Year in review: Iowa politics in 2009 (part 1)

I expected 2009 to be a relatively quiet year in Iowa politics, but was I ever wrong.

The governor’s race heated up, state revenues melted down, key bills lived and died during the legislative session, and the Iowa Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in Varnum v Brien became one of this state’s major events of the decade.

After the jump I’ve posted links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of Iowa politics from January through June 2009. Any comments about the year that passed are welcome in this thread.

Although I wrote a lot of posts last year, there were many important stories I didn’t manage to cover. I recommend reading Iowa Independent’s compilation of “Iowa’s most overlooked and under reported stories of 2009,” as well as that blog’s review of “stories that will continue to impact Iowa in 2010.”

Continue Reading...

Some Iowa House Democrats will get primary challengers

The Democratic-controlled legislature failed to pass some important bills during the 2009 legislative session, including a tax reform package and all major agenda items for organized labor.

Since the fiasco that doomed the “prevailing wage” bill in February, I’ve thought that electing better Democrats to the state legislature is at least as important as electing more Democrats. With a 56-44 majority in the Iowa House, it’s ridiculous not to be able to find 51 votes for some of these bills.

According to a letter I received last weekend, Ed and Lynn Fallon of I’M for Iowa are already meeting with potential progressive challengers in some House districts. I’ve posted the full text of the letter after the jump. I share their disappointment with what the Democratic “trifecta” has accomplished since the 2006 elections.

The Fallons do not specify where they are recruiting candidates. The obvious targets are the six House Democrats who refused to support “prevailing wage.” Known in Iowa political circles as the “six-pack,” these incumbents also stood in the way of other labor bills. Of those six, Geri Huser and Dolores Mertz seem particularly likely targets, because they supported House Republican efforts to ban same-sex marriage in April. Marriage equality is one of I’M for Iowa’s priority issues.

Good opportunities for primary challengers include districts that are relatively safe for Democrats in the general election. That points to “six-pack” members Huser (House district 42), Brian Quirk (district 15) and Doris Kelley (district 20).

Challenging the rest of the group is somewhat more risky. McKinley Bailey (district 9), Larry Marek (district 89) and Dolores Mertz (district 8) represent marginal districts. In fact, first-termer Marek will probably be the most endangered Democratic House incumbent next year. Bailey beat back a strong challenge from Republicans to win a second term by a fairly healthy margin in 2008, but according to this report by Iowa Independent’s Jason Hancock, some House Democrats have been “quietly concerned” that he might consider switching parties.

Mertz is a longtime incumbent in a very conservative district. In the unlikely event that a progressive challenger defeated her, Republicans would almost certainly pick up the seat. On the other hand, a smaller Democratic House caucus without Mertz would be an improvement over a larger caucus with Mertz, in my opinion. As chair of the House Agriculture Committee, she blocks any decent bill in sight, and she will be the Republicans’ biggest Democratic ally in the fight to overturn the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling in Varnum v Brien.

Two big questions come to mind. First, will organized labor put money and/or foot soldiers into serious Democratic primary races? Earlier this year, Ken Sagar of the Iowa AFL-CIO didn’t rule out supporting competitors to Democrats who are unfriendly to labor.

Second, will the Iowa House Democratic leadership spend money or political capital to defend targeted incumbents? In 2008 the Iowa Democratic Party blocked Huser’s primary challenger from access to the voter database. I heard from multiple sources at the time that the House Democrats made that call. Huser returned her colleagues’ favor by not being a team player during the general election campaign, then refusing to support the labor bills mentioned above.

I look forward to reading your comments on whether it’s worth taking on any House Democratic incumbents next year, and if so, which ones. The Fallons’ letter laying out the case for primary challenges is after the jump.

Continue Reading...

Final results from the Iowa Legislature's 2009 session

The Iowa House adjourned for the year a little after 5 am today, and the Iowa Senate adjourned a few minutes before 6 am. I’ll write more about what happened and didn’t happen in the next day or two, but I wanted to put up this thread right away so people can share their opinions.

Several major bills passed during the final marathon days in which legislators were in the statehouse chambers nearly all night on Friday and Saturday. The most important were the 2010 budget and an infrastructure bonding proposal. Legislators also approved new restrictions on the application of manure on frozen or snow-covered ground. Another high-profile bill that made it through changes restrictions on convicted sex offenders.

Several controversial bills did not pass for lack of a 51st vote in the Iowa House, namely a tax reform plan that would have ended federal deductibility and key legislative priorities for organized labor.

Not surprisingly, last-minute Republican efforts to debate a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage also failed.

More details and some preliminary analysis are after the jump.

Continue Reading...

Choice of doctor debate reveals Republican hypocrisy

Iowa Republicans are mobilizing against House File 530, which would allow employees to select their own doctor in case of a workplace injury. The workers’ compensation reform has already cleared a subcommittee (over the objections of its Republican member) and will be discussed at a public hearing tonight at 7 pm at the capitol. Iowa GOP chairman Matt Strawn held a press conference on the issue yesterday in Davenport, and most statehouse Republicans agree with the business interests working hard to defeat the bill.

Opponents claim the bill would let injured workers go “doctor-shopping,” even though the text states clearly that workers would have to designate a personal physician before any injury occurs. The Des Moines Register explains,

• If employees fail to select a doctor before an injury, the employer will select the doctor.

• If either the worker or employer is dissatisfied with the care chosen by the other party, the dissatisfied party may suggest alternative care. If the parties cannot agree, the dissatisfied party may appeal to the labor commissioner and a hearing may be set within 10 work days.

Seems reasonable to me. Shouldn’t every American be able to choose his or her own doctor?

We already knew Republicans don’t really care about the individual’s ability to choose a physician. If they did, they would support a “Medicare for All” approach to health care reform instead of the status quo in which private insurance companies routinely limit patients’ ability to go “out of network” for a doctor.

The controversy over Iowa House file 530 provides further evidence that Republicans don’t respect your right to choose your own doctor. If you’re an employee suffering from a workplace injury, Iowa Republicans think your rights are less important than the bottom line for businesses claiming this bill will cost them more.

Here’s hoping Iowa will join the 35 states that allow workers to choose their own doctors soon. It’s the least the Iowa legislature can do to advance workers’ interests after last month’s prevailing wage bill fiasco. The failure of Democratic leaders to find a 51st vote in favor of that bill provided a real shot in the arm for the Iowa GOP. Party chairman Strawn recently boasted to the Register about how he

sent e-mail alerts to county party leaders asking them to contact their local membership to flood undecided Democrats with phone calls. […]

“There was some very effective use of new technology that helped rally grass-roots Republicans around the state,” Strawn said. “Most all of that was done using these online tools. It wasn’t the old-school phone tree.”

Sounds like the Iowa Democratic Party and its labor union allies need to get those phones ringing down at the capitol.

I’ll have more to say on the doctors’ choice bill later in the week.

UPDATE: After the public hearing on March 10, the Iowa House Labor Committee approved this bill on a 10-6 vote. We’ll see whether leadership can come up with 51 votes to pass it.

Continue Reading...
View More...