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Divided Iowa Supreme Court rules Tony Bisignano can run in Iowa Senate district 17 (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Apr 15, 2014 at 18:22:20 PM CDT

A three-way Democratic primary is assured in Iowa Senate district 17, as the Iowa Supreme Court announced this afternoon that it has affirmed a district court ruling on Tony Bisignano's eligibility to run for office. Rival candidate Ned Chiodo filed a lawsuit last month, saying Bisignano's recent aggravated misdemeanor conviction for second-offense OWI should be considered an "infamous crime." The Iowa Constitution disqualifies citizens convicted of "infamous crimes" from exercising the privileges of "electors."

Chief Justice Mark Cady wrote the plurality opinion, joined by Justices Daryl Hecht and Bruce Zager. Overturning Iowa Supreme Court precedents set in 1916 and 1957, the court ruled that "infamous crimes" cannot be interpreted to mean any crime punishable by a prison sentence, including aggravated misdemeanors. On the other hand, the court did not simply accept the 1994 law defining "infamous crimes" as felonies. Citing historical references including an 1839 Iowa territorial statute, the plurality argues that not all felonies are "infamous," and that the words had different meanings at the time the Iowa Constitution was adopted in the 1850s. It did not go on to define which felonies should be considered infamous crimes in the present context.

Justice Edward Mansfield wrote a concurring opinion, joined by Justice Thomas Waterman. The concurrence agrees that Bisignano retains his rights as an elector, because aggravated misdemeanors cannot be considered "infamous crimes." However, Mansfield would have accepted the bright-line definition from the 1994 state law, equating felonies with "infamous crimes." He warned that the plurality opinion would serve as a "welcome mat" for future litigation from felons claiming that they should be entitled to vote, because their convictions were not for "infamous crimes." On balance, I agree most with Mansfield's opinion.

Justice David Wiggins dissented, arguing that the court should not have rewritten "nearly one hundred years of caselaw." He would have found Bisignano ineligible to run for office under the longstanding precedent that "infamous crime" means any crime punishable by a prison sentence. Wiggins' dissenting opinion does not accept the 1994 law which defined "infamous crimes" as felonies, because interpreting the state Constitution is a job for the Iowa Supreme Court, not the state legislature.

Justice Brent Appel recused himself from this case.

The Iowa Supreme Court did not rule on Chiodo's separate claim that Attorney General Tom Miller should have recused himself from the panel that allowed Bisignano to remain on the ballot. Chiodo argued that Miller had a conflict of interest, because one of his employees, Assistant Attorney General Nathan Blake, is also seeking the Democratic nomination in Senate district 17.

You can read the Iowa Supreme Court's three opinions in this case here (pdf). After the jump I've enclosed summaries and excerpts from each opinion. I also included a statement from Bisignano hailing the ruling and announcing several more labor union endorsements.

One thing's for sure: today's ruling won't be the last attempt by the Iowa Supreme Court to clarify the definition of "infamous crimes."

UPDATE: Added Nathan Blake's comment below. SECOND UPDATE: Added more thoughts about the implications of this case.

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Cautionary note for early Iowa voters

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Apr 15, 2014 at 10:07:06 AM CDT

A growing proportion of Iowans have chosen to vote early during the last few election cycles. During the 2012 presidential election, 43.2 percent of Iowans who participated cast early ballots. In yesterday's Des Moines Register, Jason Noble highlighted a problem that has and will continue to nullify the votes of some of them: missing postmarks on ballots that arrive after the general election. Post offices do not always postmark envelopes without a stamp. That's not a problem when county auditors receive mailed absentee ballots before election day, but current Iowa rules instruct auditors to throw out ballots that arrive late, unless a postmark proves they were mailed on or before the day before the election.

Iowa lawmakers discussed several ideas for addressing the problem, but lack of consensus led them to drop the issue this year. After the jump I've posted an excerpt from Noble's piece.

