House Democrats may not have the votes for "fair share"

John Deeth attended the League of Women Voters’ forum in Coralville on Saturday, and he buried an interesting nugget toward the end of his liveblog:

Chris Bonfig asks about HF 2420; Mascher, Dvorsky, Schmitz, Lensing, Bolkcom yes; Jacoby, Marek no. Jacby: “The first part of the bill is marvelous, the [second] part needs some work.”

House file 2420, formerly known as House Study Bill 702, is the reworked “fair share” legislation. The idea behind “fair share” is that employees who don’t belong to a union would have to reimburse the union for services provided, such as collective bargaining and handling grievances. A “fair share” bill passed the Iowa Senate in 2007 but stalled in the Iowa House, where the Democratic majority was 53-47 at the time. The current Democratic majority is 56-44, but none of organized labor’s legislative priorities passed during the 2009 legislative session because of opposition from a “six-pack” of House Democrats.

This year’s “fair share” proposal has been scaled back and would apply only to state employees. (Many labor advocates agree with Iowa AFL-CIO president emeritus Mark Smith, who has argued that the measure should apply to all private sector and public sector unions.) Iowa Republicans and business groups are fiercely opposing “fair share,” even though it would not apply to private businesses.

State Representative Dave Jacoby represents a relatively safe district in Johnson County. If he just announced at a public forum that he’s not backing HF 2420, I don’t see much chance of the “six-pack” members supporting the bill. That would leave House Democrats short of the 51 votes needed for passage.

When Jacoby praised the first part of the bill but not the second part, he appeared to be supporting reimbursement for grievance services but not for bargaining services, which are more costly for the union to provide. Click here for the full text of HF 2420. It states that “reasonable reimbursement” for bargaining services “shall not exceed sixty-five percent of the regular membership dues that the nonmember would have to pay if the nonmember were a member” of the union. The bill caps reimbursement for grievance services at ten percent of the union’s regular membership dues.

In February, Iowa House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy suggested that a new “prevailing wage” bill is more likely to pass this session than “fair share.” In 2009 the “six-pack” sank a prevailing wage bill, but this year House Labor Committee Chairman Rick Olson prepared a compromise version that would require payment of prevailing wage on a smaller number of projects. Olson told the Cedar Rapids Gazette that the “softer” version of the prevailing wage bill addresses the objections raised last year by conservative House Democrats.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

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Weekend open thread: Legislative preview edition

The legislative session begins this week, and budget issues are likely to dominate the proceedings.

Some state tax credits will be scrapped and others curtailed if lawmakers enact recommendations released on Friday by a commission Governor Chet Culver appointed. State Senator Joe Bolkcom, who chairs the Ways and Means Committee in the upper chamber, has vowed to pass as many of the recommendations as possible. I expect major pushback from corporate lobbyists against many of the proposals, however.

House Speaker Pat Murphy is not ruling out significant layoffs of state workers. It really is unfair to balance the budget mostly on the backs of state workers, especially since demand for state services increases during a recession.

I was surprised to see Culver’s chief of staff, John Frew, suggest a scaled-back version of “fair share” legislation could pass this session. If Democrats don’t have the votes for a prevailing wage bill, I can’t imagine they’ll get 51 votes for fair share, but I hope I’m wrong.

Kathie Obradovich previews other issues that are likely to come up during the legislative session.

Democratic leaders insist a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage is off the table, but Republicans will use every trick in the book to try to bring the issue to the floor.

Roxanne Conlin plans to visit all 99 counties in her Senate campaign, just like Senator Chuck Grassley has been doing every year for the past three decades.

In other news, Iowa may be on the verge of coming out of the deep freeze. I read today that the highest temperature recorded anywhere in Iowa since January 1 was 20 degrees Fahrenheit one day in Keokuk (southeast corner of the state). How are you surviving the cold? I’ve been wearing slippers, wool sweaters and extra layers. My kids still insist they are comfortable running around the house in pajamas and bare feet. Our dog could walk for miles, even on the days when it’s been below zero F when I’m out with him.

This thread is for anything on your mind this weekend.

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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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Final results from the Iowa Legislature's 2009 session

The Iowa House adjourned for the year a little after 5 am today, and the Iowa Senate adjourned a few minutes before 6 am. I’ll write more about what happened and didn’t happen in the next day or two, but I wanted to put up this thread right away so people can share their opinions.

Several major bills passed during the final marathon days in which legislators were in the statehouse chambers nearly all night on Friday and Saturday. The most important were the 2010 budget and an infrastructure bonding proposal. Legislators also approved new restrictions on the application of manure on frozen or snow-covered ground. Another high-profile bill that made it through changes restrictions on convicted sex offenders.

Several controversial bills did not pass for lack of a 51st vote in the Iowa House, namely a tax reform plan that would have ended federal deductibility and key legislative priorities for organized labor.

Not surprisingly, last-minute Republican efforts to debate a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage also failed.

More details and some preliminary analysis are after the jump.

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Gronstal and Kibbie set the tone on the Iowa Senate's opening day

The Iowa Legislature opened its 2009 session today, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal let the members of the upper chamber know that he has “never seen such a tough situation” with the state budget and economy in his 26 years at the statehouse.

In his opening address the the Iowa Senate, Gronstal listed some of the biggest challenges facing legislators, in particular rebuilding communities damages by last year’s natural disasters and leading Iowa “through these tough times without sabotaging the commitments we’ve made on economic growth, health care and education.”

