Rematch coming in Iowa House district 90

Jefferson County supervisor Stephen Burgmeier filed yesterday to be the Republican candidate in Iowa House district 90, setting up a rematch with Democrat Curt Hanson. The district covers all of Van Buren County, most of Jefferson County (including Fairfield) and a small portion of Wapello County (map here).

Last summer Hanson narrowly defeated Burgmeier in a special election, even though Iowa-based conservative interest groups went all-in for Burgmeier and the National Organization for Marriage spent nearly $90,000 on advertising to support him.

Notably, Hanson built up a strong advantage in early voting and beat Burgmeier in Jefferson County by about 600 votes. In addition, two social conservatives ran as third-party candidates, and the 282 combined votes they received was greater than Hanson’s 127-vote margin over Burgmeier. The spoiler candidates were unhappy that Burgmeier didn’t talk much about abortion and gay marriage during the campaign.

Iowa Republicans tried to put a good face on the special election result, but the outcome was disappointing for them on several levels.

House district 90 is likely to be one of the most competitive races in the state. If you living within striking distance of the area, please consider volunteering for Hanson’s campaign this summer and fall. That said, I like Hanson’s chances of holding the seat this November. Burgmeier couldn’t win a low-turnout special election during a severe recession when the GOP base was all fired up about the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage. Despite having been elected three times as a supervisor, Burgmeier lost his own county by a sizable margin.

This week Hanson, a retired driving instructor, co-chaired a conference committee to resolve differences between the Iowa House and Senate bills to restrict texting while driving.

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Francis Thicke hires staff for secretary of agriculture campaign

Francis Thicke has hired staff for his Democratic campaign for Iowa secretary of agriculture, Will Merydith reported for the Fairfield Voice blog on Friday.

Rob Hubler, a 40-year veteran of managing political campaigns, started with the campaign about two weeks ago. Rob Hubler was the 2008 candidate for U.S. Congress in Iowa’s fifth district. This week the campaign team is growing with the addition of Keith Dinsmore, a veteran campaign media specialist. Keith has connections with press across Iowa and will be organizing Francis Thicke’s state-wide media work.

“In the next few weeks I will be traveling to a number of Democratic Party county conventions to speak to audiences about my campaign platform. I also have upcoming appearances at Grinnell College and Iowa State University. I do have one out-of-state event planned for next month, to speak at a national organic farming policy conference in Washington, D.C.”

“We have a local event planned for Fairfield on Saturday, March 27: Blues musician Bill Lupkin will be performing at Morning Star Studio as a fundraiser for our campaign.”

Thicke also recently opened a campaign office on the main square in Fairfield (Jefferson County, southeast Iowa).

I hope Thicke’s campaign will attract a large volunteer contingent. Iowa has plenty of Democratic activists who aren’t wild about Governor Chet Culver and don’t live in a battleground state legislative district. Republican Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey will be heavily favored in this race and will raise more money than Thicke. However, Thicke has outstanding qualifications, and his vision for agriculture deserves our wholehearted support. We don’t often hear Iowa candidates speak out against excessive concentration of agricultural markets or advocate stronger regulations for confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). I recommend reading the four-part interview Blog for Iowa did with Thicke last year (part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4). Francis and Susan Thicke operate a successful organic dairy farm and won the 2009 Spencer Award for Sustainable Agriculture.

We’ll need all Democratic hands on deck in the Fairfield area this year, since Iowa House district 90 and Iowa Senate district 45 are likely to be competitive races. State Representative Curt Hanson narrowly won last summer’s special election in House district 90, while State Senator Becky Schmitz is in her first term representing Senate district 45.

UPDATE: Forgot to add this ActBlue link for those who want to donate to Thicke’s campaign.

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Year in review: Iowa politics in 2009 (part 2)

Following up on my review of news from the first half of last year, I’ve posted links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of Iowa politics from July through December 2009 after the jump.

Hot topics on this blog during the second half of the year included the governor’s race, the special election in Iowa House district 90, candidates announcing plans to run for the state legislature next year, the growing number of Republicans ready to challenge Representative Leonard Boswell, state budget constraints, and a scandal involving the tax credit for film-making.

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Iowans not eager to overturn marriage equality

Marriage equality is here to stay in Iowa, if the latest statewide poll for the Des Moines Register is any guide:

Forty-one percent say they would vote for a [constitutional amendment to] ban [same-sex marriage], and 40 percent say they would vote to continue gay marriage. The rest either would not vote or say they are not sure. […]

The overwhelming majority of Iowans – 92 percent – say gay marriage has brought no real change to their lives. […]

The poll shows that 26 percent of Iowans favor April’s unanimous court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, 43 percent oppose it and 31 percent don’t care much or are not sure.

