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Iowa House Republican candidate James Butler has history of abuse, misconduct

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Oct 22, 2014 at 07:35:07 AM CDT

Yesterday the Iowa Democratic Party published online several disturbing documents about James Butler, the Republican nominee in Iowa House district 26. Butler narrowly won a GOP primary and faces first-term Democratic State Representative Scott Ourth. The seat covers most of Warren County, including the cities of Indianola and Carlisle (a detailed map is after the jump). House district 26 is one of central Iowa's most politically balanced state legislative districts. As of October 2014, it contained 6,421 active registered Democrats, 6,802 Republicans, and 7,046 no-party voters.

Before the primary, I didn't hear much about Butler beyond the information in his official bio, which highlighted his career with the Des Moines Police Department. This summer, the Republican Butler defeated in the primary, Eric Durbin, flirted with running for House district 26 as an independent, and I saw some grumbling on social media about Butler's past. I dismissed that chatter as likely to be sour grapes coming from Durbin's supporters.

The official documents uploaded yesterday by the Iowa Democratic Party shocked me. First, a court order of protection that Butler's ex-girlfriend received in 2005 details physical abuse and threats by the police officer. Second, a lawsuit filed by apparently the same woman against Butler, which details further abuse, harassment, and threats, including violation of the no-contact order. Butler allegedly told the woman there was no point in calling law enforcement because he was a police officer. Third, Civil Service Commission and Polk County District Court documents related to Butler's brief suspension from the Des Moines police over an incident in 1997, when he was working as an off-duty police officer at a convenience store. The Civil Service Commission and later the district court judge validated Butler's suspension over severe misconduct.

As far as I'm concerned, that kind of record should be disqualifying in a candidate for political office. How is it possible the public is only now hearing about Butler's background, two weeks before the election and nearly a month after early voting began? The Des Moines Register ran a brief story about Butler's candidacy in March, based on his press release. Just this week, the paper ran a short profile of Butler as part of its "meet the candidate" series, again using information supplied by the candidate. Maybe I'm naive, but I would have thought the Register would be checking court records and public documents for mentions of state legislative candidates. I also would have expected Butler's GOP primary opponent to have brought some of this information to light.

UPDATE: I forgot to raise another question: why was Butler able to remain a police officer with this kind of record?

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Who would joke about feeding people into farm machinery?

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Oct 21, 2014 at 21:04:49 PM CDT

Besides a sociopath, that is. The answer is Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, speaking at a campaign event yesterday.

"Do you know how many lawyers it takes to grease a combine? Only one but you gotta feed him in real slow."

According to Kathie Obradovich, the crowd of about 50 people in Boone found this quip funny, along with State Representative Chip Baltimore's follow-up crack about seeing trial lawyers on combines in the countryside. Obradovich added that in her view, the governor's joke was "a groaner, not to mention in poor taste." That's putting it mildly. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jack Hatch was more in the ballpark when he called Branstad's comments "offensive and sickening."

In a statement Hatch said "a governor should be focused on promoting farm safety during harvest and not making offensive jokes that play on the tragedies all too common with farm machinery."

I'm sure Branstad wouldn't laugh at any tragedy happening to a "real Iowan." He just enjoys portraying attorneys as lower life forms.

This lawyer's daughter is mortified that any public official, let alone the most senior person in state government, would think it's funny to joke about grinding up people you don't like. I get it: half the Iowa GOP campaign strategy this year is stirring up cultural resentment against "elitist trial lawyer" Bruce Braley. He supposedly doesn't represent "Iowa values," unlike Joni Ernst, the "farm girl" and Sunday school teacher whose husband cracked a joke about trying to murder his ex-wife.

If any Iowa Democratic official or candidate made a self-styled humorous appeal for violence, I'd be the first to call them out. Don't hold your breath waiting for some Republican to condemn our governor's sick sense of humor.  

