IA-Gov: Boulton, Hubbell lead in early legislative endorsements

State Senator Nate Boulton and Fred Hubbell have locked up more support among state lawmakers than the five other Democrats running for governor combined.

Whether legislative endorsements will matter in the 2018 gubernatorial race is an open question. The overwhelming majority of state lawmakers backed Mike Blouin before the 2006 gubernatorial primary, which Chet Culver won. Last year, former Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge won the nomination for U.S. Senate, even though about 60 current and 30 former Democratic lawmakers had endorsed State Senator Rob Hogg.

Nevertheless, prominent supporters can provide a clue to activists or journalists about which primary contenders are well-positioned. Where things stand:

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First take on the Iowa House and Senate results (updated)

Democrats suffered big losses in the Iowa House and Senate last night. Assuming no results change through recounts, the House is likely to switch from 56 Democrats and 44 Republicans to 59 Republicans and 41 Democrats. I’ve seen some online references to a 58-42 split, but that’s not how the count looks based on unofficial results posted on the Secretary of State’s website.

Democrats maintain control of the Iowa Senate, but their majority shrank from 32-18 to 27-23. Governor-elect Terry Branstad should easily be able to get his agenda through the Iowa House, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal may have trouble keeping his caucus united.

UPDATE: Late returns could change the outcome in two Senate seats; it’s possible the chamber could have a 25-25 split, or a 26-24 Democratic majority.

SECOND UPDATE: A few more races could switch as more absentee ballots come in. As of Wednesday evening, Democrat Tom Schueller is now trailing in House district 25 by about 150 votes.

Here’s my take on the seats that changed hands and the near-misses.

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The case of the missing Republican fundraising

Last week Democratic and Republican candidates for the Iowa legislature filed disclosure reports on their campaign contributions and expenditures. For most candidates, those reports covered the period from June 2 through July 14. For the few candidates who didn’t file reports on the Friday preceding the June primary, the July 19 reports covered campaign fundraising and expenses between May 15 and July 14.

John Deeth posted cash-on-hand totals for candidates in most of the Iowa House and Senate battleground districts. The numbers are encouraging for Democrats, because our candidates lead their opponents in cash on hand in most of the targeted districts.

As I read through the July 19 contribution reports, I noticed something strange. Republican candidates in various targeted Iowa House and Senate districts reported improbably low fundraising numbers. As a general rule, candidates strive for impressive fundraising to demonstrate their viability, and cash on hand in July indicates which candidate will have more resources during crunch time. However, I got the impression that several of the Republican Iowa House and Senate candidates made little effort to obtain campaign contributions during the latest reporting period. Follow me after the jump for some examples and possible explanations.  

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Key business group endorses handful of targeted Iowa Democrats

The Iowa Association of Business and Industry’s political arm, the Iowa Industry PAC, released its first round of state legislative endorsements today. According to the PAC’s chairman Kirk Tyler, these “Friends of Iowa Business” have “demonstrated a commitment to improve Iowa’s business climate so that employers can create more jobs and grow the economy.”

During legislative sessions, the Iowa ABI often appears to act as a proxy for the Republican Party of Iowa, so I wasn’t surprised to see that most of Iowa Industry PAC’s favored candidates are Republican incumbents and challengers. But look who else made the list of “Friends of Iowa Business”: Democratic State Representatives McKinley Bailey, Brian Quirk, Doris Kelley, Dave Jacoby, Geri Huser, Larry Marek, and Mike Reasoner, and Democratic State Senators Rich Olive, Wally Horn and Matt McCoy.

Bailey, Quirk, Kelley, Huser and Marek were members of the “six-pack” that blocked passage of a prevailing wage bill in 2009. (The sixth Democrat who refused to support that bill was Dolores Mertz; she is retiring.) Jacoby spoke out against a union-backed “fair share” bill during the 2010 session. Reasoner serves on the House Commerce Committee and was able to keep a payday lending bill stuck in subcommittee during this year’s session.

A few of the Iowa Industry PAC’s endorsements mean little of consequence. Geri Huser and Brian Quirk represent safe Democratic districts, as does Dave Jacoby, whose only opponent is a Libertarian. Horn doesn’t have a Republican opponent either, and McCoy’s GOP challenger is an anti-abortion extremist.