As things stand, Iowans who plan to vote early either in the 2014 primary or general elections can do a few things to make sure their votes count:

1. Mail in your absentee ballot well before election day, to ensure that it arrives on time.

2. Hand-deliver your absentee ballot to your county auditor's office.

3. Place a stamp on your absentee ballot envelope, so that the post office will have to put a postmark on it.

4. Vote early in person, either at the county auditor's office or (for the general election) at a satellite location. I prefer this option, because I know for sure that my ballot got to the right place on time. If you take this route, I recommend reviewing a sample ballot online first, so that you have time to research ballot initiatives and candidates for more obscure offices.  

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Another look at the uncontested Iowa House districts

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Apr 14, 2014 at 11:35:00 AM CDT

Over at the Smart Politics blog based at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Eric Ostermeier takes a look at the uncontested Iowa House districts today. He leads with this surprising fact: "Iowa Republicans failed to field candidates in a party record 32 State House districts this cycle." I recommend clicking through to read his whole post, which explores historical trends in Iowa House candidate recruitment for both parties.

Bleeding Heartland previously commented on the uncontested Iowa House races here. After the jump I've posted my thoughts on Ostermeier's analysis.

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Don't RAPE REAP

by: Supervisor Brent Oleson

Wed Apr 09, 2014 at 18:12:24 PM CDT

(The author has been a Linn County Supervisor since 2009 and previously worked with the Iowa Senate Minority leader. Bleeding Heartland discussed the bipartisan effort to increase REAP funding to $25 million here. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

I'm gonna go on a rant...about an attempted RAPE.

Yes, I mean every word and hyperbole I'm uttering on this post. REAP (Resource Enhancement & Protection) is being RAPED! For Agriculture...by agri-business...to correct it's mistakes in a supposedly free and private market of farming. How is this rape of taxpayer funds and DNR license plate fees occurring and for what specifically? Read on My friends. 

The Iowa House of Representatives wants to put REAP dollars toward... agri-terrace projects, forestry management (subject to logging), and water nutrient pollution clean-up programs because farmland soil is laden with fertilizer chemicals. These are all worthy issues to be addressed on their own I say, and should indeed be addressed and monies put toward mitigation efforts. The Iowa Dept. Of Ag has jurisdiction on all these problems, and they should since their policies and practices created them in the first place.

This isn't an indictment of farmers, because most are great conservationists of their own free will as it's good business and good citizenship. I commend those Iowa farmers, especially my Linn County ones, who work hard to be responsible neighbors, citizens and conservationists...voluntarily I might add! But I don't give a pass to bad apples, policy-makers, or special interest Ag industry lobbyists.

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Fewer Iowa lawyers seeking judgeships

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Apr 08, 2014 at 09:11:00 AM CDT

The applicant pool for Iowa's judicial vacancies has been declining in recent years, Mike Wiser reported for the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier on March 30. Iowa courts administrator David Boyd has been analyzing trends across the state and concluded that during the past decade, "The applicant pools [for District Court judgeships] were shrinking not only in terms of quantity but in quality, too."

Applications for court vacancies are down by about half of what they were 10 years ago in four of the eight judicial districts, and down by a third in another two, according to Boyd's figures.

Wiser's article identifies three main reasons for the trend. First, District Court judges earn an annual salary of $138,130, which is well above the state average but below what high-performing attorneys can earn in private practice. Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady asked state legislators to increase judges' pay by 4.5 percent, but State Representative Gary Worthan, who chairs the Iowa House Appropriations subcommittee on the judicial system told Wiser, "we've got other priorities this year."

Second, years of state budget cuts to court support staff have also made the work of a judge less appealing, according to several people Wiser interviewed.

Finally, University of Iowa School of Law professor Patrick Bauer and others cited the successful 2010 campaign against retaining three Iowa Supreme Court justices. That crusade was the first and perhaps the last time a politically unpopular ruling ended judges' careers in Iowa. Nevertheless, it has deterred some attorneys from aspiring to become judges. Bob Vander Plaats and his fellow social conservatives failed to end marriage equality in Iowa, but they have left their mark on the judicial system.

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Q: When do Iowa Democrats talk like Steve King?

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 11:55:00 AM CDT

A. When doing so serves Big Ag's interests.

Yesterday the Iowa House approved House Resolution 123, which requests "that all necessary and immediate action be taken by the State of California, the United States Congress, the United State Attorney General, state legislatures, state governors, and state attorneys general to effectuate the repeal of California legislation enacted as AB 1437 that unconstitutionally infringes upon the Commerce Clause of the Constitution of the United States to the detriment of this nation's consumers and farmers."