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Latest ads for Chaz Allen in Iowa Senate district 15

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Oct 21, 2014 at 13:38:34 PM CDT

To gain control of the Iowa Senate, which has had a 26-24 Democratic majority for the last four years, Republicans have to win two Democratic-held seats and retain control over all seats they currently hold. The top two targets for the GOP now appear to be Senate district 5, held by three-term Democratic incumbent Daryl Beall, and Iowa Senate district 15, covering most of Jasper County and eastern Polk County. This seat is open because longtime Democratic incumbent Dennis Black is retiring. Both Democratic candidate Chaz Allen and Republican Crystal Bruntz started running positive radio commercials the same week early voting began. Last week, Republicans started running a negative ad on Allen that is still playing on Des Moines area radio stations.

Allen now has a positive television commercial running in the Des Moines market as well as a comparative radio spot. I've enclosed my transcripts of both ads after the jump.

Any comments about competitive state legislative races are welcome in this thread. I've been listening to live-streams of radio stations in other targeted Iowa Senate districts (in the Fort Dodge, Ottumwa, and Washington areas) but haven't caught many political commercials.  

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Fired Iowa Senate Republican staffer files sexual harassment lawsuit

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Oct 17, 2014 at 12:30:00 PM CDT

Former Iowa Senate Republican staffer Kirsten Anderson filed a lawsuit in Polk County District Court yesterday, claiming she was subjected to "sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation in violation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act." Anderson served as communications director for the Iowa Senate GOP caucus from February 2008 to the middle of May 2013. Bleeding Heartland covered the circumstances surrounding her firing here and here. Anderson filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission last year. She is suing the State of Iowa, the Iowa Senate, the Iowa Senate Republican caucus, Iowa Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix, Iowa Senate Republican senior staffer Eric Johansen, and Ed Failor, Jr., the primary advisor to Dix since shortly after Dix was chosen to lead the GOP caucus in late 2012.

William Petroski's report for the Des Moines Register includes a link to the 20-page court filing, which can be downloaded as a pdf file. Pages 3 through 7 list many incidents supporting Anderson's claims about a hostile work environment and sexual harassment, starting in 2010. Several current and former lawmakers are named. The lawsuit paraphrases inappropriate comments by former GOP Senators Shawn Hamerlinck and Merlin Bartz. Senator Tim Kapucian is said to have laughed at an unnamed senior analyst's inappropriate comments about a "loose" female Democratic senator. Senators Joni Ernst and Sandy Greiner allegedly "did and said nothing" after witnessing "sexual innuendo and inappropriate behavior exhibited by their male colleagues." Ernst denied that charge in a written statement, which I've enclosed after the jump. She suggested Anderson was perhaps "being exploited ahead of the election."

Speaking to the Des Moines Register, Anderson's attorney Mike Carroll

denied any political motivation behind the timing of the lawsuit. He said that before a lawsuit could be filed, his client had to file a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. The complaint was filed last year. The commission issued a letter in July giving Anderson 90 days to file a lawsuit, and the filing deadline was set to expire Oct. 29, he said.

In her own statement, Anderson said, "As to the suggestions that I am a pawn in a political drama, that is not the case. I am standing up for my rights as an employee; a right to work in a place without inappropriate and discriminatory conduct."

Pages 12 through 17 of the court filing include a memo Anderson handed to Johansen on the morning of May 17, 2013, suggesting that her work was being criticized because she had complained about a "sexually hostile work environment" that "no private sector workplace would tolerate." Later the same day, in Dix's presence, Johansen gave Anderson a choice of resigning or being fired. Pages 17 and 18 list six causes of action under the Iowa Civil Rights Act. Anderson is seeking back pay and benefits, compensatory damages, a ruling that her termination was unfair and/or discriminatory, and injunctive relief requiring (among other things) new training procedures for Iowa Senate staffers.

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Republicans running negative radio ads in key Iowa Senate and House races

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Oct 15, 2014 at 13:45:59 PM CDT

Radio commercials appeared in several competitive Iowa Senate districts during the last week of September, coinciding with the start of early voting. This week, the Republican Party of Iowa has launched the first negative radio spots I've heard in state legislative races this year. After the jump I've enclosed the transcript of the ad attacking Chaz Allen, the Democratic candidate in the open Iowa Senate district 15. Allen's own positive ad, which Bleeding Heartland transcribed here, is still in rotation and promotes the former Newton mayor's record of recruiting businesses. The new Republican spot blames Allen for high property taxes that allegedly discouraged companies from coming to Newtown after "Maytag pulled out on Chaz Allen's watch." The ad also plays up Governor Terry Branstad's support for Crystal Bruntz, the Republican candidate in Senate district 15. While the ad asserts that Bruntz "understands job creation," it fails to mention anything substantive she has ever done to create jobs.

