to serve in the Iowa Senate was Tom Mann, elected to two terms during the 1980s. No Latino has ever served in the Iowa legislature; in 2014, Nathan Blake fell 18 votes short of becoming the first to join the Senate. No Asian-American has served in the state Senate since Swati Dandekar resigned in 2011.

As a group, the members of the new majority caucus have much less legislative experience than do their Democratic counterparts. As detailed below, only three of the 29 Senate Republicans have served ten or more years in the Iowa legislature, compared to thirteen of the 20 Democrats.

Some non-political trivia: the 50 Iowa senators include two with the surname Johnson, four Marks, three Bills, and two men each named Richard (Rich and Rick), Robert (a Rob and a Bob), Dan, Tim, Tom, Jeff, and Charles (one goes by Chaz).

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A Bold Step Forward

Kim Weaver continues the series of guest commentaries by candidates seeking to lead the Iowa Democratic Party. -promoted by desmoinesdem

I’m honored to have an opportunity to outline my vision for the future of the Iowa Democratic Party. Over the last few weeks I have had the pleasure of talking with many State Central Committee members and will be reaching out to the remaining members before our election in January. Despite our devastating losses in November, I am excited about our future. Just like the Phoenix who rose from the ashes, we have an opportunity to re-build, but we need to take bold steps forward to do so.

As Democrats we basically have a mutually shared goal. I believe that goal is to strengthen the Party so we are able to get Democrats elected who support our visions, values, and beliefs. Where we get caught up is how we think we will reach that goal. Below is my vision of what the Chair, the SCC, and the IDP Staff can do to help us achieve this.

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Rob Hogg, Amanda Ragan to lead Iowa Senate Democrats

Iowa Senate Democrats unanimously chose Rob Hogg today to serve as Senate minority leader during the upcoming legislative session. Amanda Ragan will be the new minority whip, and the incoming assistant leaders will be Bill Dotzler, Liz Mathis, Rita Hart, Joe Bolkcom, Matt McCoy, and Herman Quirmbach.

Six Democratic senators lost their re-election bids this month, including Mike Gronstal, who had served as either minority or majority leader of the caucus since 1997. Pam Jochum, who was Senate president for the past four years, will not be on the new leadership team. Ragan, Dotzler, and McCoy were among last year’s assistant majority leaders, while Bolkcom served as majority whip.

Erin Murphy reported for the Quad-City Times,

Hogg said Senate Democrats will speak on behalf of Iowans “who need state government to work” and attempt to prevent Republicans from implementing policies that could damage the state’s economy or adversely affect its residents.

“I’m hopeful we can stop Republicans from going down a knee-jerk, partisan pathway,” Hogg said.

I see no realistic chance to stop Republicans from using their large majorities in both chambers to head down that partisan pathway. Among their likely top priorities: cutting taxes so that most of the benefits go to corporations and higher-income individuals, gutting Iowa’s 42-year-old collective bargaining law, restricting abortion rights, ending state funds for Planned Parenthood’s non-abortion services, adopting the gun lobby’s wish list (“stand your ground,” “constitutional carry,” and/or open carry), and making it harder for Iowans to vote. Republicans will almost certainly need to reduce funding for education and a variety of social net programs, such as Medicaid and child care assistance, to pay for those tax cuts.

All Democrats can accomplish these next two years is to warn ahead of time how such policies will hurt the majority of Iowans, and to “document the atrocities” after Governor Terry Branstad signs the various harmful bills into law.

I enclose below a news release with more comments from Hogg. O.Kay Henderson’s profile of Gronstal for Radio Iowa is worth reading.

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Fewer women will serve in the new Iowa Senate and House (updated)

The non-partisan organization 50/50 in 2020 has set a goal of electing 25 women to the Iowa Senate and 50 women to the Iowa House by 2020. Yesterday’s elections will bring a lot of new voices to the state capital. However, chambers that were already less diverse than most other state legislatures will become even less representative of the state’s population.

LATE UPDATE: The new Iowa House will in fact have one more female member than the chamber did in 2015 and 2016, following Monica Kurth’s victory in the special election to represent House district 89.

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Rest in peace, Joe Seng

Democratic State Senator Joe Seng has died after a two-year battle with brain cancer, Iowa Senate leaders confirmed today. I enclose below comments released by Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and Senate President Pam Jochum.

With the upper chamber split 26-24 and many important votes falling along party lines, Democratic leaders needed Seng’s presence often during the last two legislative sessions. He had phenomenal dedication and kept showing up for work while fighting a monstrous disease and undergoing regular chemotherapy. The Des Moines Register’s William Petroski posted a video of Seng singing and playing the accordion for his colleagues in April 2015.

Seng served as Davenport’s alderman-at-large and mayor pro-tem before representing parts of Iowa’s third-largest city for two years in the state House and fourteen in the Senate. A veterinarian by training, he chaired the Senate Agriculture Committee in recent years and served on the Commerce, Ethics, Labor and Business Relations, Natural Resources and Environment, and Ways & Means committees.

After Iowa’s new map of political boundaries put Scott County in the second Congressional district, Seng challenged U.S. Representative Dave Loebsack and won about 18 percent of the vote in the 2012 Democratic primary. In his final re-election campaign two years ago, Seng easily defeated a primary challenger and did not face a general election opponent.

Seng’s passing will force a special election later this year in Senate district 45 (map enclosed below). Because the district contains more than twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans, the only real competition to replace Seng will be for the Democratic nomination, to be decided at a district convention. Democrats Jim Lykam and Cindy Winckler have represented the two halves of Seng’s Senate district in the Iowa House since 2003.

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Friends and former colleagues remember Rich Olive

Former State Senator Rich Olive died of cancer yesterday at the age of 66. He represented Wright and Hamilton counties, along with some rural areas in Story and Webster counties, from 2007 through 2010. During that time, he chaired the Iowa Senate Government Oversight Committee.

Many Iowans who knew Olive through his work in the legislature agreed to share some of their memories with Bleeding Heartland readers.

Photo of Rich Olive at the capitol taken by Senate Democratic staff; used with permission.

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