Everything you want to know about Iowa's horrible new collective bargaining law

Republicans in the Iowa House and Senate voted today to dramatically reduce collective bargaining rights for some 180,000 public employees, following approximately 27 hours of debate in the Iowa Senate and fourteen and a half hours of debate in the Iowa House. GOP leaders moved House File 291 and Senate File 213 simultaneously through both chambers in order to speed up the process.

Democrats had offered dozens of amendments to the bills, which were published for the first time on February 7. Instead of allowing full discussion of every amendment, GOP leaders moved to cut off debate at a “time certain” today. That maneuver had never been used in the Iowa Senate and has been invoked only rarely in the Iowa House–including to end debate on the collective bargaining bill Republicans passed in March 2011. Debate ended in the Iowa House at noon, after which the majority quickly voted down all the remaining amendments with no discussion. Six Republicans joined all 41 Democrats to vote against the bill on final passage. Two of them, Tom Moore and Dave Heaton, are former teachers. Clel Baudler is a retired state trooper. Andy McKean and Shannon Lundgren were just elected from eastern Iowa swing districts, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans. McKean is also very familiar with Chapter 20 as a former county supervisor and longtime state lawmaker. I don’t know why Mary Ann Hanusa opposed the bill. UPDATE: Hanusa did not respond to my request for comment, but I learned from another source that she is also a former teacher who works in education administration.

Senators debated all night long Wednesday into Thursday morning, with Republicans voting down every Democratic amendment. Independent State Senator David Johnson voted with Democrats on all the amendments and joined them in giving several passionate speeches. Few Republicans in either chamber chose to speak in favor of the bills, aside from Senate Labor Committee Chair Jason Schultz, House Labor Committee Chair Dave Deyoe, and State Representative Steven Holt, who floor-managed the bill and distinguished himself as the legislature’s least convincing liar. The Des Moines Register’s William Petroski summarized some of the important Democratic amendments. I didn’t stay up to watch the whole debate, so would welcome examples of some of the most absurd Republican comments, like State Senator Mark Chelgren accusing Democrats of “stalling” while his party had shown an “incredible amount of patience.” Nothing says “patient” like making sweeping changes to a 43-year-old law, affecting 180,000 Iowans, after only nine days in the legislature.

Senate leaders ended debate at 2 pm Thursday, after which Republicans voted down the remaining Democratic amendments, then substituted the text of the House bill for the Senate bill, to get the legislation to Governor Terry Branstad more quickly. Branstad’s chief of staff, Michael Bousselot, spent the final hours of debate in the Senate chamber. House File 291 eventually passed on a 29-21 Senate vote.

Iowa’s largest public-sector union, AFSCME Iowa Council 61, plans to file a lawsuit claiming the new law is unconstitutional, presumably because of the way it grants more bargaining rights to “public safety” workers than to others, many of whom do dangerous jobs. Video from a February 16 press conference by labor leaders is available here.

I enclose below statements about the bill by legislative leaders from both parties, as well as documents prepared by Iowa House Democratic and Republican staff, which discuss in more detail how House File 291 will affect collective bargaining rights for different types of public employees. Regarding substantive impacts, I also recommend the recent guest posts here by state employee Ruth Thompson, University of Northern Iowa Professor Chris Martin, and attorney James Larew, who predicted that today’s action “will be remembered as the most destructive blow to our ability to govern ourselves fairly and efficiently in nearly half a century.”

GOP spin notwithstanding, collective bargaining “reform” in Iowa was designed primarily with political goals in mind, like similar measures in other states. Republicans know that crippling public sector unions will make it harder for Democrats to win elections.

Although Republicans repeatedly claimed during the House and Senate debates that their bill would help local governments, Chapter 20 has worked so well that more than 140 school districts rushed to sign new contracts with the teachers union before the legislature acted. Boards of supervisors in several large counties passed resolutions condemning the proposal. Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson’s case against the bill is convincing.

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The real reason Iowa Republicans want to break public unions

On Tuesday the Iowa House and Senate took up companion bills seeking to destroy every significant aspect of collective bargaining for more than 100,000 public employees. Although police officers and firefighters would be exempt from some provisions of House File 291 and Senate File 213, they too would lose important workplace protections.

As Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson explained in his written comments to Iowa lawmakers, the collective bargaining system that has been in place since 1974 works well. Local governments don’t need the legislature to be “big brother to us by dictating our collective bargaining rules.” Oleson characterized the Republican bill as a “solution in search of a problem,” driven by “pure and raw partisan politics”: “This bill takes a sledgehammer to the pesky fly that has been labor leaders you dislike. And that’s what this really is…payback! Political payback.”