In Iowa Senate district 41, a leading pickup opportunity for Democrats, Republican State Senator Mark Chelgren's new radio spot highlights flippant and sarcastic responses Siegel mailed in response to a survey Chelgren circulated in 2010. More details on that commercial are after the jump.

In the open Senate district 39, another seat targeted by both parties, a Bleeding Heartland reader tells me that the new Republican radio spot attacks Democratic nominee Kevin Kinney over his support for "Common Core" educational standards. I have not heard the ad yet and would appreciate any further details. It seems like an odd angle for an attack, but I guess Kinney's background as a deputy sheriff and family farmer didn't give them easy targets. Politics-watchers generally believe that education is a campaign issue favoring Democrats. As far as I can tell, fear-mongering over Common Core only resonates with social conservatives who would already be voting for Kinney's opponent, Michael Moore.

I have not yet heard details on radio spots attacking State Senators Daryl Beall or Rita Hart, the Democratic incumbents in Senate districts 5 and 49, respectively. Nor have I heard of any attack ads against three-term Democratic incumbent Amanda Ragan in Senate district 27, although anecdotally, Republicans have supposedly given up on taking back that seat. I always appreciate tips from Bleeding Heartland readers, so please let me know if you've heard radio ads in the Fort Dodge, Clinton, or Mason City area.

In the open Iowa House district 55 (northeast Iowa), Republican Daniel Branhagen started running a commercial this week calling his Democratic opponent Rick Edwards a big spender. I haven't heard attack ads against any Iowa House Democrats yet on Des Moines area radio stations.

Any comments about the state legislative races are welcome in this thread.

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Democracy for America getting involved in seven Iowa House races

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Oct 08, 2014 at 07:10:00 AM CDT

The progressive political action committee Democracy for America announced this morning that it has endorsed seven Democratic candidates for the Iowa House: three incumbents, three challengers to Republican state representatives, and one candidate running in an open seat. Winning those seven races could flip the chamber to Democratic control--but only if Democrats do not lose any other Iowa House districts they currently hold. Republicans take a 53-47 Iowa House majority into next month's election, meaning Democrats need a net gain of four seats.

I've posted Democracy for America's full statement after the jump. The PAC will offer financial and organizational support to the following Iowa House candidates:

• Scott Ourth, a first-term incumbent seeking re-election in Iowa House district 26 (most of Warren County, including the Indianola area)
• Joe Riding, a first-term incumbent seeking re-election in Iowa House district 30 (most of eastern Polk County)
• Curt Hanson, an incumbent seeking re-election in Iowa House district 82 (most of Jefferson County including Fairfield, plus Van Buren and Davis counties)
• Charlie McConkey, first-time candidate in Iowa House district 15 (western half of Council Bluffs plus Carter Lake in Pottawattamie County, open because Republican State Representative Mark Brandeburg retired)
• Dave Grussing, challenger to first-term GOP State Representative Tedd Gassman in Iowa House district 7 (Emmet and Winnebago counties, plus part of Kossuth County)
• Teresa Meyer, challenger to first-term GOP State Representative Sandy Salmon in Iowa House district 63 (Bremer County and parts of northern Black Hawk County)
• Kristi Keast, challenger to first-term GOP State Representative Quentin Stanerson in Iowa House district 95 (much of Linn County outside the Cedar Rapids metro area, plus part of Buchanan County)

Gassman, Salmon, and Stanerson won their 2012 Iowa House races by margins of 44 votes, 115 votes, and 200 votes, respectively.

Extra help for Riding and Hanson could have collateral benefits for Democrats hoping to maintain their Iowa Senate majority. Riding's seat makes up half of the open Senate district 15, a Democratic-held seat that Republicans are targeting. Hanson's seat makes up half of Senate district 41, a Democratic-leaning district now held by Republican Mark Chelgren (the biggest surprise winner of 2010).

