Year in review: Iowa politics in 2009 (part 1)

I expected 2009 to be a relatively quiet year in Iowa politics, but was I ever wrong.

The governor’s race heated up, state revenues melted down, key bills lived and died during the legislative session, and the Iowa Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in Varnum v Brien became one of this state’s major events of the decade.

After the jump I’ve posted links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of Iowa politics from January through June 2009. Any comments about the year that passed are welcome in this thread.

Although I wrote a lot of posts last year, there were many important stories I didn’t manage to cover. I recommend reading Iowa Independent’s compilation of “Iowa’s most overlooked and under reported stories of 2009,” as well as that blog’s review of “stories that will continue to impact Iowa in 2010.”

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John Norris confirmed at FERC

Catching up on some news from last week, the Senate confirmed more than 30 of President Obama’s nominees right before Christmas, including Iowa’s own John Norris for a spot on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Norris and his wife Jackie Norris were key early Obama supporters here. After Obama’s inauguration, Norris served as chief of staff for Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, but he always planned to move to the FERC if possible. He is well qualified for the position after spending several years on the Iowa Utilities Board.

Jackie Norris served as chief of staff to First Lady Michelle Obama for several months before moving to a senior advisor position at the Corporation for National and Community Service.

John Norris’ confirmation was overshadowed by news that the Senate rejected six Obama nominees without even giving them a vote. The most prominent name on that list was Dawn Johnsen, Obama’s choice to head the Office of Legal Counsel. For more on that story, read commentaries by Daniel de Groot at Open Left, bmaz at Firedoglake, and Turkana at the Left Coaster. Senator Ben Nelson helped Senate Republicans stall Johnsen’s nomination in the spring.

UPDATE: Kay Henderson posted Norris’ official bio and some statements reacting to his confirmation at the FERC.

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John Norris gets the Washington job he wanted

I saw at Radio Iowa that President Barack Obama has nominated important early Iowa supporter John Norris to serve on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. He’s well qualified for the job, as you’ll see from his official bio, which I’ve posted after the jump. Not only was Norris chairman of the Iowa Utilities Board from 2005 to 2009, he also handled different positions with the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners and the Organization of Midwest Independent System Operator States.

Norris has been Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s chief of staff since January, but he requested an appointment on the FERC in November, before Obama had named Vilsack to head the USDA. Although Norris has worked closely with Vilsack before as the governor’s chief of staff, the FERC position seems like a better fit for the more recent focus of Norris’s career.

I’m guessing that FERC commissioners also work less insane hours than chiefs of staff do. Norris and his wife Jackie Norris have three sons under the age of six. Jackie Norris recently was replaced as First Lady Michelle Obama’s chief of staff and will serve as senior adviser to the Corporation on National and Community Service.

LATE UPDATE: The Des Moines Register reported on June 21,

Norris said he always planned to move on from the USDA, because his real goal was a seat on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, an appointment he now has in hand. He’s waiting for Senate confirmation for that position.

Norris said Vilsack asked him to take the USDA job, knowing it would be temporary. He “wanted someone who knew him and someone he trusted to get set up at USDA.”

Norris said he tried to set up a staff that would work together across their various areas of responsibility, avoiding turf wars. “This isn’t a speedboat. It’s a tanker and you have to slowly bring it around,” he said.

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