Iowa Senate district 25 preview: Tracy Freese vs. Annette Sweeney

Voters in Iowa Senate district 25 will elect a successor to disgraced former Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix on April 10. The special election campaign is happening on a compressed timetable because the vacancy arose during the Iowa legislature’s session. Dix should have faced pressure to resign last year over his many missteps in handling sexual harassment in the Senate GOP caucus. Instead, he stepped down unexpectedly last week after publication of a video and photographs showing him “in a romantic relationship” with a lobbyist.

Local Democrats nominated Tracy Freese for the special election on March 17. Sweeney won the GOP nomination three days later. The former Republican lawmaker will be heavily favored on April 10 and in the November election for a full four-year term. However, if Freese keeps it closer than expected, the special election may provide a snapshot of high Democratic voter engagement, like the recent over performance by Todd Wendt in Iowa Senate district 3 and Rita DeJong in Iowa House district 6.

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Whitver, Schneider to lead Iowa Senate GOP; Failor out as top aide

Iowa Senate Republicans elected new leaders today following Bill Dix’s unexpected resignation on March 12. Jack Whitver moves up from Senate president to majority leader, and Charles Schneider moves up from majority whip to Senate president. Amy Sinclair, who has been one of four assistant majority leaders, moves up to majority whip. Jake Chapman will take her place as an assistant leader.

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Bill Dix was never as smart as he thought he was

Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix’s eighteen-year legislative career ended today after Iowa Starting Line published a video and photographs showing Dix and a lobbyist snuggling in a Des Moines bar on March 1. The majority leader did not comment on the alleged relationship in any statement to the media or in his resignation letter.

State lawmakers having affairs with lobbyists is hardly a new phenomenon, but given the potential for abuse of power, as well as the massive media coverage of the sexual harassment problem in the Iowa Senate GOP caucus, you’d think Dix would avoid having such an intimate conversation in public.

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No magical economic boom will make Iowa GOP's tax cuts affordable

Iowa Senate Republicans are barreling ahead to debate a regressive tax plan that would reduce state revenues by 10 to 15 percent within five years. Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Randy Feenstra, lead author of Senate File 2383, continued to describe his proposal as “bold, pro-growth tax relief” after a non-partisan analysis projected massive revenue losses.

Meanwhile, newly-released records show that in communications with other GOP senators, Feenstra greatly understated the cost of an earlier draft of his tax proposal. The documents don’t indicate whether the head of Senate’s tax-writing committee misunderstood numbers provided by the Iowa Department of Revenue or misrepresented them to downplay the price tag. (Feenstra has not responded to my inquiry.)

What is clear: the Department of Revenue never predicted that deeply cutting taxes would produce “excess” economic growth. Which isn’t surprising, since no economic boom materialized in states like Kansas and Louisiana after Republicans destroyed those states’ ability to pay for essential services.

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Fourteen Iowa House Democrats who seem content to stay in minority forever

Iowa Democrats are in a deep hole, controlling only 20 of the 50 seats in the state Senate and 41 of 100 in the House. On the plus side, strong candidate recruitment and a wave of Republican retirements are giving Democrats plenty of opportunities to pick up House seats. (The 2018 Iowa Senate map is less promising.)

Raising money can be challenging for leaders of a minority party, who don’t call the shots on legislation. Furthermore, Iowa Republicans have a natural advantage, since the policies they promote are often tailored to suit wealthy individuals or corporate interest groups. While money doesn’t always determine campaign outcomes, quite a few Democratic lawmakers and challengers lost in 2016 after being massively outspent on television commercials and direct mail (see here, here, and here for examples).

Yet the latest set of campaign financial disclosures reveal little sense of urgency among Democratic incumbents who could do much more to help others win competitive districts this November.

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