Weekend open thread: Packed Iowa legislative forums

All over Iowa this year, record numbers of citizens have been turning out for legislative forums. Controversies over education spending and Planned Parenthood funding brought out many activists earlier in the legislative session. This weekend, the overwhelming majority of attendees wanted to talk about the Republican bill to eviscerate Chapter 20, Iowa’s law that has governed collective bargaining for public employees since 1974.

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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2017

The Iowa House opens its 2017 session today with 59 Republicans, 40 Democrats, and one vacancy, since Jim Lykam resigned after winning the recent special election in Iowa Senate district 45. The 99 state representatives include 27 women (18 Democrats and nine Republicans) and 72 men. Five African-Americans (all Democrats) serve in the legislature’s lower chamber; the other 95 lawmakers are white. No Latino has ever been elected to the Iowa House, and there has not been an Asian-American 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.

Under the Ethics Committee subheading, you’ll see a remarkable example of Republican hypocrisy.

Some non-political trivia: the Iowa House includes two Taylors (one from each party) and two Smiths (both Democrats). 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), and three men each named Gary, John, and Charles (two Chucks and a Charlie). There are also two Elizabeths (a Beth and a Liz) and two men each named Brian, Bruce, Chris, Greg, Michael, and Todd.

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Iowa House Democrats keep Mark Smith as minority leader

Although the Republican takeover of the Iowa Senate was a bigger headline, the November 8 results were also devastating for Iowa House Democrats. Going into this campaign down 57 seats to 43, Democrats had realistic hopes of winning back the House majority, thanks to a half-dozen Republican retirements in the eastern half of the state, where Democrats have done well the last two presidential election years. With fewer open seats on the ballot in 2012, Democrats had a net gain of seven Iowa House seats and fell just a hair short in several other districts.

By October, an eight-seat gain looked out of reach, as Donald Trump had built a lead in state polling, and GOP candidates were outspending Democrats in most of the contested districts. Still, early vote totals looked promising for Democrats in some key legislative races shortly before election day. However, on Tuesday Democrats lost every race against a House Republican incumbent and every race in a GOP-held open House district. State Representative Patti Ruff was the only incumbent in the lower chamber to lose. The party lost one Democratic-held open House district as well, giving the GOP a net gain of two seats and a 59-41 majority for the next two years.

Despite the disappointing election, House Democrats re-elected Mark Smith as minority leader in Des Moines on Saturday. His four assistant minority leaders will be Bruce Bearinger, Liz Bennett, Brian Meyer, and Helen Miller. I was surprised to see Meyer’s name on the list, because one of the worst-kept secrets in Iowa Democratic circles is that he and Smith don’t get along. (Meyer was not a ranking member on any House committee during the last legislature.) All power to those who can put past grievances aside. The caucus can’t afford to be divided during what will likely be a distressing two years at the statehouse.

Not mentioned in the press release I enclose below: Miller challenged Smith for the leadership position, according to sources close to the legislature. I don’t have details on the vote count. Miller and Smith were both elected for the first time in 2002, Bearinger in 2012, Meyer in a 2013 special election, and Bennett in 2014.

None of the assistant minority leaders during the last legislative session (Ako Abdul-Samad, Mary Gaskill, Sharon Steckman, and Todd Prichard) are on the incoming leadership team. Abdul-Samad and Gaskill have had some health issues this past year. I don’t know whether Steckman and Prichard wanted to continue serving as assistant minority leaders.

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At least seven people considering run for Iowa Democratic Party chair (updated)

For many election cycles, either Senator Tom Harkin or the Democratic governor of Iowa would choose the Iowa Democratic Party chair, and the State Central Committee would rubber-stamp that decision. But in January 2015, the state party had its first competitive leadership election since I’ve been following Iowa politics. Andy McGuire edged out Kurt Meyer on the third ballot, largely because of strong support from establishment figures.

Iowa Democrats were trounced up and down the ballot on Tuesday. In my lifetime, we’ve never been beaten so badly in a presidential year. When President Ronald Reagan beat Walter Mondale by nearly 100,000 votes here in 1984, Democrats held on to their majorities in both legislative chambers, and Harkin beat incumbent U.S. Senator Roger Jepsen. This week, the party lost six Senate seats, mostly by large margins, and lost ground in the state House.

State Central Committee members will choose a new party leader in December January. At least seven people are either running or seriously thinking about seeking the position. UPDATE: Added a few more names below.

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Steve King: Whites have contributed more to civilization than other "sub-groups"

Representative Steve King’s concerns about people of non-European origin damaging American civilization are not news to anyone who has followed the Iowa Republican’s career. In the last month alone, King has asserted that it is “racist” to add the image of Harriet Tubman to the $20 bill and that the United Kingdom vote to leave the European Union may help save western civilization. At the same time, King has no problem displaying a Confederate flag, under which people fought and died to preserve slavery and divide this country, on his office desk.

King takes the alleged superiority of white culture for granted, which might not raise eyebrows on the conservative radio and television programs where he is a frequent guest. But when King floated those views to MSNBC’s national viewing audience this afternoon, the reaction was as explosive as the wave of outrage and mockery regarding House Speaker Paul Ryan’s “so white” selfie with interns.

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