Get ready for a wave of Iowa House Republican retirements (updated)

State legislator retirements are typically a problem for the party out of power. Members of the majority can chair committees, drive the agenda, and get plenty of attention from lobbyists. Life in the minority caucus is much less satisfying.

Although Iowa House Republicans enjoy a 59-41 majority, four GOP representatives have already confirmed plans to step down this year, with more retirements likely before the March 16 filing deadline. When incumbents don’t seek re-election, party leaders sometimes must spend more resources defending open seats, leaving less money available for top and especially second-tier targets.

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Five cases against Iowa's phony "water quality" bill

Iowa House Republicans capitulated on January 23, sending the Senate’s version of a bill to fund water programs to Governor Kim Reynolds’ desk. During the floor debate on Senate File 512, several Democrats and Republican State Representative Chip Baltimore argued for the water quality language House members had approved last year with strong bipartisan support. Whereas agricultural lobby groups were the primary supporters of Senate File 512, a large number of stakeholders were involved in crafting the House amendment. Insisting on the House version would have sent the legislation to a conference committee for further negotiations. All 41 House Democrats and five Republicans (Baltimore, Mary Ann Hanusa, Jake Highfill, Guy Vander Linden, and Ralph Watts) opposed “receding” from the House version, but the other 54 Republicans approved the motion to abandon that language (roll call).

The subsequent 59 to 41 vote to approve final passage of the Senate bill mostly followed party lines, but four Democrats who represent smaller towns and rural areas voted yes: Bruce Bearinger, Helen Miller, Scott Ourth, and Todd Prichard. Miller has taken a particular interest in farm-related issues over the years; she is the Agriculture Committee Chair for the National Black Caucus of State Legislators as well as a member of State Agricultural and Rural Leaders.

Four Republicans joined the rest of the House Democrats to oppose Senate File 512: Baltimore, Hanusa, Highfill, and Vander Linden. As floor manager of this legislation in 2017, Baltimore led a group of GOP House members who opposed the Senate’s approach. More recently, he was sidelined as the Iowa Farm Bureau and allies pressured the “Baltimore 16” to accept the Senate bill without amendments. Appearing on Iowa Public Radio’s “River to River” broadcast on January 22, Baltimore sounded discouraged, saying there was a “snowball’s chance in hell” of a water quality compromise. His final words on that program called for “reasonable minds” to get something “comprehensive and collaborative done, rather than shoving one bill down another chamber’s throat and promising to work on it later.”

New floor manager John Wills promised passage of Senate File 512 would be “just the beginning, not the end” of legislative discussions on water quality. No one I know in the environmental community believes Republicans will approve any further funding increases for water programs, much less a bill that would measure progress so the public could find out what methods work best to reduce water pollution.

I enclose below some of the best takes I’ve seen on the worse-than-doing-nothing bill Reynolds will soon sign.

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Baltimore demoted, unlike previous two Iowa House Rs caught drunk driving

Iowa House Speaker Linda Upmeyer announced today that following State Representative Chip Baltimore’s OWI arrest, she has named Majority Whip Zach Nunn to lead the Judiciary Committee for the remainder of the 2018 legislative session. “Serving as a committee chairman is a privilege that requires a higher level of responsibility,” Upmeyer said in a statement. “Drinking and driving is unacceptable behavior that endangers the lives of all Iowans who wish to travel our roads safely. Rep. Baltimore’s actions were clearly irresponsible and he is being held accountable.”

The last two Iowa House Republicans caught drunk driving did not face such consequences.

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Chip Baltimore charged with OWI, weapon possession

State Representative Chip Baltimore was jailed this morning and charged with drunk driving and possession of a weapon, the Ames Tribune reported. Ames police pulled the Republican lawmaker over while responding to a report about a reckless driver.

Ames police Sgt. Mike Arkovich said a Smith & Wesson pistol was found in Baltimore’s vehicle as it was being impounded. While Baltimore had a permit to carry, the permit becomes void once a person’s blood alcohol exceeds 0.08 percent, Arkovich said. He said Baltimore’s blood alcohol level was 0.147 percent.

After appearing in court, Baltimore told KCCI-TV’s Tommie Clark, “Obviously, it’s not my proudest moment.” He declined to say whether he thinks he should remain chair of the House Judiciary Committee, saying, “That’s not my determination to make.”

In a written statement, Iowa House Speaker Linda Upmeyer said, ““Drunk driving is unacceptable behavior for anyone, let alone a state legislator. We will work through this issue and deal with it quickly. We will also work with Representative Baltimore to get him the help and support that he needs at this time.”

GOP Representative Erik Helland faced few political consequences after his OWI arrest in June 2010. His colleagues elected him House majority whip later the same year.

A shocking winner in the 2010 Republican wave by just 23 votes, Baltimore was re-elected by comfortable margins to his second, third, and fourth terms. The map drawn after the 2010 census added Greene County to House district 47 and took out the corner of Dallas County including Democratic-leaning Perry (see map below). Donald Trump carried House district 47 by about 2,600 votes in 2016, 55 percent to 38 percent for Hillary Clinton. Baltimore won his race with more than 60 percent of the vote.

UPDATE: I had forgotten that Baltimore supported legislation in recent years to combat drunk driving. Added more details on that below.

Attorney Thomas Frerichs asked why Baltimore isn’t facing a Carrying Weapons charge “based upon the invalidation of his carry permit.” Section 8 of last year’s omnibus gun law changed Iowa Code language on possession of firearms while under the influence. Whereas the old language said a gun permit was “invalid” if the person was intoxicated, the new language says an intoxicated person with a gun permit commits a serious misdemeanor if he or she carries the dangerous weapon “on or about the person” or “within the person’s immediate access or reach while in a vehicle.”

