Five takeaways from the Iowa legislature's opening day in 2018

The Iowa House and Senate convened Monday with the usual big promises and platitudes about working together to build a better future for Iowans.

Behind the optimistic rhetoric, all signs point to another contentious legislative session. The opening day speeches by Republican and Democratic leaders, enclosed in full below, revealed almost no common ground about the focus of lawmakers’ work and no indication that the most important bills will incorporate Democratic ideas. My takeaways:

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David Johnson to seek re-election as independent in Iowa Senate district 1

Declaring the two-party system “badly broken,” State Senator David Johnson announced this morning that he will seek re-election as an independent in Iowa Senate district 1 next year. The former Republican won his first state House race in 1998 and was a successful candidate for the state Senate four times, serving for a decade as an assistant leader of the GOP caucus. He left the party in June 2016 to protest the nomination of Donald Trump as president.

In a statement enclosed in full below, Johnson said, “Politics in Des Moines has reached a bitterly partisan tipping point. Principle must come before party.” He added that “constituents of all political stripes have encouraged him to run again,” and that the “storied history of the House and Senate includes legislators who have not been affiliated with major parties.” According to Johnson, the last candidate to win an Iowa Senate race as an independent was William Schmedika in 1923.

Johnson didn’t face an opponent in his last two Senate races, but next year’s campaign is sure to be a hard-fought battle.

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Sexual harassment investigator had warned Iowa senators about clerks' attire

Secretary of the Iowa Senate Charlie Smithson has sometimes encouraged senators to “tell your clerk to wear something different” if a female clerk’s short skirt or top was attracting attention from older male lawmakers, he told an audience earlier this year.

Smithson’s handling of concerns about clerks’ attire raises further questions about whether he was the right person to investigate alleged sexual harassment within the Senate Republican caucus.

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No wonder Bill Dix wanted to bury the GOP sexual harassment investigation

Less than two weeks ago, Iowa Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix led journalists to believe there was no written report from the internal investigation of sexual harassment in the Senate GOP caucus.

Senate leaders arranged to have a redacted version of that report (addressed to Dix’s attention and dated August 15) published the day after Thanksgiving, when few Iowans would be paying attention to political news.

No wonder the original plan was to keep these findings secret: they reveal ongoing problems in the workplace as well as inherent flaws of an in-house investigation.

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Iowans left in the dark on Senate GOP sexual harassment investigation

Iowa Senate Republican leaders have never acknowledged that Kirsten Anderson faced sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation while working for the Senate GOP caucus.

They have stuck to the unconvincing story that Anderson lost her job (hours after she had submitted a written complaint about a hostile work environment) solely because of her writing skills.

They didn’t allow an independent investigation of the allegations Anderson raised in a lawsuit, which a Polk County jury unanimously found credible.

They aren’t releasing any findings from an internal investigation of those allegations.

They have ensured that the legislature’s new human resources director will report to Republican political appointees.

Yet they want us to take their word for it that harassment at the statehouse will not be tolerated.

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