On the other hand, some of the endorsed Democrats are among the GOP’s top targets. First-termer Marek represents the difficult southeast Iowa terrain of House district 89. He squeaked by in 2008 and faces the same opponent for a second time this year, without Barack Obama’s coat-tails.

Republicans also have a registration advantage in House district 9 in north-central Iowa, which Bailey has represented for two terms. The ABI PAC endorsement in this race is even more striking because Bailey’s opponent is Republican heavyweight Stew Iverson, a former Iowa Senate majority leader.

Kelley has represented House district 20 in Waterloo for two terms. Her challenger, Walt Rogers, came within a couple dozen votes of unseating State Senator Jeff Danielson in 2008. This district has a few hundred more registered Republicans than Democrats.

Reasoner is a four-term incumbent from House district 95 in southern Iowa, where Republicans have a registration advantage of nearly 800.

Olive represents Iverson’s old turf, Senate district 5. After Iverson retired in 2006, Olive won this seat by only 62 votes. The GOP has a registration advantage here and desperately needs this district to get back on track toward winning a majority in the Iowa Senate, perhaps in 2012 or 2014.

GOP leaders talk optimistically about winning the Iowa House this year, but that can’t happen unless they beat Marek, Bailey, Kelley, and Reasoner, or at least three out of those four. Republican blogger Craig Robinson discussed the path to taking back the House here.

Share any thoughts about the business lobby or Iowa legislative races in this thread.

UPDATE: John Deeth goes over some of the conspicuous Republican names omitted from the Iowa Industry PAC endorsement list:

Indeed, the only GOP challenger on the House side I see with an ABI endorsement is Dan Rasmussen, making a comeback attempt against Gene Ficken, who knocked him off in 2008. There’s big omissions, starting with Steve Burgmeier, who narrowly lost last year’s Fairfield special to Curt Hanson in House 90. Also forgotten: Guy Vander Linden over Democrat Eric Palmer, in the Oskaloosa-Grinnell seat that’s been hot the last few cycles, and Mark Lofgren in Muscatine’s House 80, challenging Nate Reichert.

So does this mean Republicans are trying to take the House on open seats? Or is ABI, by endorsing the Five Pack, hedging its bets? In either case, the open seat targets include the Sioux City races, Mary Ann Hanusa in Turncoat Doug Struyk’s old turf, and Ross Paustian in Elesha Gayman’s House 84.

And in Waterloo, former mayor John Rooff gets no love in House 21, with a no endorsement over Democrat Anesa Kajtazovic in the open Kerry Burt seat.

Mathematically, the Republicans can’t take back the House on open seats alone. They have to beat at least a few sitting House Democrats.

A thought just occurred to me: Iverson reportedly has close ties to Iowans for Tax Relief, and that outfit ran Burgmeier’s campaign in last year’s House district 90 special election. So maybe some behind the scenes rivalry between ABI and Iowans for Tax Relief is playing out here.

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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.

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The price of a flawed coordinated campaign

The “prevailing wage” bill, one of organized labor’s top legislative priorities, stalled in the Iowa House on Friday as Democrats were unable to find a 51st vote. Apparently the plan is to try to twist someone’s arm over the weekend:

House Speaker Pat Murphy will keep the voting machine open the entire weekend until Democrats can convince one of their dissenting members to change their vote. The move will mean Murphy will have to sleep in the chamber over the weekend.

“I want to be sure that taxpayer money is going to responsible Iowa employers who pay a decent wage, not employers who take advantage of people like we’ve seen in Postville and Atalissa,” Murphy said. “As the presiding officer of the House, I will stay in the Speaker’s chair and the voting machine will remain open until Monday. My goal is to get 51 votes and make sure we have good-paying jobs for middle class families.”

This post is not about the merits of the bill, which I support. (Click here for background on House file 333, which “would require that companies that contract for public projects pay workers wages and benefits comparable to private projects in the area.”)

This post is about why Democratic House leaders now face two unappealing outcomes: either they fail to pass a good bill supported by a key Democratic constituency, or they force one of their members into an embarrassing about-face that could affect the next election campaign.

Further thoughts on this mess are after the jump.

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