Few changes in Iowa House Republican leadership team

Iowa House Republicans came out of this campaign in better shape than they could have hoped six months ago. The party successfully defended every incumbent and every GOP-held open seat, including one with a significant Democratic registration advantage. Even better, Republicans defeated State Representative Patti Ruff and picked off one of the four Democratic-held open seats, despite a big tax problem for the GOP candidate there. During the last presidential election year, Republicans suffered a net loss of seven Iowa House seats and were lucky to avoid losing more. In contrast, the caucus came out of last Tuesday with a two-seat gain and a 59-41 majority, just one seat shy of their advantage in the chamber after the 2010 landslide.

Happy endings provide little incentive to shake things up. To no one’s surprise, House Republicans re-elected most of their leadership team during yesterday’s caucus meeting in Des Moines. Linda Upmeyer will continue as speaker, her position stronger now than last year, since several representatives who were rumored to be at odds with her have now retired. Chris Hagenow stays on as majority leader and Matt Windschitl as House speaker pro-tem.

The biggest change is Zach Nunn moving up from one of the assistant majority leader positions to majority whip. Media reports don’t indicate whether last year’s majority whip Joel Fry sought the position again or stepped down from the leadership team voluntarily.

Similarly, Walt Rogers is no longer an assistant majority leader, having held one of those positions from early 2013 through last year’s legislative session.

If any readers can shed light on whether Fry and Rogers wanted out or were pushed out of leadership, please post a comment here or contact me confidentially at the e-mail address near the bottom right of this page. UPDATE: Two sources indicate that Fry is likely to lead the Human Resources Committee, since its previous chair Linda Miller retired this year. Under House rules, assistant leaders don’t chair committees. Still seeking insight on the next move for Rogers.

Two of the just-selected assistant majority leaders played the same role last year: Jarad Klein and John Wills. The other two, Mike Sexton and Megan Jones, join House leadership for the first time. UPDATE: According to one source, Jones and Klein ran against Nunn for majority whip.

Like her counterpart in the upper chamber, incoming Iowa Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, Upmeyer didn’t lay out specific policy plans when speaking to reporters yesterday. We’ll find out later which taxes Republicans plan to cut, how badly they will decimate collective bargaining rights for public employees, and whether they will do anything to make medical cannabis more widely available to Iowans suffering from severe health conditions.

Upmeyer seemed to rule out raising the sales tax by 3/8 of a cent to fill the the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. That fund has been empty since 63 percent of Iowans approved a constitutional amendment to create it in 2010. Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett is one of very few elected Republican officials to be on record backing a sales tax hike to fund conservation efforts.

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Republicans hope money will bail out lazy Peter Cownie in Iowa House district 42

Some Iowa statehouse Republicans are more extreme, more ignorant, more unhinged, more dishonest, or more mean-spirited than Peter Cownie.

But few lawmakers make less effort than Cownie to demonstrate that they deserve to be in a position of power.

A television commercial in heavy rotation on Des Moines stations doesn’t name even one legislative accomplishment from Cownie’s eight years in the Iowa House, including two years leading the State Government Committee and two as Commerce Committee chair. Cownie has rarely if ever knocked doors to talk to his constituents in West Des Moines. He doesn’t show up at many local public forums. He doesn’t consistently answer e-mails. He doesn’t follow through on some of his promises.

Recent campaign disclosure forms show the Iowa GOP has spent more than $300,000 on tv ads promoting Cownie or trashing his Democratic challenger, my friend Claire Celsi. Tens of thousands more went toward direct mail to benefit Cownie’s campaign.

Why did Republicans hit the panic button?

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Branstad urged Army Corps to give last green light for Bakken pipeline

Governor Terry Branstad denied in September that he’s a friend to Big Oil interests seeking to build the Dakota Access (Bakken) pipeline across four states, including Iowa.

But in a move his office did not announce last week, Branstad joined North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple and South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard to urge the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers not to delay approval of the final federal easement needed to complete the pipeline.

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Weekend open thread: Depressing news, inspiring news

What’s on your mind, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: Some exceptionally sad news caught my eye recently:

A new investigation by the Associated Press and the USA Today network found that in the first six months of 2016, children aged 17 or younger “died from accidental shootings — at their own hands, or at the hands of other children or adults — at a pace of one every other day, far more than limited federal statistics indicate.” Alaska and Louisiana had the highest rates of accidental child shooting. A separate feature in the series focused on three incidents that killed two teenage girls and seriously injured another in Tama County, Iowa.

Government research on accidental gun deaths is nearly non-existent, because more than two decades ago, the National Rifle Association persuaded Congress to defund gun research by the Centers for Disease Control.

