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.”

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Fallons blast "sham" hearing on ethics complaint

Last week the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee voted unanimously to dismiss Ed and Lynn Fallon’s complaint against State Senator Merlin Bartz, who used his official  website to promote this petition last month. The petition sought to pressure Iowa’s county recorders to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The Fallons contended that Bartz failed to comply with the Senate Code of Ethics, which requires legislators to “encourage respect for the law.” They also questioned whether taxpayer money was used to support the website where Bartz promoted the petition drive and urged volunteers to send copies of their signature lists to the Iowa Family Policy Center.

The Senate Ethics Committee concluded after a few minutes’ discussion that Bartz was exercising his free speech rights.

On May 18, I’M for Iowa released a statement depicting the hearing as a “sham.” Contrary to the Iowa Senate Code of Ethics, the Senate Ethics Committee failed to inform the Fallons of the date and time of the hearing in advance. The committee also did not consider the specific questions raised in the Fallons’ complaint. I’ve posted I’M for Iowa’s statement after the jump.

It seems clear that two political realities derailed any serious inquiry into the complaint against Bartz. First, Bartz is an insider, and the complainants are outsiders. (Heck, Ed Fallon was an outsider even when he was serving in the state legislature.) Earlier this year, the Iowa House Ethics Committee dismissed with prejudice a complaint Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement filed against State Representative Dolores Mertz without seriously considering many of the issues raised by the group.

I would put very low odds on any ethics complaint filed by any citizen action group leading to disciplinary action against a state representative or senator. (Please correct me if you know of any counter-examples.)

Second, I suspect that Senate Democrats have no interest in making a martyr out of Bartz. Opponents of marriage equality are desperate to show that their rights are threatened by same-sex marriages. We don’t need Bartz to be purportedly “punished for speaking his mind” (even though that wasn’t the point of the Fallons’ complaint). Look what the National Organization for Marriage has done to make Miss California USA seem like a victim of “gay marriage activists”.

Bartz hasn’t prevented any same-sex marriages from taking place, but he has secured a reputation as the most aggressive defender of “traditional marriage” in the Iowa Senate Republican caucus. He has also helped the Iowa Family Policy Center generate lots of new leads for their next membership drive.

I’ll be interested to see whether Senate Republicans seek to replace their current leader, Paul McKinley, with Bartz next year. McKinley’s actions on the marriage front have been found wanting by some Iowa conservatives and anti-gay activists.

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No discipline for state senator who sought to pressure county recorders

Charlotte Eby reported at Covering Iowa Politics that the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee

voted unanimously Tuesday to dismiss an ethics complaint against a lawmaker who had encouraged county recorders to refuse to issue licenses to same-sex couples.

Sen. Merlin Bartz, R-Grafton, has been one of the most vocal critics of the Iowa Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage. On his Web site, Bartz had encouraged Iowans who also are opposed to same-sex marriage to sign petitions asking county recorders to not issue same-sex licenses.

Members of the ethics committee said Bartz was simply exercising his First Amendment rights to free speech, and voted 6-0 to reject the complaint after a short discussion.

Last month I posted the full text of the petition along with the language Bartz used to promote the drive on his official Iowa Senate website.

Ed and Lynn Fallon of I’M for Iowa filed the ethics complaint against Bartz, saying he should not have encouraged elected county officials to fail to comply with an Iowa Supreme Court ruling.

The petition drive did not succeed in blocking same-sex marriages; so far no county recorders in Iowa have refused to issue marriage licenses. On the other hand, I read that some petitions containing some 17,000 signatures were delivered to county recorders the week of April 27.

If even a fraction of the people who collected signatures followed Bartz’s instructions to send copies to Chuck Hurley’s Iowa Family Policy Center, then the drive will turn out to be a list-building bonanza for that organization.

