Weekend open thread: Iowans remember Don Avenson

A an Iowa political legend passed away suddenly this week. Former House Speaker Don Avenson had a heart attack on May 19 while on the way home from vacation. He told Iowa Public Television in 1984, “A speaker of the House, if he wants to, can change the course of the state, can change the face of a great deal of legislation, a great deal of law.” As speaker from 1983 through 1990, “nearly twice as long as any other Speaker in Iowa history,” Avenson helped craft many laws that still affect state government and education. He left the House to run for governor in 1990, winning the Democratic nomination but losing to Terry Branstad. For more than 25 years, he remained an influential force at the statehouse, representing many clients through the Avenson, Oakley & Cope lobbying firm.

Dozens of people who have been involved in Iowa legislative politics reflected on Avenson’s legacy as news spread of his death. I compiled some of those recollections after the jump.

The Vilsack family suffered a devastating loss this week as Ella Vilsack, daughter of Jess and Kate Vilsack and granddaughter of Tom and Christie Vilsack, died at the age of six of complications related to influenza. Condolences to all who are bereaved. This kind of tragedy is every parent’s worst nightmare.

Speaking of untimely passings, Nina Martin of ProPublica and Renee Montagne of NPR published a terrifying article this month about maternal mortality, which “is rising in the U.S. as it declines elsewhere” in the developed world. Because “the American medical system has focused more on fetal and infant safety and survival than on the mother’s health and well-being,” new mothers are rarely monitored closely in hospitals, and doctors and nurses often miss symptoms of potentially life-threatening complications. The central figure in this article is Lauren Bloomstein, a neonatal intensive care nurse who died of preeclampsia the day after giving birth. It’s important to be aware of the signs; I know healthy women who had close calls with this condition during pregnancy or shortly after delivery.

The scenarios Martin and Montagne describe are among the reasons peer-reviewed research has shown the “risk of death associated with childbirth is approximately 14 times higher than that with abortion.” But in their infinite wisdom, Branstad and Iowa’s Republican lawmakers enacted new requirements this year for doctors to warn women seeking to terminate pregnancies about “possible detrimental physical and psychological effects of abortion.” Naturally, the state does not require obstetricians to give patients information about the risks of continuing a pregnancy.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

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John Norris: Why he may run for governor and what he would bring to the table

With the exhausting battles of the 2017 legislative session behind us, Iowa Democrats can turn their attention to the most pressing task ahead. Next year’s gubernatorial election will likely determine whether Republicans retain unchecked power to impose their will on Iowans, or whether some balance returns to the statehouse.

A record number of Democrats may run for governor in 2018. Today Bleeding Heartland begins a series of in-depth looks at the possible contenders.

John Norris moved back to Iowa with his wife Jackie Norris and their three sons last year, after nearly six years in Washington and two in Rome, Italy. He has been touching base with potential supporters for several weeks and expects to decide sometime in May whether to become a candidate for governor. His “concern about the direction the state’s going” is not in question. Rather, Norris is gauging the response he gets from activists and community leaders he has known for many years, and whether he can raise the resources “to make this a go.”

In a lengthy interview earlier this month, Norris discussed the changes he sees in Iowa, the issues he’s most passionate about, and why he has “something significantly different to offer” from others in the field, who largely agree on public policy. The native of Red Oak in Montgomery County (which happens to be Senator Joni Ernst’s home town too) also shared his perspective on why Democrats have lost ground among Iowa’s rural and small-town voters, and what they can do to reverse that trend.

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Why Mike Carberry may run for Iowa governor

Johnson County Supervisor Mike Carberry has confirmed rumors that he is thinking about running for governor in 2018. A longtime environmental activist and current member of the Iowa Democratic Party’s State Central Committee, Carberry was the most prominent elected official in our state to endorse Bernie Sanders for president. He spoke to Bleeding Heartland this week about why he is considering a bid for higher office, even though running for governor was never part of his life plan.

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IA-04: Kim Weaver "all in" for rematch with Steve King

Two weeks after saying she was ready to take on Representative Steve King again “if I have sufficient support,” Kim Weaver announced on MSNBC’s AM Joy program Sunday morning that she is “all in” to run for Congress in 2018. Asked by Joy Reid how she could win in a “ruby red” district, Weaver noted that she outperformed both Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and U.S. Senate candidate Patty Judge in all 39 counties in the fourth Congressional district. In addition, she has raised more money for her campaign in the last two weeks than she did during the entire 2016 election cycle.

Weaver’s fundraising surge began when King’s racist sentiments made national news yet again, this time because of his approving tweet about a far-right, white supremacist Dutch politician: “[Geert] Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” King’s been beating the “demographics are destiny” drum for years.

I asked Weaver today when she plans to hold campaign launch events around IA-04.

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Throwback Thursday: Down memory lane with politicians who don't pay income taxes

By Tom Witosky

Donald Trump’s reported avoidance of paying federal income taxes – possibily for almost two decades – raises a simple, but interesting question for Iowa voters.
Does it matter? And, if it doesn’t matter to voters in 2016, then why did it matter when Gov. Terry Branstad and his supporters made such a big deal of it in his campaigns against Democrat candidate Roxanne Conlin in 1982 and Jack Hatch in 2014?

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