LATER UPDATE: Added below background on David Weaver, a farmer who announced on January 18 that he will run in House district 47 as a Democrat.

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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2018

The Iowa House opens its 2018 session today with 58 Republicans, 41 Democrats, and one vacancy, since Jim Carlin resigned after winning the recent special election in Iowa Senate district 3. Voters in House district 6 will choose Carlin’s successor on January 16. UPDATE: Republican Jacob Bossman won that election, giving the GOP 59 seats for the remainder of 2018.

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 significant 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), three Johns and a Jon, and three men each named Gary 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, Todd, and Michael (one goes by Mike).

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Iowa water quality and confirmation bias

Thanks to Democratic activist Paul Deaton, “a low wage worker, husband, father and gardener trying to sustain a life in a turbulent world,” for cross-posting these ideas from his blog. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Progressives, farmers and environmentalists heard there is movement in the Iowa legislature to fund water quality and ears perked up — a natural impulse to interpret new events as supporting something we already believe or are working on, also known as confirmation bias.

56 percent of Iowans support increasing the state sales tax three-eighths of a cent to pay for water quality projects and outdoor recreation, according to a Selzer and Company poll reported by the Des Moines Register on Feb 12.

On March 14, State Representative Bobby Kaufmann (R-Wilton) introduced such a bill: the WISE (Water, Infrastructure and Soil for our Economy) bill, House File 597.

After a three year implementation the tax would generate $180 million to fund Iowa’s Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund, which was created by a 2010 amendment to Iowa’s constitution. It sounds pretty good. However, we shouldn’t let our confirmation bias help Republican efforts to tax the poor, cut the general fund, and support the failed Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

Representative Chip Baltimore (R-Boone) and House Agriculture Committee Chair Lee Hein (R-Monticello) had previously introduced a water quality bill (House Study bill 135) addressing structural issues related to the use of water quality funds. Baltimore favored spending funds on watershed programs such as the governor’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy. Kaufmann’s bill mandates 60 percent of funding be directed to “a research-based water quality initiative (that) includes but not limited to a practice described in the Iowa nutrient reduction strategy.”

When Governor Terry Branstad created the Nutrient Reduction Strategy, in response to a federal requirement to address water quality, it was the least he could do. It was a way of tinkering around the edges of a water quality program, leveraging wide-spread concern about the need to act without changing the underlying structure of the system that creates excessive nitrate and phosphate loads in our water.

Branstad’s approach sucked up media attention and political will while doing little to address the root cause of the water quality problem.

“I welcome any legislative effort regardless of party that looks to protect the environment,” a progressive voter posted on Facebook. “While I agree that it is not fair that we have to take on the burden of trying to clean up after the farmers, I also know that they are a stubborn lot that hold great political power in Iowa. Therefore we need to be pragmatic and take whatever we can get while the Republicans are in charge.”

A lot of people would agree with this sentiment.

It’s clear solutions proposed in the Nutrient Reduction Strategy could work. They won’t work until either the strategy is compulsory, or there is funding to support broad participation.

“Republicans sometimes get accused of not being pro-environment, of not being pro-water quality,” Kaufmann said. “Well, this is our way of taking that bull by the horns and putting forth a good, tax-neutral water quality bill that puts guarantees in it that we can make sure dollars go to water quality.”

Despite Kaufmann’s work on the bill there are issues with the WISE approach to water quality.

Sales tax is regressive, which means it would be applied uniformly to all situations, regardless of the payer. Some might argue that everyone uses water so why shouldn’t everyone pay through sales tax? It is a straw man argument. A sales tax takes a larger percentage of income from low-income earners than from people causing this problem.

What’s worse than the regressive nature of sales tax is the Republican position any new tax must be revenue neutral. That means cutting the state budget. Where will the legislature find an additional $180 million in budget cuts after a year with three successive revenue shortfalls?

“Kaufmann admits there (are) still some questions about how the bill would affect other state programs,” Rob Swoboda reported in Wallaces Farmer. “But, he says, the only way the Republican-led legislature will pass a water-quality funding plan would be if the plan is revenue-neutral.”

Proposed budget cuts should be defined before advocating for the WISE bill.

There is no need to hold the agricultural community harmless in the pursuit of clean water. In 2013, when developing the Iowa Fertilizer Plant (a.k.a. Orascom) in Wever, Governor Branstad said, “the plant would create 2,500 temporary construction jobs and 165 permanent jobs and save farmers $740 million annually by cutting the price of fertilizer.” Whether or not there was a windfall in fertilizer savings farmers can afford to put skin in the water quality game.

“Where public money is needed (to fund water quality initiatives), consider an obvious source: the sale of farm fertilizer,” former state senator David Osterberg wrote in a May 25, 2016 column in the Des Moines Register. “If an urban person buys fertilizer for the lawn, there is a sales tax on the purchase. Farmers are exempt from the normal sales tax on fertilizer and a lot of other things. There is no reason for this exemption. Put the sales tax on fertilizer, earmark it to water-quality strategies and you have, conservatively, about $130 million a year to work with.”

While a majority of voters agree something must be done to improve water quality, political capital shouldn’t be diverted to supporting failed Republican policies just because they sound good or appear to support what we all believe.

Top image: Century farm in Johnson County. Photo by Paul Deaton.

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