If all Iowa candidates had to win under rules Republicans forced on unions

“There’s not one Republican in this state that could win an election under the rules they gave us,” asserted AFSCME Council 61 President Danny Homan after the first round of public union recertification elections ended this week.

He was only slightly exaggerating.

A review of the last two general election results shows that Iowa’s capitol would be mostly devoid of office-holders if candidates for statewide and legislative races needed a majority vote among all their constituents–rather than a plurality among those who cast ballots–to be declared winners.

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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 House Republicans try to evade accountability on medical cannabis

What do state lawmakers do when they don’t want to pass something the overwhelming majority of their constituents support?

A time-honored legislative strategy involves 1) keeping the popular proposal from coming up for a vote, and 2) giving your members a chance to go on record supporting a phony alternative.

Iowa House Republicans executed that statehouse two-step this week in order to block efforts to make medical cannabis more widely available to Iowans suffering from serious health problems.

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Rest in peace, Jack Drake

State Representative Jack Drake passed away this weekend at the age of 81. He had been the longest-serving Iowa House Republican, representing parts of southwest Iowa since his first election in 1992. His current district (House district 21) covers all of Union and Adams Counties and parts of Cass and Pottawattamie Counties. Since the Republicans regained the Iowa House majority in the 2010 elections, Drake had chaired the Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee. Iowa House Speaker-Select Linda Upmeyer said in a statement today, “Iowa lost a dedicated public servant with the passing of Rep. Jack Drake. […] During his time in the Iowa House, Jack was a leader and trusted resource on agricultural issues which are so important to the State of Iowa. As the most senior member of the House Republican Caucus, his expertise and guidance will be sorely missed.”

I have never met Drake, but by all accounts he was a wonderful person to work with. The word “kind” came up again and again today in my conversations with people who interacted with him, either as fellow lawmakers or as advocates.

Former State Representative Frank Wood, who was the ranking Democrat on Drake’s appropriations subcommittee in 2013 and 2014, told me he was “shocked” by the news and said Drake would be “sorely missed.” Wood “thought very highly of him when I worked with him. He always kept me in the know of what was going on and what his limitations were” in terms of the budget targets. Democrats often requested additional funding for various programs, and according to Wood, Drake “understood and flat-out told me, if I had more money, I would definitely put it in those areas.” During the 2014 legislative session, when environmental advocates and a bipartisan group of lawmakers fought for extra funds for the Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) program, Drake was generally supportive. (The legislature approved record funding for REAP that year, but Governor Terry Branstad vetoed part of the money.) Wood also described Drake as “a gentle giant” and “a very non-partisan individual.” He toted the Republican line, but was “very pleasant to work with. I don’t think he had a mean bone in his body.”

State Representative Scott Ourth, the ranking Democrat on the Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee during this year’s legislative session, told me, “What a sad day it is. Jack and I struck up a fast friendship right from the get go. He was very fair, an honest guy to work with, willing to compromise where his leadership would allow him to.” He “never stood in the way” of Ourth advocating for REAP funding or other Democratic priorities. Echoing Wood’s sentiments, Ourth described Drake as “a loving, kind, and generous man” and an elected official out of “the old school” with “no partisan divisiveness.” He was willing to work “with anyone and everyone” at the statehouse. Ourth summed up that he had “nothing but good things to say about that man” and would “miss him terribly.”  

Ourth also mentioned that since June, he has been working long hours in Drake’s district for a subcontractor on a large MidAmerican Energy wind farm project. (64 wind turbines are going up between Corning and Lennox in Adams County.) During these months, Ourth has talked with many of Drake’s constituents, who invariably said “what a great guy they thought he was” and how well he represented their district.

State Representative Chuck Isenhart, who also served on Drake’s subcommittee and is the ranking Democrat on the House Environmental Protection Committee, told me today, “Jack Drake was a kind and soft-spoken man.” He added that Drake “offered crucial, public bipartisan leadership to the establishment of Iowa’s local farms and food initiative in 2010, and has been a reliable supporter of the program ever since.”

With Drake’s passing, the most senior members of the Iowa House Republican caucus are Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Dave Heaton and Transportation, Infrastructure and Capitals Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Dan Huseman, both of whom were first elected in 1994.

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Iowa AG Miller to GOP lawmakers: No authority to investigate fetal tissue transfers

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller has informed 56 Republican state legislators that his office has neither “jurisdiction over transfers of fetal tissue” nor the “authority to investigate or demand information about the transfer of fetal tissue.” In a letter dated today, Miller noted that “Iowa does not have any state laws governing the transfer of fetal tissue,” which means that only offices of U.S. Attorneys are able to enforce federal laws in this area.