In an upcoming series of posts, Bleeding Heartland will review these and other Iowa House districts targeted by one or both parties. Thanks to Iowa's non-partisan redistricting process, in any given election year more than a dozen of the 100 Iowa House races are competitive. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee considers the Iowa House one of its top opportunities in the country to flip a state legislative chamber. GOP Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen has expressed confidence that his party will hold and possibly expand its majority.

UPDATE: The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee put two Iowa House districts and two Iowa Senate districts on its list of "2014 Races to Watch." I've added that announcement to the end of this post.

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IA-03: Second Appel/Young debate liveblog and discussion thread

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Oct 06, 2014 at 20:24:38 PM CDT

Former State Senator Staci Appel and David Young are holding their second debate, hosted by KCCI-TV and the Des Moines Register at Simpson College in Indianola. I'm live-blogging after the jump. KCCI will have the video up later on their website.
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Both parties targeting Iowa Senate district 15 race between Chaz Allen, Crystal Bruntz

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Sep 26, 2014 at 14:34:22 PM CDT

In recent weeks, I've heard from various sources that Republicans were shifting resources toward the race in Iowa Senate district 15. The longtime Democratic seat covering most of Jasper County and eastern Polk County is open because of Senator Dennis Black's retirement. A district map is after the jump.

Confirming that Senate district 15 is a priority for both parties, positive ads for both candidates are now running on Des Moines area radio stations. Forty days before the election is relatively early for paid advertising to begin in an Iowa state legislative campaign, but with more Iowans voting by absentee ballot, candidates can't afford to wait.

After the jump I've posted the transcript of the radio spot promoting Republican Crystal Bruntz and what I could remember from the Democratic ad promoting Chaz Allen. I'll update this post with a full transcript if I can catch it on tape. UPDATE: Added the transcript below.

Allen's commercial sounds more effective to me. For part of the time, the candidate speaks in his own voice, and the script connects him to economic development in the Newton area, where he was mayor and now heads the Jasper County Economic Development Corporation. The Republican ad for Bruntz wraps biographical information around a more generic "she'll help grow the economy for our children" message. It does not give listeners any clue where the candidate is running for state Senate. The pro-Bruntz spot has one good feature: it doesn't start out sounding like a political ad, which probably keeps some listeners from instantly changing the station.

I will be surprised if Bruntz pulls out a victory here. My sense is that Republicans are targeting Senate district 15 for lack of a better idea. Having failed to recruit a top-tier candidate in Senate district 27, they seem to recognize that beating three-term State Senator Amanda Ragan of Mason City isn't in the cards. But Republicans need at least two pickups to gain an Iowa Senate majority (assuming they hold all their current seats, no easy task). Aside from Ragan's seat, the only other Democratic-held district on the ballot where Republicans have a voter registration advantage is Senate district 5, now held by Daryl Beall of Fort Dodge. They will go all-out for Beall's seat, but they need at least one more gain.

Not only is Senate district 15 an open seat, it looks fairly competitive on paper with 13,869 active Democrats, 12,632 Republicans, and 13,542 no-party voters according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State's Office. That's more promising for the GOP than other seats they could shoot for. I can't see a Steve King staffer winning Ames-based Senate district 23. The Republican nominee in Senate district 29 is an amateur who had $50 in the bank four months before the election. While Republicans have an experienced office-holder running in Senate district 49, the voter registration numbers favor Democrats more there, and Senator Rita Hart is a hard-working incumbent.

Any comments about the Iowa Senate races are welcome in this thread. I appreciate tips from Bleeding Heartland readers on any direct mail, radio or television advertising for or against state legislative candidates. You can either post a comment on this site or send a confidential message to desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com.

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Latest Iowa absentee ballot numbers (as of September 23)

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Sep 24, 2014 at 10:35:00 AM CDT

Based on the latest data from the Iowa Secretary of State's Office, I've updated after the jump tables showing how many absentee ballots Iowans have requested and returned, statewide and in the four Congressional districts.

Tables from previous days can be viewed here. Note that the number of ballots returned is still quite low, because most of the 99 county auditors are starting to mail ballots this week. In-person early voting begins tomorrow, 40 days before the general election.

