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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House Republicans approve workers' comp bill with major unfunded changes

Iowa workers lost again at the statehouse on Thursday, as 55 House Republicans approved a bill that would tilt the workers’ compensation system markedly toward employers. All 37 Democrats present voted against House File 518, joined by just one Republican, State Representative Rob Taylor. UPDATE: GOP Representative Clel Baudler was absent on March 16 but filed an “explanation of vote” in the House Journal on March 20 clarifying that he would have voted “nay” on this bill.

Lawmakers had received an enormous number of constituent contacts since the “dramatic” and “far-reaching” legislation first saw the light of day a little more than two weeks ago. In a rush to get this unpleasantness behind them before the weekend, GOP legislators insisted on a final vote before staff could analyze the cost of a “new career vocational training and education program,” conjured up in an amendment filed the previous evening.

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If Todd Prichard runs for governor, his stump speech will sound like this

State Representative Todd Prichard spoke to a packed room at last night’s Northwest Des Moines Democrats meeting. Now in his third term representing Floyd and Chickasaw counties in the Iowa House, Prichard is ranking member on the Agriculture Committee and also serves on Natural Resources, Veterans, and Ways and Means, as well as on an Appropriations subcommittee. Pat Rynard recently profiled the army veteran and former prosecutor who may run for governor in 2018.

I’ve transcribed most of Prichard’s remarks from the Des Moines gathering below and uploaded the audio file, for those who want to listen. He speaks directly and fluidly without coming across as rehearsed or too polished, a common problem for politicians.

At one point, Prichard commented that Republicans didn’t spend a million dollars trying to defeat him last year, as the GOP and conservative groups did against several Iowa Senate Democratic incumbents. Republicans tested some negative messages against him with a telephone poll in August, but apparently didn’t sense fertile ground. Prichard’s opponent Stacie Stokes received little help from her party, compared to some other GOP candidates for Iowa House seats, including a challenger in a nearby district.

Based on the speech I heard on Tuesday, I would guess that if Prichard runs for governor, Republicans may regret not spending a million dollars against him in 2016.

One more point before I get to the transcript: Prichard is living proof that retiring lawmakers should not be allowed to hand-pick their own successors. When State Representative Brian Quirk resigned to take another job soon after winning re-election in 2012, he wanted his former high school football coach Tom Sauser to take his place. As a Bleeding Heartland reader who’s active in Floyd County described here, Prichard decided to run for the House seat shortly before the special nominating convention and barely won the nomination.

Prichard had a chance to start his political career because several days elapsed between his learning about Quirk’s preferred successor and the House district 52 nominating convention. Too often, Iowa Democratic legislators announce plans to retire only a day or two before candidates must submit papers to the Secretary of State’s Office. If Quirk had retired right before the March 2012 filing deadline, as three House Democrats did last year, his friend with the inside track would have been the only Democrat able to replace him. Nothing against retired teachers, but Sauser was not a potential future leader of the party, as Prichard is becoming.

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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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It's hard to beat an Iowa legislative incumbent in a primary

Yesterday’s primary elections demonstrated again that Iowans like to re-elect their incumbents, barring extraordinary circumstances.

The exception proving the rule: three-term State Representative Dan Kelley lost his Democratic primary in House district 29 (covering Newton and most of Jasper County) to Wes Breckinridge by 65 percent to 35 percent. As Pat Rynard explained here, that race was notable because prominent local officials and Iowa’s two largest labor organizations, AFSCME and the Iowa Federation of Labor, opposed the incumbent.

I’ll be sorry to see Kelley go. Of all the state legislators, he was the most vocal opponent of the Bakken pipeline, despite knowing that unions–a powerful interest group in Iowa Democratic politics–had bought into the oil company’s greatly exaggerated job estimates for that project (see also here). Kelley wasn’t always popular in the House Democratic caucus. I didn’t agree with all of his votes, but I admired his independent thinking.

No one challenged a sitting Iowa senator in a primary this year. The other eight state representatives who faced competitive primaries all won easily yesterday. Among the Democrats, Jo Oldson took about 67 percent of the vote against a hard-working opponent in House district 41, Brian Meyer won 69.5 percent in House district 33, and Mary Gaskill 59 percent in House district 81. Among the Republicans, Greg Forristall won just under 80 percent of the vote in House district 22, Stan Gustafson 67 percent in House district 25, Kevin Koester more than 86 percent in House district 38, Jake Highfill 58.5 percent in House district 39, and Jarad Klein 67 percent in House district 78.

No Iowa lawmaker failed to win his or her party’s nomination in 2014. Highfill had the closest call, taking a 43 percent plurality against two Republican opponents. Highfill was the only successful primary challenger to an Iowa legislative incumbent in 2012. The college student’s victory over then House Majority Whip Erik Helland was shocking, but an OWI arrest and other examples of poor judgment worked against Helland. Though inexperienced, Highfill had the backing of former State Representative Walt Tomenga and the “Liberty PAC” of Ron Paul supporters in that 2012 race.

Any comments about Iowa legislative elections are welcome in this thread.

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