Despite the 43 percent opposition to the ruling, 61 percent of Iowans say other issues will influence their decision on whether to vote to retain Iowa Supreme Court justices in the 2010 elections.

Selzer and Co. surveyed 803 Iowans between September 14 and 16, and the poll has a margin of error of 3.5 percent.

I recommend clicking through to view the chart showing the breakdown by party affiliation on this issue. Among independents, only 44 percent either oppose or strongly oppose the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision that cleared the way for marriage equality, while 32 percent “don’t care much” and 22 percent either favor or strongly favor it.

Many Iowa Republicans are convinced that they can gain traction in next year’s legislative elections by bashing statehouse Democrats who oppose a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. However, the Republican candidate fell just short in the recent special election in Iowa House district 90, even though the National Organization for Marriage poured nearly $90,000 into ads supporting the Republican because of the marriage issue. (The NOM plans to be involved in next year’s Iowa elections as well.)

A poll commissioned by The Iowa Republican blog in July indicated that two-thirds of Iowans wanted a public vote on same-sex marriage, but that poll framed the question as follows: “The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled gay marriages can legally be conducted in the state. Whether you agree or disagree with the decision, do you think Iowa voters should have the chance to vote on a traditional marriage amendment to the constitution or is the issue best decided by the Supreme Court?” Todd Dorman was right to point out that it would have been more enlightening to ask respondents how they would vote on a marriage amendment.

The Register’s poll could strengthen the hand of Republicans like Doug Gross, who have been saying all year that the GOP should downplay divisive social issues and focus on the economy in next year’s elections. On the other hand, 51 percent of Republicans surveyed by Selzer and Co strongly oppose the Supreme Court decision, while 11 percent just oppose the decision, 27 percent don’t care much and only 10 percent either favor or strongly favor it. Gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats promises to issue an executive order on day one halting same-sex marriages if elected, and he will find plenty of support among the Republican rank and file.

I’ve been telling my friends, “Don’t worry, be happy,” since the Iowa Supreme Court announced its Varnum v Brien decision in April. I figured that with each passing year, more Iowans would understand that no one is harmed and thousands are helped by granting gays and lesbians civil marriage rights. I also felt that Republicans would not be able to win many races on this issue in 2010, let alone in subsequent years. Still, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a poll this year showing majority support for overturning the Supreme Court ruling. Learning that a constitutional amendment on marriage lacks majority support even now makes me that much more optimistic. (UPDATE: Forgot to add that Iowa has a lengthy constitutional amendment process.)

Now it’s imperative to defeat Proposition 1 in Maine this November. Please help if you can.

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Department of unconvincing spin

This article by Jason Clayworth in Thursday’s Des Moines Register was good for a few laughs:

A group opposed to same-sex marriages failed to secure victory for Republicans in Iowa this week, but the massive injection of out-of-state money on the issue foreshadows what’s to come in next year’s elections, political scholars said Wednesday.

Despite the loss, the National Organization for Marriage succeeded in making gay marriage an issue, the head of the group said Wednesday. He vowed that its “Reclaim Iowa Project” will remain active in the 2010 state elections.

I’m sure “making gay marriage an issue” was just the kind of success the NOM’s generous donors (whoever they are) were looking for. Why, Iowans in House district 90 might never have realized same-sex couples could marry if not for the NOM’s major ad campaign.

Back to that Register article:

Jeff Boeyink, executive director of the Iowa Republican Party, said many no-party voters Tuesday supported [Stephen] Burgmeier. That was a victory itself, he said.

Voters want the opportunity to vote on the gay marriage issue, he said.

“We moved the needle a lot,” Boeyink said. “We didn’t get the victory, but we take away some real positives out of this.”

Sure, Mr. Boeyink, you “moved the needle a lot.” Your candidate, elected three times as a Jefferson County supervisor, lost his own county by more than 600 votes.

The marriage group did not lose the race for Burgmeier, said Chuck Hurley, a former Republican legislator and now president of the Iowa Family Policy Center, a group against gay marriage. He said the issue will be a major topic in the 2010 elections.

“Marriage won the day,” Hurley said of the election. “I think it was a huge issue in the campaign.”

Yes, Republicans tried to make marriage a huge issue in the campaign while Curt Hanson talked about jobs, economic development and renewable energy. The National Organization for Marriage’s television ad used the same kind of rhetoric as the Iowa Family Policy Center’s “Let Us Vote” campaign: instead of advocating discrimination against same-sex couples, the ads supported Burgmeier as someone who would “let voters have a say.” Well, voters in House district 90 had their say.

