IA-01: Democrat Courtney Rowe may challenge Rod Blum

Cedar Rapids-based engineer Courtney Rowe may run for Congress against Representative Rod Blum in Iowa’s first district, she confirmed to Bleeding Heartland today. Rowe has been an active Democrat locally and was a Bernie Sanders delegate to last year’s Linn County, first district, and state conventions, as well as an alternate to the Democratic National Convention. She has volunteered her time on church missions, as a mentor for middle-school students, and as an officer for Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).

Rowe described her background and motivation for considering a Congressional bid in a document I enclose below. She has not yet created an exploratory committee but plans to launch a campaign website sometime next month, both to present some of her policy ideas and to create an interactive format for voters to weigh in on the issues.

The 20 counties in IA-01 contain 166,338 active registered Democrats, 146,164 Republicans, and 191,340 no-party voters, according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. The largest-population counties are Linn (the Cedar Rapids metro area), Black Hawk (Waterloo/Cedar Falls metro), and Dubuque, a traditional Democratic stronghold that is also Blum’s home base, where Democrats underperformed badly in 2016.

Blum was considered one of the most vulnerable U.S. House members in the country going into the 2016 election cycle, and many Iowa Democrats believed his narrow victory over Pat Murphy in 2014 had been a fluke. However, the Freedom Caucus member defeated Monica Vernon by a larger margin of 53.7 percent to 46.1 percent. Blum ran about five points ahead of Donald Trump, who carried the IA-01 counties by 48.7 percent to 45.2 percent. That was a massive swing from Barack Obama’s double-digit advantage in this part of Iowa in 2012.

Although I haven’t yet heard of any other Democrats thinking seriously about challenging Blum, I expect a competitive 2018 primary. Any comments about the race are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released its first target list on January 30. IA-01 and IA-03 are among those 33 Republican-held House seats.

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Heidi Heitkamp cancels what might have been an awkward Iowa appearance

U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota was supposed to be the keynote speaker at tonight’s Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame event in Des Moines. However, the party announced last night the senator would be unable to attend “due to a scheduling conflict.” At this writing, the Iowa Democratic Party has not responded to my request for further details on the cancellation.

Heitkamp’s planned Iowa debut could hardly have come at a more awkward time. Among the least progressive Senate Democrats on a number of issues, Heitkamp was noticeably absent this week as some 40 senators took part in a filibuster led by Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut to force a vote on gun control measures. In 2013, she was one of just four Senate Democrats “who sided with the vast majority of Republicans to shoot down a bipartisan proposal to strengthen and expand background checks for gun purchases.” At the time, she said she opposed the bill drafted after the Sandy Hook mass shooting because “the focus should be on mental health issues, full and accurate reporting into the NICS database and ensuring that we are prosecuting criminals in possession of or trying to possess firearms. This conversation should be about what is in people’s minds, not about what is in their hands.”

In numerous social media postings this week, Iowa Democratic activists have criticized Heitkamp’s history of being a reliable vote for the National Rifle Association.

Even before last weekend’s massacre at the Pulse gay club in Orlando drew attention to the availability of assault weapons designed for use in military combat, I was expecting protests outside the hall and some heckling during Heitkamp’s speech, because of her ties to the fossil fuel industry. Opponents of the proposed Dakota Access (Bakken) pipeline have objected to giving Heitkamp such a prominent role in what is usually the Iowa Democratic Party’s second-largest event of the year. I enclose below a letter to the Des Moines Register by Wally Taylor of the Sierra Club.

Recent high school graduate Ryan McDaniel of Marshalltown will replace Heitkamp on tonight’s program, Jason Noble reported for the Des Moines Register. McDaniel won one of the Eychaner Foundation‘s fourteen Matthew Shepard scholarships this year. I’m excited to hear him speak.

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Market forces may kill Bakken pipeline despite likely Iowa Utilities Board approval

Pipes intended for use in the Dakota Access pipeline being stored in Jasper County, Iowa during 2015. Photo provided by Wallace Taylor, used with permission.

UPDATE: As expected, the board voted unanimously to approve the permit. Scroll to the end of this post for more details and reaction.

The Iowa Utilities Board will meet this afternoon to issue a decision on the proposed Dakota Access pipeline. Everyone I know in the environmental community expects the three board members to approve the permit for this project, better known as the Bakken pipeline. Litigation is sure to follow, as opponents charge the Iowa Utilities Board’s eminent domain powers may be used only in the service of a “public good,” not “to privilege a private corporation.”

Other legal hurdles include the need for a permit from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, because the pipeline route would cross “four areas in Iowa that have been identified as sovereign lands.” The Sierra Club Iowa chapter has been pushing for a thorough Environmental Impact Study and archaeological review. (Too many Iowa politicians from both parties signed a letter to the utilities board opposing an independent environmental impact assessment.)

