State Senator Mark Chelgren "seriously" considering IA-02 campaign

State Senator Mark Chelgren is looking "seriously" at running against five-term Representative Dave Loebsack in Iowa’s second Congressional district, he told Bleeding Heartland yesterday. He said he has no timeline for making a decision. If he runs for Congress, his key issues would include:

• The economy. Chelgren said our country’s manufacturing base “has been deteriorating over the past 50 years.” He added that he doesn’t support how the U.S. has negotiated trade agreements. Asked whether he would support giving the White House trade promotion authority, which Congress passed last month, Chelgren replied, “Hell no.” While the economy and the world have “changed dramatically,” American policy-makers “have done almost nothing to upgrade our infrastructure.” Chelgren clarified that he was not talking primarily about 20th-century infrastructure like roads and railroads but about 21st-century needs such as high-speed internet access “to every community.” Meanwhile, the federal government is keeping interest rates “artificially low” and “diluting the strength of the economy” by printing money.

• Education. Chelgren believes “our education system is massively broken.” It “was designed to create assembly-line workers” or people working in office cubicles, rather than to prepare students for the modern economy.

• Long-range planning. “We have politicians at the state and federal level that think in two-year increments,” whereas we need “better vision” looking five to ten years ahead, according to Chelgren.

By this point in the 2012 election cycle, three Republicans had announced plans to run against Loebsack. Not only has no GOP candidate launched a campaign in IA-02 yet, I haven’t heard rumors about any prospective candidates other than Chelgren. Loebsack’s last general-election opponent, Marionette Miller-Meeks, is unlikely to run again after losing to Loebsack three times, twice in Republican wave years (2010 and 2014). Former State Representative Mark Lofgren, who lost last year’s GOP primary to Miller-Meeks, is running for Iowa Senate district 46 in 2016. Chelgren doesn’t need to choose between serving in the state legislative and running for Congress, because he was just re-elected to a second four-year term and won’t be on the ballot in Iowa Senate district 41 again until 2018.

IA-02 leans Democratic with a partisan voter index of D+4. According to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office, the 24 counties in the district contain 160,562 active registered Democrats, 136,215 Republicans, and 182,047 no-party voters. The last time Loebsack was on the ballot in a presidential year, he defeated John Archer by a comfortable margin of 55.6 percent to 42.5 percent.

Iowa Senate, House approve gas tax increase

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

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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Democratic and Republican party spending in the Iowa Senate races

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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Four strategies for interest group Iowa legislative endorsements

Many candidates for the Iowa House and Senate tout endorsements by outside groups in their campaign communications. Some of those groups pay for direct mail, phone calls, or even advertising supporting their endorsed candidates.

Iowa’s influential political action committees and advocacy groups have very different ways of getting involved in the state legislative campaign. Follow me after the jump for examples of four distinct strategies.

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