Never let it be said that the 2016 Iowa legislature accomplished nothing

In four months of work this year, Iowa lawmakers made no progress on improving water quality or expanding conservation programs, funded K-12 schools and higher education below levels needed to keep up with inflation, failed to increase the minimum wage or address wage theft, let most criminal justice reform proposals die in committee, didn’t approve adequate oversight for the newly-privatized Medicaid program, opted against making medical cannabis more available to sick and suffering Iowans, and left unaddressed several other issues that affect thousands of constituents.

But let the record reflect that bipartisan majorities in the Iowa House and Senate acted decisively to solve a non-existent problem. At a bill-signing ceremony yesterday, Governor Terry Branstad and supporters celebrated preventing something that probably never would have happened.

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Iowa House Republicans try to evade accountability on medical cannabis

What do state lawmakers do when they don’t want to pass something the overwhelming majority of their constituents support?

A time-honored legislative strategy involves 1) keeping the popular proposal from coming up for a vote, and 2) giving your members a chance to go on record supporting a phony alternative.

Iowa House Republicans executed that statehouse two-step this week in order to block efforts to make medical cannabis more widely available to Iowans suffering from serious health problems.

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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2016

The Iowa House opened its 2016 session today with 57 Republicans and 43 Democrats. The 100 state representatives include 27 women (21 Democrats and six Republicans) and 73 men. Five African-Americans (all Democrats) serve in the legislature’s lower chamber; the other 95 state representatives are white. No Latino has ever been elected to the Iowa House, and there has not been an Asian 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. All are on the Republican side, mostly following from Kraig Paulsen’s decision to step down as speaker, Chuck Soderberg’s retirement, and the passing of Jack Drake.

Some non-political trivia: the Iowa House includes two Millers (one from each party), two Taylors (one from each party), and two Moores (both Republicans). 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), four Johns, and three Brians. There are two Lindas, two Elizabeths (a Beth and a Liz), and two men each named Dan, Mark, Greg, Tom, Bruce, Todd, Chris, and Charles (one goes by Chuck).

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Charles Holz set to replace Chuck Soderberg in Iowa House district 5

Charles Holz won a special nominating convention last night in Iowa House district 5, where former House Appropriations Committee Chair Chuck Soderberg resigned his seat last month. Two Republicans sought the nomination for the November 3 special election. Holz is retired after a long career as a large animal veterinarian in Le Mars; he has also published work in his field. Citing a press release from the Plymouth County GOP, the Sioux City Journal reported earlier this month that Holz “served on the Le Mars school board for 18 years, including two years as board president.” UPDATE: Added below a Republican Party of Iowa statement containing more biographical information.

According to The Iowa Statesman blog, Holz “defeated rural Woodbury County small business owner and homeschool parent Brad Hopp on the first ballot” at the nominating convention.

To my knowledge, no Democrat has announced plans to run for House district 5, which covers all of Plymouth County and some rural areas of Woodbury County. Click here to view a district map. Ideally, Democrats would compete for every state legislative district, but House district 5 is one of the safest for Republicans. Mitt Romney carried 65.9 percent of the presidential vote here in 2012, and Joni Ernst won 71.2 percent of the 2014 votes for U.S. Senate. The district contains 3,819 active registered Democrats, 9,015 Republicans, and 6,697 no-party voters, according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office.

Five-term State Representative Pat Grassley is set to replace Soderberg as chair of the Iowa House Appropriations Committee for the 2016 legislative session. Although that’s a plum committee assignment, working out a deal with Iowa Senate Democrats on the state budget will likely be more difficult than usual next year, because of the fallout from Governor Terry Branstad’s latest line-item vetoes. The key Republicans involved in this year’s budget deal-making quit their jobs this summer.

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