Iowa Senate leader stripped two Republicans of committee chairmanships

In an unusual move between the first and second years of a legislative assembly, Iowa Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix took committee chairmanships away from two members of his caucus this week. Senator Jake Chapman is the new leader of the Commerce Committee, replacing Bill Anderson. Senator Craig Johnson, who was just elected for the first time last November, now chairs the Transportation, Infrastructure, and Capitals Appropriations Subcommittee, replacing Rick Bertrand.

Dix handed the more significant demotion to Bertrand, who no longer serves on any appropriations subcommittee. Anderson’s remaining committee assignments still include a spot on one appropriations subcommittee as well as a position on the powerful Ways and Means panel.

Senate Republicans didn’t publicize the changes, which took effect on May 24, on their website or social media feeds. The snubs to Bertrand and Anderson attracted little notice amid the transfer of power from Governor Terry Branstad to Kim Reynolds. Senate GOP communications staff, Johnson, Bertrand, and Anderson did not respond to my requests for comment. When I reached Chapman by phone on May 24, he confirmed his new committee chairmanship but declined to speculate about the reasons, saying, “I don’t make those decisions.”

My first thought was that Dix punished Bertrand for throwing a bit of a tantrum (starting at the 6:12:20 mark of this video) during the final debate on Senate File 471, the bill banning almost all abortions after 20 weeks. But when senators first considered the same bill in March, Chapman had tried to suspend the rules to force a floor vote on “personhood” language. Johnson was among sixteen Republicans to support that breach of Senate protocol. Anyway, my initial hunch wouldn’t explain what Dix did to Anderson, who has never called out his GOP colleagues during a Senate floor speech, to my knowledge.

My best guess is that Bertrand and Anderson paid a price for missing too many votes this year. Follow me after the jump for details.

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What do you have to do to get fired from the Waterloo Police Department?

When I learned last summer that several Waterloo police officers who had used excessive force against black residents had not been disciplined, even after one officer threw a 17-year-old boy to the ground and filed a false report about the incident, and other officers kept their jobs despite making racist remarks at a murder scene or hitting a handcuffed, immobilized suspect on the back of the head, I wondered: what does someone have to do to get fired from the Waterloo Police Department?

Last week the answer became apparent: a lot more than I would have imagined.

One officer remains on the Waterloo force even though Chief Dan Trelka determined he had abused his authority and “displayed poor judgement, unprofessionalism, a lack of competency, a lack of knowledge, a failure to conform to work standards, [and] a failure to take appropriate action”–without showing any remorse.

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The qualities we pray for

Gary Kroeger’s thoughts on the coming campaign in a targeted Congressional district where Democrats Abby Finkenauer and Courtney Rowe are already running. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Two years ago I was in the Democratic primary to unseat Representative Rod Blum in Iowa’s first Congressional district. Along with businessman Ravi Patel and Cedar Rapids city council member Monica Vernon, I ran on progressive values and we strengthened each other’s resolve by engaging every single day with constituents and with each other.

By late summer, Mr. Patel left the primary race and former State Representative Pat Murphy joined. By the following spring (the race was so long I saw seasons change 7 times), I bowed out to support Monica Vernon because I felt that she had the best chance of winning. I went on to run for the Iowa House and Vernon gained the nomination to run against Blum, but incumbents are hard to beat and political intangibles were not in our favor and we both lost.

I’m not pointing this out to re-live the narrative of defeat, but to re-vive the spirit on which we all ran. It was the conviction that we, as Iowans, and as Americans, can do better. We each ran in our respective races because we believed that a dramatic course correction was necessary.

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Hear more from Abby Finkenauer, who's running for Congress in IA-01

Declaring that “Iowans need a fighter who is on their side” who “isn’t afraid to take on out-of-state corporate interests,” State Representative Abby Finkenauer of Dubuque made it official this morning: she will run for Congress next year, rather than seek a third term in the Iowa House. Her campaign is online here, and she’s on Twitter and Instagram @abby4Iowa and on Facebook at Abby4Congress.

I enclose below Finkenauer’s campaign announcement as well as parts of a passionate speech she delivered on the Iowa House floor last month. I also included excerpts from the transcript of last weekend’s Iowa Public Television program featuring Finkenauer and State Senator Nate Boulton. Some of her remarks echoed themes she raised before a group of Democratic activists in Des Moines in late March. Bleeding Heartland published the full text and audio of that speech here.

