The 16 Bleeding Heartland posts that were most fun to write in 2016

Freedom to chase any story that captures my attention is the best part of running this website. A strong sense of purpose carries me through the most time-consuming projects. But not all work that seems worthwhile is fun. Classic example: I didn’t enjoy communicating with the white nationalist leader who bankrolled racist robocalls to promote Donald Trump shortly before the Iowa caucuses.

Continuing a tradition I started last year, here are the Bleeding Heartland posts from 2016 that have a special place in my heart. Not all of them addressed important Iowa political news, but all were a joy to write.

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Weekend open thread: Iowa Democratic Party rebuilding edition

Having spent most of this week buried in the Iowa Board of Regents internal audit of Iowa State University’s Flight Service during President Steven Leath’s tenure, I’m catching up on the campaign to become the next Iowa Democratic Party state chair. We should all be thankful eight good people are interested in the job after this year’s horrendous outcome, especially in what used to be Iowa’s “blue” eastern half. Barack Obama carried 53 Iowa counties in 2008 and 38 counties in 2012, but Hillary Clinton won a plurality in just six counties this year. The coming midterm election will pose additional challenges for Iowa Democrats.

The brave souls hoping to lead the party forward, in the order that they announced their candidacies, are Kim Weaver, Sandy Dockendorff, Kurt Meyer, Julie Stauch, Blair Lawton, Derek Eadon, Mike Gronstal, and Bob Krause. I posted background on the first six candidates here. All of them decided to stay in the race after longtime Iowa Senate Majority Leader Gronstal declared he would seek the position. Krause was the final candidate to join the race. UPDATE/CLARIFICATION: A reader thought I was implying that other candidates should have bowed out for Gronstal. I did not mean to suggest that anyone should have stepped aside and do not plan to endorse a state party chair candidate. I welcome a robust competition to lead the party. For too many election cycles, the State Central Committee rubber-stamped one political heavyweight’s opinion.

Seven of the eight candidates spoke at a forum in Des Moines on December 16 and presented to State Central Committee members the following morning. Pat Rynard shot a video of the forum and wrote up some highlights at Iowa Starting Line. Rynard and Radio Iowa’s O.Kay Henderson both tweeted highlights from the SCC meeting. Recurring themes included the need to improve messaging and outreach to rural areas. UPDATE: Videos of each candidate’s presentation to the SCC meeting are available on the Iowa Democratic Women’s Caucus Facebook page. Henderson posted an article at Radio Iowa.

Gronstal was absent because of a trip planned long before he decided to run for state party chair. Ingrid Olson, a Council Bluffs resident who was a Bernie Sanders delegate to the Democratic National Convention, spoke to SCC members on Gronstal’s behalf. She emphasized Gronstal’s long work in the trenches, fighting for many causes. One of the plaintiffs in the Varnum v Brien case that led to the Iowa Supreme Court’s marriage ruling, Olson praised Gronstal for being willing to “put a target on his back” in order to defend marriage equality. To his credit, Gronstal immediately welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision. He forcefully and repeatedly rejected Republican calls for a vote on a constitutional amendment to overturn it.

Olson’s support for Gronstal is understandable, given her strong personal investment in a cause he championed. On the other hand, after reading her harsh post-election assessment, I didn’t expect her to back one of the longest-serving Iowa Democratic politicians, who also happened to be a DNC superdelegate for Clinton, for state party chair. In that commentary, Olson slammed the insiders who (in her view) “anointed” Clinton “because all the ‘good old boys’ in the Dem elite knew it was ‘her turn’.” Speaking to the SCC yesterday, Olson acknowledged Gronstal “has been around a long time, but it’s because he’s weathered more storms than I can even imagine.”

Representative Dave Loebsack, the only Iowa Democrat left in Congress, announced near the end of the State Central Committee meeting that a committee will “systematically” review what went wrong for the party here in 2016. Outgoing state party chair Andy McGuire indicated that the effort will be more in-depth than a “typical analysis.” The committee members will include “Loebsack as the honorary chair, his campaign manager, four SCC members, three campaign professionals, a member from the Iowa House and Senate and members of the IDP staff.” Members will “conduct a listening tour of activists, volunteers and party stakeholders” and “hold a professional focus group” before submitting their report in April.

Among many angles that need to be investigated, I hope to learn more about what happened with the early vote program. We need to understand why Clinton didn’t carry absentee voters by a larger margin. Whether because of poor targeting or inadequate persuasion, Democratic field organizers and volunteers appear to have mobilized a lot of early voters who ended up not marking the ballot for Democratic candidates.

Bleeding Heartland has posted guest commentaries by Stauch, Meyer, Eadon, Dockendorff, and Lawton. I’ll publish Weaver’s contribution soon. UPDATE: It’s online here. You can read Gronstal’s announcement message to SCC members here and Krause’s case for his candidacy here.

No one has a monopoly on understanding what went wrong and how to fix it. I welcome viewpoints from any Iowa Democratic activist. So far Pete McRoberts, Sue Dvorsky, Tim Nelson, Ben Nesselhuf, Claire Celsi, Tracy Leone, John McCormally, Paul Deaton, Bill Brauch, Laura Hubka, and Jeff Cox have shared their insights here. It’s easy to create a Bleeding Heartland account; the link to register is near the upper right corner of the front page.