Iowa State University economist Dave Swenson has long cast doubt on the “bloated” economic impact numbers Dakota Access has used to market the project. Click here for Swenson’s detailed analysis on the pipeline’s “purported economic and fiscal benefits to the state of Iowa.”

A growing number of observers believe the project no longer makes economic sense even for Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company of Dakota Access.

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Unfolding Energy Release Iowa Energy Assessment and Planning For A Cleaner Future Report

Paritosh Kasotia is the founder and CEO of Unfolding Energy and was named to the Midwest Energy News list of “40 under 40” last year. She led the Iowa Energy Office until late 2014. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Unfolding Energy, a not-for-profit organization released its Iowa Energy Assessment and Planning for a Cleaner Future Report. The report is intended for the State of Iowa, elected officials, Iowans, and potential political candidates as a resource to guide the Iowa Energy Office’s planning process as they work towards creating a statewide energy plan.

The report provides an overview of Iowa’s energy production and consumption patterns and dives into Iowa’s current regulatory and policy framework in the context of climate change, renewable energy, energy efficiency, and building codes. Other sections of the report examines the potential for various clean energy sources and concludes the report with recommendations that the State of Iowa should implement.

Excerpt from the report below

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Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has died; will the Senate act on his replacement?

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died in his sleep overnight while visiting west Texas, multiple local news sources reported this afternoon. Scalia was the longest-serving current member of the court, having been appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986.

I am seeking comment from U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, on whether Senate Republicans will consider a Supreme Court nomination by President Barack Obama, or whether they will decline to take up any nomination until after the presidential election. Last year the GOP-controlled Senate confirmed only eleven federal judges, “the fewest in a single year since 1960.” Some conservatives including Senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz and Sean Davis, founder of The Federalist website, are already demanding that the Senate refuse to act on any Supreme Court nominees until a new president has been elected.

I will update this post as needed with Grassley’s comments and other Iowa reaction to Scalia’s passing.

UPDATE: Have not heard back from Grassley’s office, but a spokesperson for Senator Mike Lee of Utah, who also serves on the Judiciary Committee, says Scalia’s death “will put a full stop to all Obama judicial nominees going forward” and characterized as “less than zero” the chance of this president getting Scalia’s replacement on the bench.

SECOND UPDATE: Speaking by phone to the Des Moines Register’s Jason Noble, Grassley praised Scalia’s “legacy of scholarship” and said he would be “badly missed” as an interpreter of original intent, adding, “I wouldn’t make any prognostication on anything about the future because there’s so many balls in the air when those things are considered.”

THIRD UPDATE: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement, “this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President.” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid commented on Twitter, “Would be unprecedented in recent history for SCOTUS to go year with vacancy. And shameful abdication of our constitutional responsibility.”

FOURTH UPDATE: That was fast. In less than two hours, Grassley changed his tune, saying “it only makes sense that we defer to the American people” and let the next president appoint Scalia’s successor. That would mean leaving a Supreme Court seat vacant for more than a year. A statement from Reid’s office noted that since 1975, “the average number of days from nomination to final Senate vote is 67 days (2.2 months).”

Grassley also claimed “it’s been standard practice over the last 80 years to not confirm Supreme Court nominees during a presidential election year.” But he voted to confirm Justice Anthony Kennedy in early 1988. (President Reagan had nominated Kennedy in late 1987.)

FIFTH UPDATE: Added below statements from Grassley and Senator Joni Ernst and a few links on how this vacancy could affect cases currently pending before the high court. Many names have been floated as possible nominees; one that would be particularly awkward for Republicans is Sri Sinivasan. The Senate unanimously confirmed him to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2013. He would be the first Asian-American to serve on the Supreme Court. Other possible candidates include Jane Kelly, “a career public defender from Iowa whose nomination for the federal bunch Grassley championed, leading to a unanimous confirmation in 2013.”

SIXTH UPDATE: For more background on Judge Kelly, see Ryan Foley’s report for the Associated Press at the time of her confirmation. Bleeding Heartland’s post on that unanimous Senate vote included Grassley’s floor speech enthusiastically supporting her.

Tom Goldstein argues that 9th Circuit Court Judge Paul Watford is Obama’s most likely pick for the high court this year.

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How to write an Iowa caucus party platform resolution

Many Iowans leave their precinct caucuses after the presidential selection process, but the caucuses also provide an opportunity for politically-engaged people to influence their party’s platform. If you bring a resolution to your precinct caucus, you have a good chance of getting it approved and sent to the county platform committee, which decides what will come to a vote at the county convention.

Little-known fact for those who want to exercise this option: platform resolutions should be written in a different format from other political resolutions you may have read. Follow me after the jump for details and examples of resolutions you can bring to your caucus on Monday night.

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