He warned that a lot of legislators won’t get what they want this year:

Our resources are limited.  We will say “no” to many good ideas.  We are going to disappoint some people and frustrate others.

If your idea of being an elected official involves being loved by everyone, the next few months will be pretty rough.

Gronstal also noted that bipartisan majorities approved many key policies in Iowa during the past few years, and called for finding “bipartisan solutions” to this year’s challenges.

In his opening address to the chamber, Senate President Jack Kibbie echoed Gronstal’s warning that leaders will be saying “no” to a lot of requests from legislators.

He also advocated some policies that are anything but bipartisan: a gas tax hike and the expansion of workers’ bargaining rights.

Kibbie said increasing the gas tax would create jobs and boost economic development:

First, we can no longer put off the challenges to our transportation infrastructure. It is vital that we begin to clear the backlog of projects that play a  significant role in future economic development. In my district my constituents, Republicans and Democrats, all tell me that we need to get to work and if the only impediment to that progress is money they are willing to pay a few more cents at the pump. I support efforts that result in a gas tax increase. Success in that endeavor will mean better roads, jobs, and an economic boost to Iowa’s families and communities.

I’ve supported a gas tax increase since John Anderson proposed it during his 1980 presidential campaign, but I don’t expect that measure to get through the legislature without a bruising battle.

Here’s a piece listing the many potential benefits of a federal gas tax increase. Kibbie is talking about a smaller increase in the state gas tax, but many of the same benefits would apply.

Kibbie also said Iowa workers need good wages, and therefore “we should not fear passing Legislation that help[s] workers bargain for a better future.”

Kibbie could be referring to the “fair share” bill that Democrats didn’t have to votes to get through the Iowa House in 2007, or to the collective bargaining bill that Governor Chet Culver vetoed last spring. Either way, Republicans and corporate interest groups will put up a fight.

Getting labor legislation through the Iowa House, where Democrats have a 56-44 majority, is likely to be more difficult than getting it through the Iowa Senate, where Democrats have a 32-18 majority.

The complete texts of the opening statements by Gronstal and Kibbie (as prepared) are after the jump.

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Will any Democrat challenge Culver in 2010?

I keep hearing chatter about a possible primary challenge to Governor Chet Culver in 2010. This scenario strikes me as extremely unlikely, but I want to encourage others to weigh in on this comment thread.

Running a statewide primary campaign is expensive. Who has the money for that? I can’t think of any self-funding candidate who would step up to challenge Culver. Anyone else have names in mind?

Organized labor has money and is unhappy with the governor, largely because he vetoed a collective-bargaining bill during the 2008 legislative session.

But most labor unions supported Mike Blouin in the 2006 primary, and their backing wasn’t enough to defeat Culver before he was an incumbent. Culver will go into the next campaign with huge institutional advantages he didn’t have as the secretary of state.

It would seem more logical for organized labor to continue the strategy they adopted this year: focus their political giving on statehouse candidates likely to support their agenda. If Culver continues to disappoint, simply don’t donate to his re-election campaign. That is cheaper than spending lots of money on a primary challenger.

I think there’s a decent chance the 56 Democrats who will be in the Iowa House in 2009 will be able to pass either “fair share” legislation (which would weaken Iowa’s right-to-work law) or a collective-bargaining bill like the one Culver vetoed. Getting those bills through the new Senate will be no problem. As I’ve written before, Culver supports fair share, and it wasn’t his fault it couldn’t get through the House in 2007. I also doubt Culver would veto a collective-bargaining bill a second time.

If labor unions decide to go all out against Culver, who could they find? I can’t think of many politicians with enough stature to pull this off. A few people have named sitting legislators in conversations with me, but I find it hard to believe any of them would take that risk. Look how the Democratic establishment reacted when Ed Fallon challeged the thoroughly mediocre Leonard Boswell in the third district Congressional primary.

Anyway, none of the current leadership in the House and Senate would be likely to win the support of other Democrats who have their own reasons for being disappointed with Culver. For instance, environmentalists who wish the governor would back agricultural zoning at the county level (also known as “local control” of CAFOs) have gotten zero help from statehouse leaders since Democrats regained the majority. Ditto for liberals who want to see the legislature adopt campaign finance reform (the Voter-Owned Iowa Clean Elections act).

One person suggested to me that a primary challenger would not be able to defeat Culver, but could damage him enough to cost us the governor’s chair in 2010. I find this scenario unlikely as well. Let’s say organized labor backs someone like Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal for governor. I don’t think he will run against Culver, I’m just throwing out his name because he is well known and could raise a significant amount of money. He hasn’t put muscle behind local control or clean elections–on the contrary, he insulted a group of activists who came to the capitol in April 2007 to lobby for the VOICE act. I don’t see him getting enough traction in a primary campaign to do real damage. If anything, he could help Culver with swing voters in the general election, by showing that the big, bad “special interests” are unhappy with the governor.

I don’t mean to sound complacent. The Republican Party of Iowa is bruised and divided now but could rebound by 2010 with the right gubernatorial candidate. More important, the fiscal outlook is terrible at both the national and state level. That and other continuing economic problems pose a much bigger threat to Culver’s re-election than the prospect of a Democratic primary challenger.

What do you think?

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