U.S. Representative Steve King has been on the warpath against the supposedly "unconstitutional" California law for some time. After he failed to get language overriding the egg regulations into the new Farm Bill, several state attorneys general filed suit in federal court. Last month Governor Terry Branstad joined that lawsuit, saying the California law "discriminates against Iowa's egg producers."

Thirteen Iowa House Democrats joined all 53 Republicans to co-sponsor House Resolution 123 (full text here). The Democrats were Bruce Bearinger, Nancy Dunkel, John Forbes, Bruce Hunter, Jerry Kearns, Dan Kelley, Helen Miller, Dan Muhlbauer, Joe Riding, Patti Ruff, Sally Stutsman, Roger Thomas, and Frank Wood. Reading from the resolution on the Iowa House floor yesterday, State Representative Helen Miller parroted the same talking points we've heard from King before. Supposedly Iowa egg farmers "can't" sell their products in California anymore, which "unconstitutionally infringes upon the commerce clause of the Constitution of the United States." Sorry, no. That law does not establish a higher bar for out-of-state producers than for in-state producers. Nor does it force any course of action on Iowa egg farmers. They will simply face the same choice any number of manufacturers face regarding any number of state laws: either comply with the relevant state's requirements, or sell your products elsewhere.

Some of the House Democrats who co-sponsored this resolution represent rural or suburban districts that will be competitive this year. Others, including Miller, are unopposed or represent urban districts that Republicans have no prayer of winning. Before taking Steve King's word for it on matters of constitutional law, they should have consulted Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller. He didn't sign on to the lawsuit Branstad joined, I suspect because he sensed the case is weak. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was not a fan of King's efforts to overturn the California law either.  

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Spiker takes parting shot at Branstad over medical marijuana

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Mar 24, 2014 at 09:56:39 AM CDT

A few days before he will formally step down as the Republican Party of Iowa's leader, A.J. Spiker advocated legalizing medical marijuana in a guest editorial for the Sunday Des Moines Register. Excerpts from Spiker's column are after the jump. Framing the case for medical cannabis in terms of personal freedom, Spiker rebuked Republicans who have been unwilling to acknowledge strong arguments for allowing doctors to prescribe the drug. While he didn't name names, his points came across as a rebuttal to Governor Terry Branstad, who would rather drag his feet on this issue.

Spiker and Branstad have clashed repeatedly, and it's an open secret that the governor hasn't been happy with the Iowa GOP's priorities or fundraising since Spiker took over from Matt Strawn in early 2012. It's shrewd for Spiker to stake a claim for medical marijuana, a position that is increasingly popular, especially with younger voters. Now his last impression as state party chair will be as a forward-thinking leader, rather than the guy who sometimes seemed to care more about Ron Paul's Liberty movement than about electing Republicans.  

Speaking of medical marijuana, the issue was the focus of last Friday's edition of Iowa Public Television's "Iowa Press" program. Steve Lukan, director of the governor's Office of Drug Control Policy, appeared along with West Des Moines Mayor Steve Gaer and State Senator Joe Bolkcom, leading advocates for legalizing medical cannabis using the New Mexico model. The video and transcript are available here. I was disappointed to see Lukan basically repeat the same talking points throughout the program, without acknowledging that many legal drugs can also be abused and may have devastating side effects for patients. Branstad didn't search for anyone with expertise in drug policy before offering the state's top job in this area to Lukan.

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The pros and cons of Iowa traffic cameras: links and discussion thread

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Mar 24, 2014 at 07:37:38 AM CDT

Transportation policy doesn't often generate passionate public debate, but everyone seems to have a strong opinion about traffic cameras. Last week the non-profit news service Iowa Watch published an excellent piece on how traffic cameras are used in Iowa and the conflicting evidence about whether they improve public safety. Kelsey Block's article inspired me to compile arguments for and against this law enforcement tool.
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Jon Van Wyk drops out of Iowa House district 28 GOP primary

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Mar 20, 2014 at 14:17:46 PM CDT

Yesterday was the deadline for Iowa candidates who had qualified for a major-party primary to have their names removed from the primary ballot. The full list of candidates is on the Secretary of State's website (pdf). Jon Van Wyk's name is now absent from the Republican Party line in Iowa House district 28. His challenge against first-term State Representative Greg Heartsill was shaping up to be one of the most interesting state legislative primaries. However, the Knoxville Journal-Express reported that six people objected to Van Wyk's candidacy because he and his family live in Clive, a suburb of Des Moines. They plan to move to Sully, located in House district 28, this summer.

