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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Two more Democrats support gun bill in final Iowa House vote

This afternoon the Iowa House approved the amended omnibus gun bill state senators approved earlier this week. House File 517 passed by 57 votes to 35, mostly along party lines. Four Democrats (Bruce Bearinger, Scott Ourth, John Forbes, and Tim Kacena) voted for the bill. Bearinger and Ourth also supported the legislation the first time it came before the House. They explained their reasoning in comments I published here. I have asked Forbes and Kacena why they changed their minds and will update this post as needed.

Only two Republicans voted against the gun bill today. Dave Heaton and Michael Bergan also opposed last month’s version. Heaton could not abide the provisions making it more difficult for local governments to keep guns out of public buildings. His district includes Mount Pleasant, where a fatal shooting occurred during a city council meeting three decades ago. I have not seen public comments from Bergan about this issue, but will update this post if he responds to my inquiry.

Before the final vote, House members debated the Senate amendment to House File 517. Bleeding Heartland discussed the changes to various provisions here. Democratic State Representative Mary Wolfe offered an amendment to the amendment, which would have delayed until July 1, 2018 the implementation of the section allowing Iowans to carry concealed weapons on the state Capitol grounds. Her thinking: while it’s “fine” to let law-abiding Iowans carrying handguns in Capitol, the legislature has a “responsibility to visitors to ensure all permits to carry [are] valid.” The bill calls for the Department of Public Safety to create a statewide verifiable uniform permit to carry, but that process will take much longer than three months. Wolfe pointed to the risk that Iowans without permits might take advantage of the current non-uniformity of carry permits issued by county sheriffs (some with no photo). The state legislature will be held liable “if innocent people are killed by a person who is allowed to carry” a gun in the Capitol building.

Wolfe’s amendment was ruled not germane, and her motion to suspend the rules to force a vote on it failed along party lines. After that, House members approved the Senate amendment by voice vote, leading to closing speeches and the 57-35 vote on final passage mentioned above.

Matt Windschitl, who floor managed House File 517, used part of his closing remarks to go on a riff about Iowans “being lied to.” I expected a diatribe against people like me, who have raised concerns about Stand Your Ground and local pre-emption language facilitating more homicides. But in a plot twist, Windschitl’s target was Aaron Dorr, the none-too-ethical leader of Iowa Gun Owners. That group claims to be “Iowa’s only No Compromise gun rights organization.” On the House floor (beginning around the 4:42:15 mark here), Windschitl hammered Iowa Gun Owners for taking credit for a bill they did nothing to advance. “You need and you deserve the truth. Aaron Dorr is a scam artist, a liar, and he is doing Iowans no services and no favors. I feel better now,” Windschitl said, just before moving for a final vote on his bill.

UPDATE: Forbes commented via e-mail on April 7, “There were several changes made in the Senate that improved the bill and led to my support. While it is still not perfect, the Senate changes give the Governor more flexibility to restrict weapons in emergency situations, adds more safeguards for kids, and adds new protections to keep people who have committed a firearms-related crime behind bars.”

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What you need to know about the bill that will get more Iowans killed

Voting mostly along party lines, the Iowa House approved on March 7 a bill containing many items on the gun lobby’s wish list. House File 517 would make it easier for Iowans to acquire, carry, and use firearms, relaxing permitting rules, expanding where people can bring concealed weapons, and enacting “Stand Your Ground” language. The bill is certain to pass the Republican-controlled state Senate, due to the heavy involvement of pro-gun groups in defeating several Democratic incumbents last year. Governor Terry Branstad has never seen a gun bill he didn’t like, so will surely sign House File 517 when it reaches his desk.

The most important likely result will be more shootings of unarmed people by Iowans newly entitled to use deadly force, without having to demonstrate that any person was in danger, or that the shooter had valid reason to feel threatened. Other states that adopted “Stand Your Ground” legislation have experienced a documented increase in homicides, with no evidence of deterrence effects. After Florida enacted a law similar to what the Iowa House just passed, “there was an abrupt and sustained increase in the monthly homicide rate of 24.4% […] and in the rate of homicide by firearm of 31.6% […].”

As State Representative Ras Smith underscored by putting on a hoodie during the Iowa House debate, African-Americans will be at particular risk, since research indicates “Whites who kill blacks in Stand Your Ground states are far more likely to be found justified in their killings.”

More tragedies may also occur in Iowa municipal offices, thanks to provisions making it harder for cities and counties to ban weapons from government buildings.

I enclose below some highlights from yesterday’s debate and details on House File 517. Because gun advocates continue to spread misinformation in order to build a case for “Stand Your Ground,” I also included relevant language from current state law and an Iowa Supreme Court ruling.

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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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