This post is an open thread: all topics welcome.

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"The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away": a Jobian analysis of gay marriage in America

A frightening look at how a changed Supreme Court might strip LGBT Americans of marriage rights. You can find previous writing by Bill from White Plains here. -promoted by desmoinesdem

If there is one group whose rights may be most immediately at risk following the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States, it isn’t refugees, or Muslims, or Mexicans, or women. It is those who are wed to their gay partners. The reason for that has a lot to do with a really poorly written and poorly reasoned United States Supreme Court ruling finding restrictions on marriage to those of different genders unconstitutional.

The ruling, Obergefell v. Hodges, does a couple of really bad injustices to gay married couples.

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A look at the campaign to retain Iowa's Supreme Court justices

The last three Iowa Supreme Court justices involved in the landmark 2009 marriage equality ruling are on the ballot this year: Chief Justice Mark Cady (author of the Varnum v Brien decision) and Justices Brent Appel and Daryl Hecht. However, this year’s Iowa judicial retention elections aren’t getting much attention, largely because social conservative groups decided not to engage heavily in the fight.

By this point in 2010, television commercials calling for a “no” vote on three Iowa Supreme Court justices had been on the air for six weeks. Bob Vander Plaats and allies were holding “Judge Bus” events across Iowa. In a radio ad, Representative Steve King urged listeners to “vote ‘no’ on Judges [Marsha] Ternus, [Michael] Streit and [David] Baker” to “send a message against judicial arrogance.” For about a month before the 2012 general election, conservative groups paid for tv ads asking Iowans to “hold [Justice] David Wiggins accountable for redefining marriage and legislating from the bench.”

In contrast, Vander Plaats and like-minded Iowans have made a lower-key case against Cady, Appel, and Hecht, largely relying on e-mail, social media postings, and letters to the editor. They probably realized a full-court press was unlikely to succeed in a presidential election year. Nor did they have a way to fund a more extensive anti-retention campaign, with the biggest donor from 2010 and 2012 staying on the sidelines this year.

Supporters of retaining the Supreme Court justices are taking no chances, though. Two groups are leading the fight to persuade and remind voters to mark “yes” for all Iowa judges, especially Cady, Appel, and Hecht. I enclose below a sampling of messages from the Justice Not Politics coalition and the Iowa State Bar Association.

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Rest in peace, Larry Hoch

One of the plaintiffs in Iowa’s historic Varnum v Brien case passed away late last week. As Tom Witosky and Marc Hansen described in their book Equal Before the Law: How Iowa Led Americans to Marriage Equality, Larry Hoch was a middle-school teacher in his late 50s when he met David Twombley online in 2000. A few years later, he moved from New York to Des Moines to be with Twombley.

The couple had already entered into a civil union in Vermont, but our state didn’t recognize the legal status of their relationship. So when Camilla Taylor, an attorney for the LGBT advocacy group Lambda Legal, reached out in the summer of 2005, looking for plaintiffs in a case that would challenge Iowa’s Defense of Marriage Act, Hoch agreed immediately without consulting Twombley. The two men jokingly called themselves the “Old Fart Couple,” since they were much older than the five other couples who joined the lawsuit.

Hoch and Twombly unsuccessfully applied for a Polk County marriage license in November 2005. The lawsuit was filed the following month. Polk County District Court Judge Robert Hanson heard oral arguments in May 2007 and found Iowa’s ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional in August of that year. His ruling was stayed pending appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court, where seven justices unanimously affirmed the decision in April 2009, allowing the Varnum plaintiffs and others to marry the person of their choice, regardless of gender.

Speaking to the Des Moines Register’s Molly Longman, One Iowa executive director Donna Red Wing described Hoch as an “incredible, sweet man” and said he was a regular at LGBT events in central Iowa: “I think for the community to see this older couple — they weren’t exactly spring chickens — engage so passionately in the fight for equality was so important.” Twombley told Longman, “We were both very proud to have been a part of history. We’ve had numerous gay couples that have married that know us or know of us, and they’ve gone out of their way to thank us for what we did for them.”

Although my life was not directly affected by the Varnum case, all Iowans should be grateful for what Hoch and the other plaintiffs did to promote fairness and equality in our state. Without their lawsuit, thousands of LGBT couples in Iowa would have had to wait six more years (until the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell) to obtain the legal and psychological benefits of being married. Witosky and Hansen wrote that Hoch and Twombley “weren’t the first couple the [Lambda Legal] organization had contacted. […] Several Des Moines area couples had been approached but declined for a variety of reasons, mostly because of the attention the case would attract.” After living in the closet for most of his adult life, Hoch risked becoming a target for haters in order to take a stand. May his memory be a blessing.

P.S.- Chief Justice Mark Cady, the author of the Varnum decision, and Supreme Court Justices Brent Appel and Daryl Hecht are up for retention this year statewide. Polk County voters will also see Judge Hanson’s name on the ballot. Please remember to mark yes for them all when you vote.

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