After the jump I've posted Van Wyk's comments on dropping out and a map of House district 28, where Van Wyk plans to run again in 2016.

Heartsill, one of the most "out there" Iowa House Republicans, has the GOP nomination locked up and will face Democrat Megan Suhr in a rematch from 2012. He won that race by 8,197 votes to 6,569. House district 28 leans Republican with 6,020 registered Democrats, 7,368 Republicans, and 8,049 no-party voters as of March 2014.

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Bipartisan group pushing Iowa legislative study of medical marijuana

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Mar 20, 2014 at 09:58:09 AM CDT

What a difference a month makes. Four weeks ago, State Senator Joe Bolkcom declared his bill to legalize the medical use of cannabis dead on the same day he introduced it. Now five Republican senators have joined Bolkcom and four other Iowa Senate Democrats seeking to advance the conversation about medical marijuana before next year's legislative session.

Click here to read the full text of Senate Resolution 112, which requests the creation of an interim study committee "to make recommendations on the feasibility of establishing a medical cannabis program in this state allowing qualifying resident patients to purchase and possess cannabis for medical purposes, and to file a final report including recommendations with the general assembly by December 30, 2014." If the Senate approves the resolution, the Iowa Legislative Council led by House Speaker Kraig Paulsen and Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal will likely approve a study committee to evaluate medical marijuana later this year.

Depending on the study committee's conclusions, a medical marijuana bill might garner more bipartisan support during the 2015 legislative session. Kudos to Democrats Bolkcom, Matt McCoy, Bill Dotzler, Jack Hatch, and Tom Courtney, and Republicans Ken Rozenboom, Mike Breitbach, Brad Zaun, Amy Sinclair, and Charles Schneider for supporting this resolution. It's worth noting that all five Republican co-sponsors were elected to the Iowa Senate in 2012 and therefore will not face re-election again until 2016. Consequently, all five will be serving in the Iowa Senate next year, regardless of which party controls the chamber after the 2014 elections.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Hatch has long been on record supporting medical marijuana in Iowa. Earlier this month, Governor Terry Branstad warned of "unintended consequences" and said much more study of the issue is needed.

UPDATE: I should have mentioned that while Zaun isn't up for re-election to the state Senate this year, he is one of six GOP candidates running in Iowa's third Congressional district. I wonder whether any of his rivals in IA-03 will criticize this stance.

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Iowa legislative news roundup: dead and alive after the second funnel

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Mar 19, 2014 at 13:59:29 PM CDT

The Iowa legislature's second "funnel" deadline passed late last week. To remain eligible for debate during the remainder of this year's session, most legislation needed to have passed one chamber as well as a committee in the other chamber. There are a few exceptions to the rule, namely appropriations bills and some tax measures. Rod Boshart listed the most significant "dead" and "alive" bills for the Cedar Rapids Gazette. The Iowa House Republican staff compiled a more comprehensive list of "second funnel survivors," including bill summaries. The Iowa Senate Democratic staff highlighted the most important bills passed by the Senate that died in the House.

After the jump I've enclosed more links and some analysis on bills that died as well as those still under consideration. From my perspective, the most surprising casualty of the funnel was a bill to extend the statute of limitations for sex crimes against children (see the "safety and crime" section below).

Any comments on pending legislation in the Iowa House or Senate are welcome in this thread.  

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Bipartisan push underway to increase Iowa REAP funding

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Mar 18, 2014 at 17:44:07 PM CDT

Iowa's Resource Enhancement and Protection program (REAP) celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Among the most successful conservation initiatives in Iowa history, REAP has cumulatively distributed about $300 million to thousands of projects across the state. It is mostly funded through gaming revenues that go into the state's Environment First Fund. In theory, REAP "is authorized to receive $20 million per year until 2021," but the state legislature has never fully funded REAP to the authorized level. This year's budget included $16 million for REAP, and Governor Terry Branstad kept that item at the same level in his draft budget for fiscal year 2015.

