IA-Gov: Boulton, Hubbell lead in early legislative endorsements

State Senator Nate Boulton and Fred Hubbell have locked up more support among state lawmakers than the five other Democrats running for governor combined.

Whether legislative endorsements will matter in the 2018 gubernatorial race is an open question. The overwhelming majority of state lawmakers backed Mike Blouin before the 2006 gubernatorial primary, which Chet Culver won. Last year, former Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge won the nomination for U.S. Senate, even though about 60 current and 30 former Democratic lawmakers had endorsed State Senator Rob Hogg.

Nevertheless, prominent supporters can provide a clue to activists or journalists about which primary contenders are well-positioned. Where things stand:

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Iowa Democrats, talk less about ALEC and more about people's lives

Thousands of Iowans will suffer brutal consequences from the two major bills Republican senators approved Monday. House File 295 blocks local governments from raising the minimum wage. Once Governor Terry Branstad signs the bill, thousands of people working in Linn, Johnson, and Wapello counties will get an immediate pay cut. Some 25,000 people in Polk County will be stuck earning $7.25 an hour, instead of getting a raise to $8.75, beginning next week. House File 518 will make it harder for employees to file workers’ compensation claims and will vastly reduce benefits for those who do qualify, especially anyone with a shoulder injury.

Both bills passed on party-line 29-21 votes after Republicans had rejected every effort to mitigate the harm done to working people.

As each Democratic amendment went down during hours of debate on the Senate floor, feelings of sadness, disgust and anger came through in the speeches of some Democrats and independent State Senator David Johnson. Why are you doing this, several asked their GOP colleagues. You don’t have to follow your floor manager, some pleaded. You can reject the “shameful” attempt to target poor people or those affected by life-altering workplace accidents.

Another dismal day in the Iowa legislature provoked an outpouring on social media, where progressive activists have mobilized this year in response to the Republican agenda. A measurable wave of “greater grassroots activism on the political left” is one of the few bright spots in the national landscape. In Iowa too, ordinary people are contacting their state lawmakers in record numbers and showing up to challenge them at district forums.

Watching these discussions unfold, I’ve noticed a reflexive tendency to blame one destructive Iowa GOP bill after another on the Koch brothers or the American Legislative Exchange Council. The more Democrats make the conversation about Koch money or ALEC, the easier it is for Republicans to avoid talking about the real-world consequences of their actions.

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Who's who in the Iowa Senate for 2017

The Iowa legislature’s 2017 session begins today with minor adjustments to business in the state House but massive changes in the Senate. After ten years of Democratic control, the last six with a one-seat majority, the upper chamber now contains 29 Republicans, 20 Democrats, and one independent (former Republican David Johnson).

I enclose below details on the Iowa Senate majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing Senate committees. Click here to find the same information from the 2016 legislative session.

Just six senators are women (five Democrats and a Republican), down from ten women serving in the chamber in 2013 and 2014 and seven during the past two years. All current senators are white. To my knowledge, the only African-American ever to serve in the Iowa Senate was Tom Mann, elected to two terms during the 1980s. No Latino has ever served in the Iowa legislature; in 2014, Nathan Blake fell 18 votes short of becoming the first to join the Senate. No Asian-American has served in the state Senate since Swati Dandekar resigned in 2011.

As a group, the members of the new majority caucus have much less legislative experience than do their Democratic counterparts. As detailed below, only three of the 29 Senate Republicans have served ten or more years in the Iowa legislature, compared to thirteen of the 20 Democrats.

Some non-political trivia: the 50 Iowa senators include two with the surname Johnson, four Marks, three Bills, and two men each named Richard (Rich and Rick), Robert (a Rob and a Bob), Dan, Tim, Tom, Jeff, and Charles (one goes by Chaz).

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Rob Hogg, Amanda Ragan to lead Iowa Senate Democrats

Iowa Senate Democrats unanimously chose Rob Hogg today to serve as Senate minority leader during the upcoming legislative session. Amanda Ragan will be the new minority whip, and the incoming assistant leaders will be Bill Dotzler, Liz Mathis, Rita Hart, Joe Bolkcom, Matt McCoy, and Herman Quirmbach.

Six Democratic senators lost their re-election bids this month, including Mike Gronstal, who had served as either minority or majority leader of the caucus since 1997. Pam Jochum, who was Senate president for the past four years, will not be on the new leadership team. Ragan, Dotzler, and McCoy were among last year’s assistant majority leaders, while Bolkcom served as majority whip.

Erin Murphy reported for the Quad-City Times,

Hogg said Senate Democrats will speak on behalf of Iowans “who need state government to work” and attempt to prevent Republicans from implementing policies that could damage the state’s economy or adversely affect its residents.

“I’m hopeful we can stop Republicans from going down a knee-jerk, partisan pathway,” Hogg said.

I see no realistic chance to stop Republicans from using their large majorities in both chambers to head down that partisan pathway. Among their likely top priorities: cutting taxes so that most of the benefits go to corporations and higher-income individuals, gutting Iowa’s 42-year-old collective bargaining law, restricting abortion rights, ending state funds for Planned Parenthood’s non-abortion services, adopting the gun lobby’s wish list (“stand your ground,” “constitutional carry,” and/or open carry), and making it harder for Iowans to vote. Republicans will almost certainly need to reduce funding for education and a variety of social net programs, such as Medicaid and child care assistance, to pay for those tax cuts.

All Democrats can accomplish these next two years is to warn ahead of time how such policies will hurt the majority of Iowans, and to “document the atrocities” after Governor Terry Branstad signs the various harmful bills into law.

I enclose below a news release with more comments from Hogg. O.Kay Henderson’s profile of Gronstal for Radio Iowa is worth reading.

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