Among the four Congressional districts, IA-02 has both the largest number of ballot requests so far and the largest difference between the Democratic and Republican numbers. That's bad news for Mariannette Miller-Meeks in her third attempt to unseat Representative Dave Loebsack, an uphill battle in my opinion. It may also be good news for Democrats hoping to maintain or expand their Iowa Senate majority, because several of the most competitive Iowa Senate districts are located within the second Congressional district (namely, Senate district 39, Senate district 41, Senate district 15, and to a lesser extent Senate district 49).

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Polling . . House District 71?

by: idiosynchronic

Wed Sep 17, 2014 at 17:38:33 PM CDT

(For the past week or so, telephone polls have been in the field in many Iowa House districts, but this is the first I've heard about someone getting polled for the wrong statehouse race. Anyone else had the same experience? - promoted by desmoinesdem)

 . . but it's debateable how good the polling of House 71 is.

I got a call last evening on my cell which is issued to a number (I thought) in the Story County phone exchange.  It's from 801-685-8913, Murray, Utah, from "National Polling". Basic demographical data is asked, and then they ask me if I know these two names: Mark Smith & Jane Jech. Hell, no, I say. 

Okay, moving on, whom do you support for Governor, Senate . . etc. Operator specifically names *all* the names on ballot for each race, with party affliation. How likely am I to vote; what am I registered as? 

Getting back to Smith and Jech, do you like/dislike either? Whom will you vote for, Mr. Smith, the Democrat, or Ms. Jech, the Republican?

Thank you, end of call. 

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Another baby step toward making medical cannabis available in Iowa

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Sep 13, 2014 at 10:03:00 AM CDT

The Iowa legislature's Cannabidiol Implementation Study Committee met Thursday to discuss problems related to the implementation of the new law intended to allow Iowans to use cannabis oil to treat seizure disorders. Although the law went into effect on July 1, families who lobbied for measure are not yet able to purchase the oil derived from marijuana plants, because of various legal hurdles. Ten lawmakers (five from each chamber and five from each political party) serve on the study committee: State Senators Joe Bolkcom (D), Bill Dotzler (D), Steve Sodders (D), Charles Schneider (R), and Mike Brietbach (R), and State Representatives Walt Rogers (R), Clel Baudler (R), Linda Miller (R), John Forbes (D), and Bob Kressig (D).

Tony Leys reported for the Des Moines Register that the committee voted 9-1 to recommend that the state reschedule marijuana from "a Schedule I drug, meaning its use for any reason is illegal," to "a Schedule II drug, which could be used for medical purposes." Rogers was the dissenting vote. The committee voted 6-4 for "a motion to recommend allowing the closely regulated production and distribution of medical marijuana for approved patients. The motion did not specify what type of marijuana, but it did say the state should not tax the products." Baudler, at one time Iowa's most vocal opponent of medical marijuana, joined the five Democrats on the committee to approve that motion. However, Leys noted that Baudler "strenuously opposes expanding the law to let people possess marijuana to treat other conditions, such as cancer or Crohn's disease. The committee rejected a motion to recommend such an expansion."

The committee's recommendations are not binding on the Iowa House and Senate, which will go back into session next January.

Not to take anything away from the suffering of Iowans with seizure disorders, but I don't understand why lawmakers would want to approve medical cannabis for those conditions only and not for a range of other chronic or life-threatening diseases, which affect thousands of people here. Other states have created workable programs limiting access to those with genuine medical needs, and a majority of Iowans support legalizing the medical use of marijuana. Oncologists have been quietly recommending cannabis to cancer patients for at least four decades.