Today about three dozen non-profit organizations gathered at the State Capitol for the annual Environmental Lobby Day organized by the Iowa Environmental Council. I attended the event because I'm active in the IEC and in several of its member organizations. At a press conference organized by the IEC, four speakers emphasized the need to increase conservation funding: Republican State Senator David Johnson, Democratic State Senator Bob Dvorsky, Iowa Natural Resource Commission Chair Margo Underwood, and Rod Marlatt, executive director of the Fayette County Conservation Board. Dvorsky particularly emphasized his goal to secure $25 million in funding for REAP in the coming fiscal year, in honor of the program's 25th anniversary.

Because REAP-supported projects are often popular locally, the program has mostly escaped the partisan divisions that have led to the demise of some state initiatives. Today the Iowa House approved a resolution celebrating the 25th anniversary of REAP. Remarkably, 96 of the 100 state representatives co-sponsored this resolution, which House Democrat Chuck Isenhart proposed. Now that they're on record agreeing, "Iowans strongly believe that the Resource Enhancement and Protection Program is a successful venture worthy of the continued support of the General Assembly," let's hope they will put a lot of money where their mouths are. The $25 million in REAP funding has an excellent chance of clearing the Iowa Senate, since Dvorsky chairs the Appropriations Committee. Will the Iowa House go along? The many state lawmakers who spoke with Environmental Lobby Day exhibitors today included House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer and several members of the House Appropriations Committee.

After the jump I've posted background on the REAP program from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources website, including a map showing how much REAP funding has gone to each of Iowa's 99 counties. I also enclosed a press release from the Iowa Environmental Council, with highlights from speakers at the conservation rally.

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58 Iowa House seats uncontested, including a dozen in competitive Senate districts

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Mar 17, 2014 at 07:20:00 AM CDT

In any given general election, roughly a dozen or two of the 100 Iowa House districts are in play. A first look through the list of candidates who qualified for the primary ballot suggests that this year, fewer Iowa House districts will be competitive than in 2010 or 2012. Republicans have failed to field a candidate in 32 of the 47 Democratic-held House districts. Democrats have failed to field a candidate in 26 of the 53 Republican-held House districts.

Although a few of these districts may see major-party candidates nominated through special conventions after the primary, it's rare for late-starting candidates to have a realistic chance to beat an incumbent. (That said, two Iowa House Democrats lost in 2010 to candidates who joined the race over the summer rather than during the primary campaign.)

After the jump I've enclosed a full list of the Iowa House districts left unchallenged by one of the major parties. I highlighted the most surprising recruitment failures and what looks like a pattern of uncontested House seats in Senate districts that will be targeted by both parties, which may reflect a deliberate strategy. House incumbents with no fear of losing may slack off on GOTV in one half of a Senate district where every vote may count.

A future post will focus on the ten or fifteen Iowa House races likely to be most competitive this fall.

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Weekend open thread: Too much news edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Mar 16, 2014 at 10:00:00 AM CDT

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? Is anyone else annoyed that the Iowa legislature's second "funnel" deadline coincided with the last day major-party candidates could file to appear on the primary ballot? I put up a new overview of the Iowa Senate races and a thread on the statewide candidate filings. John Deeth has a quick look at all 125 legislative races. I have posts in progress about Iowa House races to watch, as well as what bills are dead and alive in the state legislature.

Congratulations to Cyclones fans celebrating Iowa State winning the Big 12 championship. I don't follow college basketball closely, but I know the Big 12 is probably the toughest conference this year. Fred Hoiberg has done a tremendous job recruiting and leading his team, without throwing tantrums on the court like the University of Iowa's coach, Fran McCaffery.

I highly recommend Josh Harkinson's fascinating piece, "You're Drinking the Wrong Kind of Milk." He explores the hypothesis that many people have trouble drinking cow's milk because Holsteins, which dominate industrial dairies, produce milk high in A1 protein. Some of those people can digest milk with predominantly A2 protein, produced by Jersey, Guernsey, and Normande cows.