I don’t want to get too cocky. Tuesday’s election could have gone the other way if not for the outstanding GOTV effort by organizers supporting Hanson. But the fact is, a special election a few months after the Iowa Supreme Court ruling went into effect is exactly the kind of race likely to be disproportionately influenced by same-sex marriage. In Vermont and Massachusetts, the electoral backlash against supporters of marriage equality was short-lived. If the Iowa Family Policy Center (which designated a staffer to work on Burgmeier’s campaign) and nearly $90,000 worth of NOM tv ads couldn’t leverage this issue into a victory on Tuesday, I don’t think Republicans will get far running against gay marriage 14 months from now.

For a more honest Republican assessment of Tuesday’s special election results, read this post by Craig Robinson at The Iowa Republican.

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House district 90 results thread: Hanson wins!

It’s a nail-biter in Iowa House district 90. Democrat Curt Hanson carried Jefferson County, which includes Fairfield. Republican Stephen Burgmeier ran up a big margin in Van Buren County. A few precincts remain to be counted in Wapello County, and Hanson leads by about 200 votes, but I can’t tell whether the absentee ballots have already been reported.

I’ll update this post later with more results, but I invite other Bleeding Heartland readers to post links in the comments if final returns become available before I can get back to my computer.

Turnout was reportedly high for a special election, but I don’t know what that means in terms of percentage.

UPDATE: Democrats will retain a 56-44 majority in the Iowa House for the 2010 session. From the Secretary of State’s office: There were 8,046 total votes (I had heard predictions that 6,000 to 7,000 people would vote in this race). Hanson won 3,932 votes (48.9 percent), and Burgmeier 3,825 votes (47.5 percent). Click the link for the breakdown by county. Only four votes separated the two candidates in Wapello County. Jefferson County was the key for Hanson–he led by more than 600 votes there, while Burgmeier led by just over 500 votes in Van Buren County.

Conservative Dan Cesar of the Fourth of July party got just 40 votes, but independent candidate Douglas Phillips got 242 votes. I have no idea what kind of campaign he was running or which candidate he drew support from. (NOTE: Commenters at The Iowa Republican blog say Phillips was running as a social conservative. He got about 9 percent of the vote in Van Buren County.)

I received this statement from Iowa Democratic Party chair Michael Kiernan:

FAIRFIELD, IA – “I congratulate Curt Hanson on a successful campaign. His was a local campaign about local issues, and it is not surprising he was successful.  Curt will make an excellent addition to the Democratic majority in the Iowa House.  Congratulations to Speaker Murphy, Majority Leader McCarthy and the staff of the Iowa Democratic Party, for their outstanding effort and teamwork, and the victory that has followed.  

“Democrats have been successful in the last two election cycles and tonight because we have recruited great candidates, followed through on the promises we’ve made and are governing the state responsibly.

“We will continue to build upon this strong organization and team approach as we prepare for statewide elections next fall.  Tonight’s results don’t change our strategy for 2010.  Tomorrow we will get back to work on candidate recruitment, fundraising and organizing.  We have every reason to expect continued success.”

I was nervous about this race, but Bleeding Heartland user American007 was right on the money, predicting a Hanson victory today and observing more than a month ago, “never underestimate the power of a well-liked local teacher in politics.”

SECOND UPDATE: A few more thoughts come to mind. Once again, the Democrats’ superior plan for banking early votes made the difference in a statehouse race. No doubt absentee ballots will remain a crucial part of both parties’ GOTV next year.

This result should make it easier for Democratic leaders in the Iowa House and Senate to keep their caucuses in line next year regarding marriage equality. Republicans will use every procedural trick in the book to try to force floor votes on a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. If Burgmeier had won, some Democrats in tough districts might have been more inclined to support the Republicans on procedural votes of this kind.

Tonight’s result must be very disappointing for Iowa Republicans, who invested a lot of resources in this race and were hoping a victory would boost their candidate recruitment and fundraising going into next year. The GOP has suffered net losses of seats in the Iowa House and Senate for the last four elections. Burgmeier was well-known in the district as a Jefferson County supervisor and was thought to have a lot of crossover appeal. Republicans have been beating the war drum over tax and spending issues, while the National Organization for Marriage ran ads for Burgmeier because of his support for overturning same-sex marriage. You would think that this message would be successful in the middle of a recession and just a few months after the Iowa Supreme Court ruling went into effect.

THIRD UPDATE: Statements from Governor Chet Culver, Iowa GOP chairman Matt Strawn and Iowa House minority leader Kraig Paulsen are after the jump.

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