Finkenauer joins Cedar Rapids-based engineer Courtney Rowe, the first Democrat to launch a campaign in IA-01. Former State Senator Steve Sodders recently ruled out running for Congress. Earlier this year, State Senator Jeff Danielson of Waterloo and Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson said they are considering this race, but to my knowledge neither has taken concrete steps toward a campaign yet.

Two-term Republican Representative Rod Blum is a top 2018 target for Iowa and U.S. House Democrats. The 20 counties in IA-01 contain 161,355 active registered Democrats, 143,269 Republicans, and 187,099 no-party voters, according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. The largest-population counties are Linn (the Cedar Rapids metro area), Black Hawk (Waterloo/Cedar Falls metro), and Dubuque, which is Blum’s home base.

UPDATE: Added below Finkenauer’s statement after Blum voted for the American Health Care Act on May 4.

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IA-Gov: John Norris calls on Democrats to limit campaign donations, spending

Iowa is one of only twelve states with no limits on individual contributions to state-level races. John Norris is challenging Democrats who run for governor in 2018 to “lead by example,” adopting federal campaign contribution limits (capped at $2,700 per person) for the primary election.

Speaking to Democratic activists in Panora (Guthrie County) on April 27, Norris also urged gubernatorial candidates to agree to keep their primary election spending below $1.5 million, saying, “We should campaign on the power of our ideas and spend our time talking to Iowans and not chasing money from wealthy special interests.” I enclose below a longer excerpt from his speech.

Norris will decide soon whether to run for governor. Democrats Rich Leopold, Jon Neiderbach, and Dr. Andy McGuire are already running, likely to be joined by State Representative Todd Prichard, State Senator Nate Boulton, Fred Hubbell, Mike Matson, and/or Mike Carberry (though many Democrats expect Carberry to seek re-election as Johnson County supervisor instead).

Among those candidates, McGuire, Boulton, and Hubbell are the only ones well-positioned to collect many campaign donations larger than $2,700. McGuire recently completed a two-year stint as Iowa Democratic Party chair, during which she solicited many four-figure and five-figure gifts. Roxanne Conlin is among McGuire’s most prominent endorsers. Boulton raised a considerable amount for his first campaign in 2016 and is expected to have strong support from labor unions and attorneys if he joins the field. Hubbell is independently wealthy, having donated $30,000 to the state party during the 2016 cycle, as well as four-figure sums to some other Democratic campaigns. He is rumored to have the support of other central Iowa major donors including Bill Knapp, who gave the Iowa Democratic Party more than $60,000 during the last two years alone. (You can search any individual’s Iowa political donation history here.)

Neiderbach has made campaign finance reform a major theme of his early stump speeches and has promised not to accept any contribution exceeding $500. Leopold speaks often of the need to break the grip “expensive consultants, corporate lobbyists and powerful special interests” have on Iowa’s “insider elite political class.” Bleeding Heartland will soon publish an in-depth interview with Leopold that touches on similar themes.

UPDATE/CLARIFICATION: Former Iowa Democratic Party executive director Norm Sterzenbach, who has been advising Prichard in recent months, noted in response to this post that both Norris and Prichard have networks outside traditional Iowa donors. Point taken, and I did not mean to imply that other gubernatorial candidates would be unable to raise contributions larger than $2,700. Prichard’s leadership team includes some political heavyweights. Norris has years of experience fundraising for Iowa Democrats and connections to many potential out-of-state donors, due to his past work in President Barack Obama’s administration and with nationally-known Democratic operatives like David Plouffe.

Reacting to this post on Facebook, Neiderbach commented, “Do we want a Governor beholden to the voters – especially those who have historically been marginalized or ignored – or beholden to the rich, to big business, and to other special interests? Couldn’t the money spent on endless TV ads and campaign consultants better be spent donated to food banks and homeless shelters and our underfunded schools? Spending $1.5 million on a primary is obscene. Voters are tired of it. I urge all candidates to follow my lead and limit all donors to $500, telling those who would donate more to feed the hungry, house the homeless, and educate our students.”

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