Here’s what Republicans stand to gain by smashing that fly.

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Monica Kurth wins special election in Iowa House district 89

Democrat Monica Kurth easily won the January 31 special election to represent Iowa House district 89. The seat covering parts of Davenport (map enclosed below) became vacant after Jim Lykam won the recent special election to represent Iowa Senate disrict 45. Kurth defeated Republican Mike Gonzales by 2081 votes to 784 (72.4 percent to 27.3 percent). In effect, she won before polls opened yesterday. Absentee ballots broke 1,092 to 86 in her favor, Ed Tibbetts reported.

Kurth has been a community activist for many years and was a longtime instructor and counselor at Scott Community College. During the campaign, she promised to advocate for higher wages, good education, and retirement security, and to “keep focused on working families, not special interests.”

The total number of ballots cast in House district 89 was close to what special election guru David Beaudoin projected, based on his analysis of the district and Lykam’s results against Gonzales in December. However, Kurth’s winning margin exceeded Beaudoin’s prediction. Republicans put little effort into winning this district, which contains 7,403 active registered Democrats, 4,730 Republicans, and 8,416 no-party voters, according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. Gonzales raised less than $3,000, of which about $1,000 came from GOP county committees. He reported no in-kind expenditures by the Iowa GOP.

In contrast, Kurth raised about $24,000 for this race, of which $15,000 came from Democratic or labor organizations. The Iowa Democratic Party also spent nearly $30,000 on direct mail and advertising.

Former (and presumably future) presidential candidate Martin O’Malley came to Davenport last weekend to help Kurth’s campaign. He showed up for Lykam before the December Senate election as well.

Once Kurth has been sworn in, the Iowa House will have 59 Republicans and 41 Democrats. She will bring the number of women in the chamber to 28: nineteen Democrats and nine Republicans.

P.S.- Nine people went to the trouble of casting a ballot in this January election for a write-in candidate. I’m always fascinated by such behavior.

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How Kim Reynolds built her $1.1 million war chest

Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds will take many advantages into the 2018 gubernatorial campaign, by virtue of being the incumbent after Governor Terry Branstad leaves for China.

Though Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett is considering a bid for the Republican nomination next year, he may have second thoughts after looking at the Reynolds committee’s latest campaign finance reports. The lieutenant governor ramped up her fundraising during 2016 and has more than $1.1 million in the bank.

Contrary to the picture painted by spin doctors for Reynolds, most of the money came from major donors.

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Leadership contest may leave Iowa Democrats more divided than before

UPDATE: Derek Eadon was the winner; have added more about the meeting below, along with the audio from his first comments to reporters as state party chair and background on the new vice chairs. Democrats avoided a polarizing result today.

For many years, the Iowa Democratic Party’s State Central Committee “elected” the state chair in name only. In reality, insiders rubber-stamped a decision made by one person (Senator Tom Harkin, Governor Tom Vilsack, or Governor Chet Culver). So I was thrilled to see an open competition among four talented people seeking the top position in 2015. Contrary to some predictions, that race was not a foregone conclusion for the establishment’s favorite candidate; Andy McGuire needed three ballots to win.

The spirited campaign to become state party chair for the next two years is encouraging, considering the huge challenges facing our party after losses in November exceeding most people’s expectations.

I decided early not to endorse any candidate, because everyone in the field brought valuable skills and experience to the table. Reading the pieces posted here by Julie Stauch, Kurt Meyer, Derek Eadon, Sandy Dockendorff, Blair Lawton, and Kim Weaver, along with messages to State Central Committee members from Mike Gronstal and Bob Krause, I felt confident that whoever won would understand the key tasks facing the party and could draw on many good ideas floated during the process.

As today’s election approached, I have become increasingly concerned that the outcome will leave Iowa Democrats more angry and divided–party because the voting procedure won’t allow for consensus-building, and partly because some old hands simply don’t understand the mindset of many activists energized by the Bernie Sanders campaign.

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Senate should demand full disclosure of Branstad donors before his confirmation

The Branstad-Reynolds Scholarship Fund, which collected money to pay for Governor Terry Branstad’s 2011 and 2015 inaugural celebrations, has not disclosed the names of donors who contributed $1.1 million in 2015, Ryan Foley reported today for the Associated Press. That information should have been included on the non-profit’s 2015 tax return. However, the return filed on November 15, 2016 named only one donor: Principal Financial Group, which gave $25,000.

Before considering Branstad’s nomination to be U.S. ambassador to China, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee should insist that the governor bring his non-profit into compliance with federal law. Senators should also scrutinize all donations to the group, to see whether Branstad did any political favors for individuals or businesses that bankrolled his inaugural.

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