As a friend and I talked about Harkinson's article a few days ago, she reminded me that Iowa's beloved Anderson Erickson Dairy used to sell a more expensive "Guernsey Gold" milk. Looking into it, I learned that AE stopped making this product in the mid-1980s, not because there was no demand for the premium milk, but because Iowa didn't have enough farmers raising Guernsey cows anymore.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.  

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How not to retire from the Iowa legislature

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 09:35:00 AM CDT

Most election years, at least one Iowa House or Senate incumbent reveals retirement plans shortly before the filing deadline. During the last midterm, three Iowa House incumbents gave their constituents only a day or two's notice that they were not planning to run for re-election.

Qualifying for the ballot is relatively easy here; candidates can collect the 50 signatures needed for an Iowa House district or the 100 needed for a Senate district in a day. But deciding whether to run for the state legislature is not so simple. Common courtesy demands that incumbents give their constituents at least a few weeks, or preferably a few months, to talk things over with family and friends, weighing what would be involved in a campaign and part-time work as a lawmaker. Lots of politically active people might want to serve. Most would not challenge an incumbent in a primary, but the calculus is different for an open seat.

Longtime State Senator Dennis Black announced on March 10 that he would not run for re-election. Presumably some insiders had advance warning, but every other Democrat in Senate district 15 had at most three days to consider this race, plus one day to collect the signatures and drive petitions to Des Moines.

Longtime State Representative Roger Thomas officially announced his retirement in a press release that went out  at 4:50 pm on March 13, barely 24 hours before the filing deadline. He gave the scoop to local activists at the Winneshiek County Democratic convention on March 8, but that news would only reach a small circle of insiders. A wider audience didn't learn of Thomas' retirement until he informed the Decorah Newspapers on the morning of March 12. Democrats in House district 55 (covering parts of Winneshiek, Fayette, and Clayton counties) deserved more than five days to think about running for the legislature, collect signatures, and make the four-hour drive to Des Moines. Nothing against Rick Edwards of Decorah, who has stepped up to run, but others should have had more time to consider the opportunity Thomas created.

Note: Iowa House district 55 will likely be a very competitive race this November, and Senate district 15 may also be in play, but my feelings about last-minute retirements also apply to seats that are safe for one party.

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Iowa Senate district 45: Joe Seng has a primary challenger, Mark Riley

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Mar 12, 2014 at 15:22:00 PM CDT

If any Iowa Democrat deserves a primary challenge, it's three-term State Senator Joe Seng. Although the Davenport-based veterinarian represents one of the Democrats' safest urban districts, Seng is anti-choice and supported Republican calls for a vote against marriage equality in 2010. As chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, he has helped pass several bills that are good for industrial agriculture but bad for the environment, especially clean water. In addition, Seng himself challenged three-term U.S. Representative Dave Loebsack in the IA-02 Democratic primary two years ago, so he couldn't claim the moral high ground against a primary challenger for his state Senate seat.

I was excited to see yesterday that another Democratic candidate, Mark Riley, had filed papers to run in Senate district 45. When I realized Riley was Seng's Republican opponent in 2010 and ran an independent campaign against Iowa House Democrat Cindy Winckler in 2012, I became disappointed. Was he just a fake like the "Democrat" who ran against State Representative Ako Abdul-Samad in 2010?

I sought comment from Riley about why he was running as a Democrat in Iowa Senate district 45, having campaigned as a Republican in the same district a few years ago. I've posted his response after the jump. You be the judge. Riley would have my serious consideration if I lived on the west side of Davenport.  

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Iowa Senate district 7 preview: Rick Bertrand vs. Jim France

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Mar 12, 2014 at 06:45:00 AM CDT

Three days before the deadline to file as a major-party candidate for the state legislature, a Democrat finally stepped up to run against first-term State Senator Rick Bertrand in Iowa Senate district 7. Likely to be among the most competitive statehouse races this year, Senate district 7 is a must-hold for Republicans trying to win a majority in a chamber Democrats have controlled by 26 votes to 24 since 2011. Leading Democrats view the district as a pick-up opportunity, in part because of a voter registration advantage and strong performance by Democratic candidates there in 2012.

