Branstad vetoes will stand: not enough support for Iowa legislative special session

Governor Terry Branstad’s vetoes of education and mental health funding will stand, as the two-thirds majority needed to call a special legislative session has failed to materialize in either the Iowa House or Senate.

A special session always looked like a long-shot, given that Iowa House Republican leaders didn’t want to spend extra money on education and only reluctantly agreed to extend funding for mental health institutions. In addition, 23 of the 24 Iowa Senate Republicans voted against the supplemental spending bill. They had no stake in the compromise the governor blew apart.

Still, the outcry over school funding (including dozens of normally non-political superintendents speaking out) created an opening for Republican lawmakers. Even if they didn’t believe in the substantive value of additional education or mental health funding, they could have taken a big issue off the table for next year’s statehouse elections. So far, very few Republicans seem worried about the political fallout from not overriding Branstad’s vetoes. Democrats appear ready to remind voters at every opportunity who created the holes local education leaders are scrambling to fill.  

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IA-01 Democratic candidate news roundup

Another Democrat is moving closer to a Congressional bid in Iowa’s first district. The Daily Iowan reported several days ago that Ravi Patel "is assembling campaign operatives and meeting with influential donors in Eastern Iowa in preparation for the run." He is best known as principal and president of Hawkeye Hotels, a fast-growing company his parents established. Pat Rynard wrote on the Iowa Starting Line blog that Patel "has built connections from holding many fundraisers for Democratic candidates" and is "an entrepreneur involved in many startup businesses."

If he runs for Congress, Patel told the Daily Iowan that his campaign “would be data-driven and heavy on social media.” His biggest potential weakness would probably be his youth (current age: 29). Iowans have nominated some young candidates who faced competitive primaries against more experienced rivals, most recently Ben Lange, the GOP’s 2012 nominee in IA-01. But despite a lot of excitement on social media, State Representative Anesa Kajtazovic didn’t make much headway with IA-01 Democratic voters, finishing fourth in the 2014 primary. Anecdotally, many Democrats liked Kajtazovic but questioned whether she had enough experience for the job she was seeking. Patel would also be competing against others who have more longstanding ties to the district. Although he owns a home in Cedar Rapids now, he has spent most of his life in either Burlington or Iowa City, which are located in the second Congressional district.

The front-runner in the Democratic primary remains Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon, who last week added her first labor union endorsement to the long list of sate legislators backing her second bid for Congress. After the jump I’ve posted the press release announcing the Teamsters Local 238 endorsement of Vernon. That local did not endorse in the 2014 primary to represent IA-01, but two other Teamsters locals backed the eventual winner Pat Murphy. Note: the press release mentions that Teamsters Local 238 has approximately 6,000 members. A representative for the union told me that between 2,000 and 2,500 of those members live in the IA-01 counties.

Other Democrats considering a bid in IA-01 include former Governor Chet Culver, former State Senator Swati Dandekar (who placed third in the 2014 primary), and former Saturday Night Live actor Gary Kroeger. His most recent blog post, which I’ve excerpted below, takes a quick look at the history of America’s major political parties with a view to reducing the “vitriol in our disagreements.” Kroeger posted today on Facebook that if elected to Congress, he would push for creating a national jobs program inspired by a non-profit foundation he profiled at his blog a couple of years ago.

Any comments about the IA-01 race are welcome in this thread. Republican blogger Craig Robinson pointed out recently that GOP incumbent Rod Blum will benefit tremendously from having U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley on the ballot in 2016.

It’s also worth noting that at least three and perhaps as many as six battleground Iowa Senate races will be located within IA-01 next year. State Senator Jeff Danielson will seek a fourth term in Senate district 30, covering parts of Waterloo and Cedar Falls; he faced well-funded challengers in his last two re-election campaigns. State Senator Mary Jo Wilhelm won by just 126 votes in Senate district 26 in 2012. I expect the GOP to target that district, half of which is in IA-01 and half in IA-04. Republicans are less likely to mount a serious challenge against either State Senator Liz Mathis in Senate district 34 or State Senator Brian Schoenjahn in Senate district 32, but a surprise retirement would instantly make either of those races competitive. Meanwhile, Democrats are likely to target Senate district 28, where GOP State Senator Mike Breitbach won by only 17 votes in 2012. First-term Senator Dan Zumbach could also face a serious challenger in Senate district 48. After the jump I’ve posted a map showing all the Iowa Senate district lines. UPDATE: Perhaps I should also have mentioned Democratic State Senator Steve Sodders (SD-36) and Republican Tim Kapucian (SD-38), who will be up for re-election in 2016 as well in counties that are part of IA-01. I haven’t heard of potentially strong challengers in either Iowa Senate district, but that could change before next spring.

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Recounts finished in Iowa House and Senate races

Democratic candidate Susan Judkins halted the recount and conceded defeat in Iowa House district 43 today: "Questions about whether all absentee ballots were counted have been satisfactorily answered and I believe my narrow loss would likely stand even if all ballots were considered." After the official canvass, Republican incumbent Chris Hagenow led by 22 votes out of nearly 17,500 cast.

A recount of the open-seat race in Iowa House district 63 concluded yesterday. Republican Sandy Salmon defeated Democrat Bill Heckroth by a little more than 100 votes out of nearly 16,500 cast.

And in a final disappointment for Iowa Democrats, Republican Mike Breitbach held onto a narrow lead over John Beard after a recount in the open Senate district 28. I’ve heard conflicting reports about the final margin, which is probably either 17 or 22 votes out of nearly 30,000 cast.

Both parties have won some close statehouse races in Iowa over the years, but this year Democrats lost most of the heartbreakers.

Republicans have a 53 to 46 Iowa House majority, with a special election in House district 52 coming up soon. Democrats have a 26 to 23 Iowa Senate majority, with a special election in Senate district 22 set for December 11.

Huge experience gap between Iowa Senate Democrats and Republicans

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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