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Fallons file ethics complaint against Bartz

Ed and Lynn Fallon filed a formal ethics complaint today against Senator Merlin Bartz, according to an e-mail I received today from I’M for Iowa. Excerpt:

On a Senate Republican website, Senator Bartz posts a link to a petition appealing to county recorders to “refuse to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples on April 27th.” Senator Bartz has also spoken publicly in support of county recorders taking this action.

In their complaint, Ed and Lynn assert, “Senator Bartz’s actions appear to violate Article III, Section 32 of the Constitution of the State of Iowa and Chapter 63.10 of the Code of Iowa. Both state that duly elected officials must solemnly swear to support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Iowa. Furthermore, the Senate Code of Ethics states that every legislator must ‘encourage respect for the law,’ and the Senator’s actions appear to violate this provision.”

The complaint further states: “We have not been able to ascertain whether taxpayer money was used in the development and maintenance of the website that Senator Bartz used to promote the petition (http://www.iowasenaterepublicans.org/Bartz/Bartz.htm), but if such is the case, this suggests a misuse of taxpayer money by an elected official to promote breaking the law. We call attention to the fact that the website in question also lists Republican Caucus staff members, who are entirely funded at taxpayer expense.”

“Let me be clear that this is not personal,” said Ed Fallon. “When we served in the Legislature, Senator Bartz and I worked on several issues together. I continue to have great respect for him and find him to be intelligent and a man of integrity. This complaint is in no way intended to cast dispersions, merely to state that, in this instance, Senator Bartz’s actions appear to constitute a breach of the Senate’s ethical standards.”

I posted about this disgraceful petition drive on Tuesday. Radio Iowa posted Bartz’s response:

“I have read the formal complaint filed by Ed Fallon and find it without merit.  According to procedures set forth by Senate Rules I will submit a formal response to the Senate Ethics Committee within the next ten days.  I fully expect the Committee to dismiss this complaint, thus continuing the tradition of free speech on the floor of the Iowa Senate.  It is important that the voices of Iowans are not silenced and a vote is held to determine what constitutes marriage.”

What do you think, Bleeding Heartland readers? Will the Senate Ethics Committee dismiss this complaint against a member of the club, or will they call Bartz out for encouraging county recorders to disregard the law? The Attorney General’s Office has made clear that recorders must comply with the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling.

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Iowa Senate Republicans push petition drive to pressure county recorders

Iowa Senate Republicans are using their official website to push a petition drive to pressure county recorders not to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

We already knew that prominent Iowa Republicans have trouble with the concept of judicial review, but Senator Merlin Bartz, who tried last week to give county recorders the right to ignore the law, has taken it to a new level.

Senator Bartz’s page on the Iowa Senate Republicans website is promoting a petition being circulated by Chuck Hurley’s Iowa Family Policy Center.

The disgraceful details are after the jump.

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Brief memo to county recorders in Iowa

No one who applies for a marriage license needs your blessing.

According to Republican State Senator Merlin Bartz, at least one of you (or perhaps several of you) may be ready to resign rather than issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. We all can think of marriages we disapprove of, but if your moral objections to marriage equality render you unable to perform the duties of your job, by all means resign. Filling a county government position with good benefits is never a problem, especially in this economy.

Rest assured, as much as you dislike the idea of gays and lesbians getting married, people like me dislike the idea of taxpayer dollars going to someone like you.  

Don’t count on Senator Bartz to bail you out with his give-recorders-a-free-pass-to-discriminate amendment either. Senate President Jack Kibbie ruled that amendment out of order on Tuesday, and Bartz won’t succeed in getting it attached to a different bill for you. You need to either process same-sex couples’ applications for marriage licenses or find some other vocation, preferably in the private sector.

Speaking of which, Bartz seems to think that he and the disgruntled county recorders swore an oath to a different constitution than the one Iowa’s Supreme Court justices were interpreting when they unanimously struck down Iowa’s Defense of Marriage Act. If Bartz doesn’t understand the concepts of checks and balances or judicial review, then like many of his fellow Republicans, he’s not well suited for a political career.  

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