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Iowa judge sentences medical marijuana user to probation

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Sep 10, 2014 at 13:27:00 PM CDT

In a case being watched by medical marijuana advocates across the country, cancer patient Benton Mackenzie received three years of probation rather than a prison term for his conviction in July on drug charges. Mackenzie had grown marijuana plants on his parents' property in order to extract cannabis oil, and his wife and son also faced drug charges. At the trial, District Court Judge Henry Latham did not allow Mackenzie's attorney to tell the jury that the defendant was trying to treat his angiosarcoma. Yesterday, the same judge sentenced both Mackenzie and his wife Loretta Mackenzie to probation, in line with the prosecutor's recommendation in the case. After the jump I've posted excerpts from Brian Wellner's report for the Quad-City Times and Grant Rodgers' report for the Des Moines Register. Libertarian candidate for governor Lee Hieb, a medical doctor, attended yesterday's hearing and afterward called for a change in public policy to give people "the right to choose our own cancer care." Mackenzie expressed hope that he will be the "last person" to be prosecuted under similar circumstances.

The Mackenzie family wants to move to Oregon, where a doctor has approved Benton Mackenzie for participation in that state's medical marijuana program. Probation officers in Iowa would have to sign off on the move before the family could leave the state. Mackenzie also plans to appeal "in an effort to get the Iowa Supreme Court to reconsider its decision in a 2005 case that bars Iowans from using claims of medical necessity as a defense to growing marijuana."

I still think it was a waste of taxpayer money to prosecute a critically ill person for growing marijuana intended for personal use. Iowa lawmakers should make cannabis more accessible to people who can demonstrate a medical need for it.

LATE UPDATE: Judge Latham sentenced Benton Mackenzie's close friend Stephen Bloomer to five years in prison for helping the cancer patient buy materials for growing marijuana. Bloomer is free on bond pending consideration of his appeal. Scroll to the end of this post for more details on that case. What a travesty.

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Three reasons it's too soon for Iowa Democrats to celebrate an early voting lead

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Sep 09, 2014 at 16:35:42 PM CDT

Part of a series on GOTV in Iowa this year

Less than two weeks remain before county auditors start mailing absentee ballots to Iowa voters. On September 22, the Iowa Secretary of State's Office will start releasing updates on absentee ballots requested and returned statewide and by Congressional district. As in 2012, Bleeding Heartland will post those totals daily.

Data from a few of the larger counties indicate that the Iowa Democratic Party's head start on canvassing this summer has produced a clear advantage on absentee ballots requested. Iowa Republican blogger Craig Robinson is fretting about the GOP "getting out worked when it comes to early voting." Former Iowa Senate GOP staffer Don McDowell is upset with conservatives who refuse to vote before election day. He has seen more than a few statehouse races lost narrowly after Republican candidates were crushed in the early vote.

However, it's way too soon for Democrats to be over-confident about this year's early vote lead, for three reasons.

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The 2014 Iowa ground game: 12 Canvassing dos and don'ts

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Sep 02, 2014 at 12:21:02 PM CDT

First in a series of posts on GOTV in Iowa this year

Air time for television advertising has become the most expensive line-item in many election campaigns. Outside groups have spent millions of dollars already on Iowa commercials targeting U.S. Senate candidates Bruce Braley and Joni Ernst, with millions more to be spent over the next 60 days. Nevertheless, I don't know many people who believe attack ads will determine the outcome of close races like Iowa's U.S. Senate battle. Barring some extraordinary campaign event (such as a meltdown in the debates), the winner will be the candidate whose side does a better job of identifying its supporters and turning them out to vote.

The number of Iowans who voted in each of the last two midterm elections was about a third lower than the number who had voted in the most recent presidential election. If that trend holds, approximately 1.1 million Iowans will cast ballots in the 2014 general election. Braley and other Democrats can't afford to have turnout resemble 2010, when only 56.5 percent of registered Iowa Democrats voted, as opposed to 69 percent of registered Republicans.

The Iowa Democratic Party has been crowing about its bigger and better "coordinated campaign," an effort to build on the successful 2012 early voting program here. No question, Democrats got a big jump on the ground game while the Iowa GOP was mired in poor fundraising and a messy leadership transition. Democrats have had canvassers out every weekend for months, and so far have generated many more absentee ballot requests than Republicans. The Iowa GOP has stepped up its door-knocking over the past several weeks, and Governor Terry Branstad will spend part of his war chest to assist the early voting efforts.

Knocking on doors is one of the most valuable ways to volunteer for a campaign. For those willing to spend a few hours on a weeknight or a weekend afternoon, I've enclosed my best advice for canvassing after the jump. Please feel free to share your own experiences with canvassing (on either side of the door) in this thread. Six years ago, a guest diarist posted his top tips here.