Meanwhile, the AP’s Scott McFetridge reported last week on the growing hunger problem in Storm Lake. The problem isn’t lack of jobs–the local unemployment rate is quite low–but a lack of livable wages. Iowa-born economist Austin Frerick mentioned Storm Lake and other towns dominated by meatpacking plants in his guest post here a few months ago: Big Meat, Small Towns: The Free Market Rationale for Raising Iowa’s Minimum Wage.

I enclose below excerpts from all of those stories, along with some good news from the past week:

The African-American Hall of Fame announced four new inductees, who have done incredible work in higher education, criminal justice, community organizing, and the practice of law.

Planned Parenthood marked the 100th anniversary of the first birth control clinic opening in the country on October 16. Click here for a timeline of significant events in the organization’s history.

Drake University Biology Professor Thomas Rosburg will receive this year’s Lawrence and Eula Hagie Heritage Award from the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. Rosburg is a legend among Iowans who care about native plants, wetlands, and prairie restoration.

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Two Iowans among "40 Under 40" Midwestern clean energy leaders

The non-profit news site Midwest Energy News has honored two Iowans on its second annual 40 Under 40 list of “emerging leaders” working on “America’s transition to a clean energy economy.” From last week’s announcement:

Erin Buchanan works as an Energy Services Coordinator for Cedar Falls Utilities in Cedar Falls, Iowa. In 2011, Buchanan was named a “rising star in public power” by the American Public Power Association. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, with a B.S. in mathematical decision sciences. She also holds an M.S. in statistics from Iowa State University. […]

Josh Mandelbaum is a Des Moines-based staff attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC). Before joining ELPC, Mandelbaum practiced law with Lane & Waterman LLP in Davenport, Iowa. He previously served as a senior policy advisor to Iowa Governor Thomas J. Vilsack and Lt. Governor Sally J. Pederson. Before his work in the Governor’s office, Mandelbaum held a fellowship at the U.S. Department of Transportation in the Secretary’s Policy Office. Mandelbaum is a 2000 Truman Scholar, a 2001 magna cum laude graduate of Brown University, and a 2009 honors graduate from the University of Iowa College of Law.

I wasn’t familiar with Buchanan’s work before learning about this award. I was impressed to see all the resources Cedar Falls Utilites provides for customers seeking to use less energy, purchase wind-generated electricity, buy units in a community-owned solar garden, or install small-scale wind or solar systems.

I’ve known Mandelbaum for many years and am an active supporter of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. The non-profit’s legal team has contributed to major public policy victories in the renewable energy field, from a solar power case that went to the Iowa Supreme Court to mostly below-the-radar battles with intransigent rural electric cooperatives and investor-owned utilities Alliant and MidAmerican. Mandelbaum and his colleagues have also been involved in important water policy fights, such as a 2014 Iowa Supreme Court case that kept state “anti-degradation” rules alive. Earlier this year, an Iowa District Court ruled in favor of ELPC’s lawsuit on behalf of the Iowa Environmental Council, seeking to force the state Department of Natural Resources to enforce those rules, “an important part of the [federal] Clean Water Act.”

Iowans Paritosh Kasotia and Dwight Stewart were part of the first Midwest Energy News 40 Under 40 cohort last year.

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IA-Gov: Sales tax hike for conservation may become fault line in 2018

Leaders of a campaign to provide a “permanent and constitutionally protected funding source dedicated to clean water, productive agricultural soils and thriving wildlife habitats” in Iowa touted support in the business and agriculture communities this week. You can watch Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy‘s September 12 press conference here or listen to the audio at Radio Iowa. Under a state constitutional amendment Iowa voters adopted in 2010, revenues generated by the next 3/8th of a cent sales tax increase (estimated at more than $180 million per year) would flow into a Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. Scroll to the end of this post for a current list of IWLL coalition members and details on the formula for allocating trust fund money.

Without knowing which parties will control the Iowa House and Senate next year, it’s hard to gauge prospects for passing a sales tax increase. Democratic State Senator Matt McCoy commented on Monday, “The best time to move on a piece of legislation is just following an election. That’s when you get your best bipartisan compromises, and I think ultimately, this is something we can find a bipartisan compromise on.”

Who might lead statehouse Republicans toward such a compromise is unclear. The GOP lawmaker most supportive of IWLL has been State Senator David Johnson. But he left the party this summer to protest presidential nominee Donald Trump and told Bleeding Heartland in a recent interview that he plans to remain an independent during the 2017 legislative session.

At least one Republican running for governor in 2018 will support the sales tax increase: Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett. That stance will put him in conflict with either Governor Terry Branstad or his chosen successor, Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds. In addition, support for funding IWLL among major farm lobby groups could create problems for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, also a likely gubernatorial candidate in 2018.

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