Last month, the GOP lawmakers asked Miller’s office “to investigate current and planned abortion operations within Iowa to ensure compliance with the law.” Their letter set out ten detailed questions regarding the disposal, donation, or possible sale of body parts following abortions. Miller directed the legislators to contact U.S. attorneys’ offices in Iowa if they “have reliable information that federal laws relating to fetal tissue are being violated.”

I enclose below the August 24 letter from Iowa House and Senate Republicans, today’s written response from Miller, and a two-page letter Planned Parenthood of the Heartland provided to the Attorney General’s Office regarding the lawmakers’ query. Planned Parenthood’s response noted that the organization “does not now, and has not in the past, participated in” any fetal tissue donation programs but adheres to “rigorous standards of care” and “compliance with all applicable laws and regulations” in every area of its work, including abortion services.

Many Iowa Republicans will be furious, not only because Miller will not act on their unfounded suspicions, but also because the Attorney General’s Office responded to their query in what appears to be a textbook late-afternoon, pre-holiday-weekend news dump.

Also worth noting: Iowa House Speaker-select Linda Upmeyer and incoming House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow did not sign the August 24 letter to Miller, but House Speaker Pro-Tem Matt Windschitl, incoming Majority Whip Joel Fry, and Assistant Majority Leaders Zach Nunn, Jarad Klein, and Walt Rogers did. Iowa Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix did not sign the letter, but Minority Whip Jack Whitver and Assistant Minority Leaders Rick Bertrand, Randy Fenestra, Charles Schneider, and David Johnson did.

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Iowa Senate approves bills on wage theft, minimum wage increase

While the gasoline tax increase grabbed most of the attention, the Iowa Senate approved two other significant bills on Tuesday. Senate File 270 would combat Iowa’s wage theft problem, estimated to cost workers about $600 million annually. After the jump I’ve enclosed State Senator Bill Dotzler’s opening remarks on the bill, which cover its key provisions. Victims of wage theft testified at an Iowa Senate hearing in late January, and when you hear their stories, it’s hard to understand why this remains a partisan issue.

It makes sense when you read the lobbyist declarations on the bill, showing various labor groups in favor and business groups opposed (including the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, the National Federation of Independent Business, the Iowa Retail Federation, the Iowa Grocery Association, and the Iowa Propane Gas Association). During the Senate Labor and Business Committee’s hearing on wage theft, GOP Senator Rick Bertrand had criticized the idea of forcing more “paperwork” on all Iowa businesses because a minority are stealing wages from workers. Democrats later incorporated some amendments suggested by Bertrand. Nevertheless, the final vote on Senate File 270 was strictly partisan, with 26 Democrats in favor and 23 Republicans against. Senators approved a similar bill last year, also along party lines. It died in the Iowa House.

Senate File 269, which would raise Iowa’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.00 this year and to $8.75 next year, cleared the Iowa Senate on February 24 as well. This time Bertrand joined the 26 Democrats in voting for the bill; the other 22 Republicans who were present opposed it. For the last couple of years, many Democrats nationally and in Iowa have endorsed a minimum wage of $10.10.  I assume Senate File 269 set a lower goal in the hope of attracting bipartisan support, but I would have stuck with $10.10. Not only is that closer to a living wage, it’s closer to the purchasing power of Iowa’s minimum wage the last time it was raised in early 2007.

Incidentally, only three of the current Iowa Senate Republicans were in the legislature when Iowa last raised the minimum wage in 2007. Of those, David Johnson voted for raising the minimum wage to $7.25, while Brad Zaun and Jerry Behn voted against it.

Republican statehouse leaders have no interest in raising the minimum wage now, but when a minimum wage increase came to a vote in 2007, it passed with huge bipartisan majorities in both chambers. At that time, supporters included nine current Iowa House Republicans: Kraig Paulsen (now Iowa House Speaker), Linda Upmeyer (now Iowa House Majority Leader), Clel Baudler, Dave Deyoe, Cecil Dolecheck, Jack Drake, Dan Huseman, Linda Miller and Dawn Pettengill (she was a House Democrat at that time but switched to the Republican Party later in 2007). Seven of the current Iowa House Republicans voted against raising the minimum wage to $7.25 in 2007: Greg Forristall, Pat Grassley, Tom Sands, Chuck Soderberg, Ralph Watts, Matt Windschitl, and Gary Worthan.  

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

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