Follow me after the jump for a first look at this race. I've included a district map and the latest voter registration numbers as well as background on Bertrand and his Democratic challenger, Jim France.  

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Former Newton Mayor Chaz Allen running in Iowa Senate district 15

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Mar 10, 2014 at 14:20:00 PM CDT

Only a few hours after State Senator Dennis Black confirmed plans to retire, former Newton Mayor Chaz Allen announced that he will seek the Democratic nomination in Iowa Senate district 15. Allen has strong business connections as executive director of the Jasper County Economic Development Corporation and as a board member of the Greater Des Moines Partnership. After the jump I've posted Allen's campaign announcement, which contains more background on the candidate. Former Governor Chet Culver appointed him to the Rebuild Iowa Office's task force on Infrastructure and Transportation, and he also served on Governor Terry Branstad's Commercial Property Tax Review Committee three years ago.

Iowa Senate district 15 covers most of Jasper County and some eastern areas in Polk County. Click here for a map and the latest voter registration numbers in the Democratic-leaning district.

I am seeking comment from Iowa House Democrat Dan Kelley, who represents the eastern half of this Senate district. I will update this post when I can confirm whether Kelley will run for the Iowa Senate or seek a third term as state representative.

So far the lone Republican candidate to file in Senate district 15 is Crystal Bruntz. Her campaign is on Facebook here and on the web here. I've posted her official bio below.

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Democratic incumbent Dennis Black retiring in Iowa Senate district 15

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Mar 10, 2014 at 10:15:00 AM CDT

Democratic State Senator Dennis Black announced this morning that he is retiring from politics after 32 years in the Iowa legislature, including five terms in the Iowa Senate. His retirement opens up Senate district 15, covering most of Jasper County and parts of eastern Polk County. As of March 2014, this district contained 15,238 registered Democrats, 13,184 Republicans, and 15,064 no-party voters. After the jump I've posted a district map and Black's open letter to colleagues and the media.

In late January, it appeared that three Republicans would compete for the chance to run against Black this year. But the highest-profile candidate, former Iowa GOP Co-Chair David Fischer, opted against running last month. Meanwhile, the first Republican candidate to declare against Black, Patrick Payton, decided to run for Iowa House district 29 instead. That leaves Crystal Bruntz, a human resources executive for the convenience store chain Kum & Go, as the likely GOP nominee in Senate district 15. So far she is the only Republican who has filed nominating papers in the district.

Democrats have until this Friday to find a new candidate for the seat Black is vacating. I am seeking comment from two-term State Representative Dan Kelley of Newton. He currently represents Iowa House district 29 but has not filed for re-election yet. First-term Democrat Joe Riding has already filed for re-election in House district 30, the western half of Senate district 15. UPDATE: Riding confirmed by telephone that he is committed to continuing to represent residents of House district 30.

Although Black's district wasn't initially on my radar or Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal's radar as one of the most competitive 2014 Senate races, opposing parties typically have a better chance of winning open seats than defeating state legislative incumbents. Senate district 15 will surely be a race to watch this year.

PROCESS GEEK UPDATE: Although it's not relevant in this instance, since Riding will stick with the House race, a candidate who had already filed papers to run for an Iowa House district could file for a newly open Senate district. Scroll to the end of this post for the explanation.  

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What could go wrong? Less training for manure spreaders edition

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Mar 10, 2014 at 06:50:00 AM CDT

More than 800 manure spills have occurred on Iowa farms during the past two decades. At least 262 manure spills reached Iowa waterways between 2001 and 2011 alone, affecting the vast majority of counties.

More than half of rivers and streams in the region including Iowa are in "poor condition for aquatic life." Manure spills are a major contributing factor to this problem, and they are happening more often. The number of recorded manure spills in Iowa grew from 46 in 2012 to 76 in 2013.

How should state government respond to this set of facts? Various policies might address the explosion in waterways officially recognized as "impaired."  

But this is Iowa, where it's a minor miracle to get state lawmakers to take any steps against water pollution, and agricultural interests have repeatedly moved to undermine regulations related to the handling of manure on large-scale farms.

Last week, two-thirds of Iowa House members saw fit to reduce continuing education requirements for people certified to spread liquid manure on farm fields.  

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