Never let it be said that the 2016 Iowa legislature accomplished nothing

In four months of work this year, Iowa lawmakers made no progress on improving water quality or expanding conservation programs, funded K-12 schools and higher education below levels needed to keep up with inflation, failed to increase the minimum wage or address wage theft, let most criminal justice reform proposals die in committee, didn’t approve adequate oversight for the newly-privatized Medicaid program, opted against making medical cannabis more available to sick and suffering Iowans, and left unaddressed several other issues that affect thousands of constituents.

But let the record reflect that bipartisan majorities in the Iowa House and Senate acted decisively to solve a non-existent problem. At a bill-signing ceremony yesterday, Governor Terry Branstad and supporters celebrated preventing something that probably never would have happened.

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Iowa House Republicans try to evade accountability on medical cannabis

What do state lawmakers do when they don’t want to pass something the overwhelming majority of their constituents support?

A time-honored legislative strategy involves 1) keeping the popular proposal from coming up for a vote, and 2) giving your members a chance to go on record supporting a phony alternative.

Iowa House Republicans executed that statehouse two-step this week in order to block efforts to make medical cannabis more widely available to Iowans suffering from serious health problems.

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Will any elected Iowa Republicans vow to #NeverTrump?

In an effort to halt Donald Trump’s momentum and also to preserve some self-respect, a growing number of Republicans are vowing never to vote for Trump, even if he becomes the GOP presidential nominee. As Megan McArdle reported for Bloomberg, the #NeverTrump faction represents "all segments of the party — urban professionals, yes, but also stalwart evangelicals, neoconservatives, libertarians, Tea Partiers, the whole patchwork of ideological groups of which the Republican coalition is made."

Former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman said she would consider voting for Hillary Clinton over Trump. At a funeral in Des Moines this past weekend, the daughter of the deceased (like Whitman a moderate Republican) struck a chord with some of the mourners when she joked during her eulogy that she was a little envious her mother would not have to vote in the presidential election now.

At the other end of the GOP ideological spectrum, staunch conservative U.S. Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska became the first member of Congress to take the #NeverTrump pledge, laying out his reasoning in a long Facebook post.

So far, the most prominent Iowa Republican to join the #NeverTrump camp is right-wing talk radio host Steve Deace, who explained his stance in a column for the Conservative Review website. Deace worked hard to persuade fellow Iowans to caucus for Ted Cruz. Meanwhile, Marco Rubio endorser and former Waukee City Council member Isaiah McGee described himself to me as a "founding member" of #NeverTrump.

Early signs suggest that few, if any, elected GOP officials in Iowa will join the club.

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Gary Kroeger considering a challenge to Walt Rogers in Iowa House district 60

March 2 update: Kroeger ended his Congressional campaign. Added his comments on switching to the state legislative race at the end of this post.

One of the three Democratic candidates in Iowa’s first Congressional district may file instead as a candidate in Iowa House district 60, covering parts of Waterloo and Cedar Falls. I sought comment from Gary Kroeger this morning after Pat Rynard mentioned "talk in some Democratic circles" that Kroeger may switch to the statehouse race. Kroeger replied, "I am considering whatever is best for the Democratic Party in terms of my candidacy. State races are also imperative."

Kroeger launched his Congressional campaign last April, positioning himself for the primary as "an unapologetic progressive, lifelong progressive and a proud lifelong Democrat." Since Ravi Patel exited that race and Pat Murphy launched his second Congressional campaign last summer, Murphy has claimed the labels of "progressive" and "lifelong Democrat." A longtime Iowa legislator and the 2014 nominee in IA-01, Murphy is better known around the district than Kroeger, who has trailed far behind Murphy and Monica Vernon in the few opinion polls released so far. Raising enough money to run a district-wide campaign has also proved challenging for Kroeger. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has endorsed Vernon, while the Blue America PAC is supporting Murphy.

That said, the kind of money Kroeger has raised for his IA-01 campaign would go very far in a state legislative race. His local name recognition would make him a strong challenger to three-term State Representative Walt Rogers.

Rogers defeated Democratic incumbent Doris Kelley in the previous version of this swing district in 2010. He held the seat in 2012 by more than 600 votes, even as residents of House district 60 preferred President Barack Obama to Mitt Romney by 50.15 percent to 48.91 percent.

A rising star in the Iowa House GOP caucus, Rogers launched his own Congressional campaign in IA-01 in 2013 but abandoned that race a few months later to seek a third term in the state legislature. He easily defeated Democratic challenger Karyn Finn amid the 2014 Republican wave. Joni Ernst outpolled Bruce Braley among House district 60 voters by nearly a 10-point margin, even though Braley himself is from Black Hawk County.

The latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office show that House district 60 contains 5,887 active registered Democrats, 7,007 Republicans, and 7,950 no-party voters. Those numbers do not include people who changed their party registration on February 1 in order to participate in the Iowa caucuses. A presidential year electorate creates a better opportunity for a Democratic challenger here.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. A map of House district 60 is after the jump. UPDATE: The Secretary of State’s Office just posted updated voter registration totals, showing 6,164 active registered Democrats, 7,253 Republicans, and 7,208 no-party voters for this House district.

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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2016

The Iowa House opened its 2016 session today with 57 Republicans and 43 Democrats. The 100 state representatives include 27 women (21 Democrats and six Republicans) and 73 men. Five African-Americans (all Democrats) serve in the legislature’s lower chamber; the other 95 state representatives are white. No Latino has ever been elected to the Iowa House, and there has not been an Asian member since Swati Dandekar moved up to the Iowa Senate following the 2008 election.

After the jump I’ve posted details on the Iowa House majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing House committees. Where relevant, I’ve noted changes since last year. All are on the Republican side, mostly following from Kraig Paulsen’s decision to step down as speaker, Chuck Soderberg’s retirement, and the passing of Jack Drake.

Some non-political trivia: the Iowa House includes two Millers (one from each party), two Taylors (one from each party), and two Moores (both Republicans). As for first names, there are six Davids (four go by Dave), four Roberts (two Robs, one Bob, and a Bobby), four Marys (one goes by Mary Ann), four Johns, and three Brians. There are two Lindas, two Elizabeths (a Beth and a Liz), and two men each named Dan, Mark, Greg, Tom, Bruce, Todd, Chris, and Charles (one goes by Chuck).

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Iowa Senate district 30 preview: Jeff Danielson vs. Bonnie Sadler

A Republican challenger to three-term State Senator Jeff Danielson in Iowa Senate district 30 emerged last week. Bonnie Sadler is on Facebook here and on Twitter here. Danielson has a campaign website as well as a Facebook page and Twitter feed.

Danielson was the Iowa legislative incumbent re-elected by the narrowest margin in 2008, beating Walt Rogers by just 22 votes out of more than 32,000 cast. Although Danielson won his third term by a somewhat larger margin in 2012, Republicans are still likely to target this race as one of their top two or three pickup opportunities. The Republican State Leadership Committee has committed to play for the Iowa Senate majority in 2016. Democrats currently control the chamber by 26 votes to 24.

I enclose below a map of Senate district 30, a review of its voter registration numbers and recent voting history, background on both candidates, and first thoughts on what should be a central issue during next year’s campaign.

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