David Johnson to seek re-election as independent in Iowa Senate district 1

Declaring the two-party system “badly broken,” State Senator David Johnson announced this morning that he will seek re-election as an independent in Iowa Senate district 1 next year. The former Republican won his first state House race in 1998 and was a successful candidate for the state Senate four times, serving for a decade as an assistant leader of the GOP caucus. He left the party in June 2016 to protest the nomination of Donald Trump as president.

In a statement enclosed in full below, Johnson said, “Politics in Des Moines has reached a bitterly partisan tipping point. Principle must come before party.” He added that “constituents of all political stripes have encouraged him to run again,” and that the “storied history of the House and Senate includes legislators who have not been affiliated with major parties.” According to Johnson, the last candidate to win an Iowa Senate race as an independent was William Schmedika in 1923.

Johnson didn’t face an opponent in his last two Senate races, but next year’s campaign is sure to be a hard-fought battle.

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Independent David Johnson fighting to serve on Iowa Senate committees

Independent State Senator David Johnson has asked Secretary of the Iowa Senate Charlie Smithson, the chamber’s chief parliamentarian, to instruct Republican leaders to grant him full committee assignments during the upcoming legislative session. Johnson argued that current rules and 95-year-old precedent support giving his 60,000 constituents “their rightful place at the committee table as well as the Senate floor.”

Johnson faces long odds, because while Smithson is a non-partisan official, he serves at the pleasure of Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix. And Dix has every incentive to keep his former Republican colleague from fully participating in legislative business.

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Why did Branstad and Reynolds request transition funds they didn't need?

Some surprising news arrived in the mail recently. In response to one of my records requests, Governor Kim Reynolds’ legal counsel Colin Smith informed me that “zero dollars” of a $150,000 appropriation for gubernatorial transition expenses “have been spent and there are no plans to spend any of that appropriated money.” I soon learned that the Department of Management had ordered a transfer of up to $40,000 in unspent Department of Revenue funds from the last fiscal year “to the Governor’s/Lt. Governor’s General Office to cover additional expenses associated with the gubernatorial transition.”

A Des Moines Register headline put a favorable spin on the story: “Reynolds pares back spending on office transition from lieutenant governor.” However, neither the governor’s office nor Republican lawmakers ever released documents showing how costs associated with the step up for Reynolds could have reached $150,000.

Currently available information raises questions about whether Branstad/Reynolds officials ever expected to spend that money, or whether they belatedly requested the fiscal year 2018 appropriation with a different political purpose in mind.

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Kim Reynolds misled public about Iowa attorney general's view of her powers

Top staffers for Governor Terry Branstad knew more than a month ahead of time that Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller had determined Kim Reynolds would not have the authority to name a new lieutenant governor after becoming Iowa’s head of state.

Records released by the Iowa Attorney General’s office undercut numerous public statements by Reynolds and other Republican leaders, which alleged or implied Miller had blindsided the administration with a sudden reversal of his earlier view.

Documents support Miller’s comments on May 1 about the exhaustive legal and historical research informing his 23-page response to independent State Senator David Johnson. Despite accusations made by many GOP politicians, records reveal no effort by any Democratic officials to influence Miller’s views on succession questions.

On the contrary: if the attorney general faced any political pressure to change his stance on Reynolds’ constitutional authority, available information suggests that pressure came from the governor’s office.

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Five stories: How Iowa's new abortion law will torment and endanger women

Women in Iowa have almost no options for terminating a pregnancy after 20 weeks, under a law former Governor Terry Branstad signed a few weeks ago. Proponents have claimed the measure would “save lives immediately.”

In reality, the law will cause more pregnant women to have life-threatening health problems, and will add to the suffering of parents whose babies have no chance of survival.

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Iowa Democrats face incredibly difficult path back to legislative majorities (part 1)

Many Iowa Democrats expect to have the wind at their backs for the 2018 elections, due to surging progressive activism, an unpopular Republican president, and backlash against GOP lawmakers who used their power this year to take rights away from hundreds of thousands of workers, lower wages for tens of thousands more, and undermine protections for those who suffer workplace injuries.

It’s too early to predict the political climate next fall, but Democrats need to hope for favorable external conditions as well as strong recruits and well-run campaigns. New calculations of last year’s presidential election results by state legislative district point to a very steep climb back to 51 seats in the Iowa House and 26 seats in the Senate. This post will survey the terrain in the upper chamber.

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