Iowa Democrats face incredibly difficult path back to legislative majorities (part 1)

Many Iowa Democrats expect to have the wind at their backs for the 2018 elections, due to surging progressive activism, an unpopular Republican president, and backlash against GOP lawmakers who used their power this year to take rights away from hundreds of thousands of workers, lower wages for tens of thousands more, and undermine protections for those who suffer workplace injuries.

It’s too early to predict the political climate next fall, but Democrats need to hope for favorable external conditions as well as strong recruits and well-run campaigns. New calculations of last year’s presidential election results by state legislative district point to a very steep climb back to 51 seats in the Iowa House and 26 seats in the Senate. This post will survey the terrain in the upper chamber.

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Iowa Senate passes major gun bill: what changed, plus debate highlights

Legislation to make sweeping changes to Iowa’s gun laws is headed back to the state House, after the Senate approved an amended version of House File 517 on Tuesday.

All 29 Senate Republicans voted for the bill, joined by Democrats Chaz Allen, Tod Bowman, Rich Taylor, and Wally Horn. The other sixteen Democratic senators and independent David Johnson voted against it. (Taylor and fellow Democrat Kevin Kinney had backed the bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee, but Kinney voted against final passage on the floor.)

Follow me after the jump for details on what changed and stayed the same in the omnibus gun bill, as well as highlights from the Senate debate.

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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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Rich Leopold becomes first Iowa Democratic candidate for governor

Vowing to be an outsider who can bring a “different kind of government” to Iowa, Rich Leopold just announced in a Facebook live appearance that he will run for governor as a Democrat in 2018. I enclose below his news release and a statement of “four cornerstones” that will guide his candidacy, along with a transcript of his comments on video. Leopold’s campaign website is here and his Facebook page is here.

A first-time candidate for office, Leopold stands apart from the “lobbyists, special interests, and the insider’s club that for far too long has run our government” and “is free from the generations of deal-making and permanent campaigning that has poisoned the capitol,” his “cornerstones” document declares.

Leopold has government experience at the local, state, and federal level. He served as Iowa Department of Natural Resources director during Chet Culver’s administration from 2007 to 2010, when he took a job with the Midwest Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He later worked for the Dickinson County Conservation Board and since 2013 has been with the Polk County Conservation Board, where he is now director. (Disclosure: I joined the board of directors of the Iowa Environmental Council when Leopold was that non-profit’s executive director, shortly before he left to lead the DNR.)

Leopold also chairs the new Grow Iowa PAC, which raised about $10,000 last year and donated to eighteen Democratic candidates or committees.

No other Democrats have confirmed plans to run for governor, but outgoing Iowa Democratic Party chair Andy McGuire is widely expected to announce her candidacy early this year. If either wins the June 2018 primary, Leopold or McGuire would be the first Iowa nominee for governor since Roxanne Conlin in 1982 not to have held elected office.

Many politics-watchers expect at least one member of the Iowa House or Senate to seek the nomination as well, perhaps State Senator Liz Mathis or State Representative Todd Prichard.

UPDATE: State Senator Chaz Allen is also rumored to be considering the gubernatorial race. He or Prichard would have to give up their seats in the legislature in order to run for governor. Mathis was just re-elected to a four-year term, so could run for governor without leaving the Iowa Senate.

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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 Democrats trying to add autism insurance coverage to budget bill

Earlier this month, Claire Celsi informed Bleeding Heartland readers about the demise of an autism insurance bill after State Representative Peter Cownie refused to bring the measure up for a vote in the Iowa House Commerce Committee, which he chairs.

As both Autism Awareness Month and the 2016 legislative session wind down, Democrats in the Iowa House and Senate have been working to add the same requirements to a must-pass budget bill. Follow me after the jump for background and where things stand in this fight.

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