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Iowa's medical marijuana law too limited, unworkable

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Aug 28, 2014 at 12:22:00 PM CDT

On the last day of this year's legislative session, Iowa lawmakers took a baby step toward legalizing the medical use of marijuana in this state. I found it regrettable that the only compromise acceptable to Governor Terry Branstad and key Iowa House Republicans limited access to cannabis oil suitable for treating seizure disorders. Thousands of other Iowans suffer from debilitating chronic and/or life-threatening conditions, which could be alleviated with medical marijuana in other forms.

Turns out, the new law isn't even helping the few hundred people who could theoretically benefit from cannabis oil. Although the law went into effect on July 1, parents who lobbied for it told the Des Moines Register's Tony Leys this week that access to the medicine is "still light years away."

[T]he law included no legal method for growing or selling the product. State administrators are still working out the details of how to issue ID cards allowing residents to possess marijuana extract bought in other states.

[Sally] Gaer and other parents believe their children's seizures could be significantly dampened with a form of marijuana oil that has low levels of THC, the chemical that makes marijuana users high. But they remain unable to legally obtain the oil, which is said to have worked well in other states. [...] Colorado law only allows sales of the medication to Colorado residents, they said. They've heard that once they have their Iowa-issued cards, they might be allowed to purchase the extract in Oregon. "What are we all going to do, get in a wagon train and go over the mountains?" Gaer said with a wry laugh.

The women said they were disappointed by how long it's taking Iowa officials to implement the law, which technically took effect July 1. [...]

The women said they have found Iowa-licensed neurologists willing to sign a form recommending the marijuana extract for their children, as the Iowa law requires. However, the form has not been created yet by state officials. If the families can find an out-of-state supplier willing to sell the oil to them, they would face a cost of several hundred to more than a thousand dollars per month - plus the cost of travel. They also could risk arrest for carrying the oil through states that don't allow it.

Why are we putting families through this ordeal when more than a dozen states have already led the way toward making medical marijuana available to people who need it? After the jump I've posted a video of Dr. Steven Jenison talking about New Mexico's medical cannabis program, which he helped to implement in 2007.

State Senator Joe Bolkcom has promised he will work to expand the new law during the 2015 legislative session. Here's hoping the Iowa House and Senate will listen.

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Republicans left Iowa House seats uncontested in nearly every battleground Iowa Senate district

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Aug 25, 2014 at 12:41:54 PM CDT

The filing period for general-election candidates closed on August 15. You can view the full candidate list for federal and state offices on the Iowa Secretary of State's website. John Deeth briefly reviews all 100 House races here. Next month, I'll be posting on the most competitive Iowa House races.

For today, I'm interested in what appears to be a pattern of Republicans letting Iowa House seats go in battleground Iowa Senate districts. I suspect a strategy is in play to depress GOTV in the more Democratic halves of these districts.  

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Weekend open thread: Cost of doing nothing edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Aug 24, 2014 at 12:31:00 PM CDT

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread.

Sunday's Des Moines Register includes a good feature by Lauren Mills of IowaWatch.org and the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism. She lays out how payday lenders are "burying Iowans" in debt. Iowa Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Joe Bolkcom pointed out that the payday lending business model depends on "locking people into this cycle of debt." Previous research has indicated that payday lenders cost Iowa consumers about $36 million per year. Mills reports that this industry spends heavily on campaign contributions and lobbying the Iowa legislature. Lobbyists talk a good game about jobs and helping people who need cash for emergency expenses. But think how many more jobs could be created if Iowans living paycheck to paycheck had $36 million more to spend on goods and services, rather than on outlandish "loan shark rates."

Mills reports that legislation to regulate interest rates charged by payday lenders has been stalled. Bolkcom said Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal won't bring up the bill unless it can pass the Republican-controlled Iowa House. House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer called that a "convenient excuse" for the Senate not to act. I haven't noticed her or any other House Republicans acknowledging this problem, though.

The best chance for Iowa lawmakers to address payday lending was during the period when Democrats controlled "the trifecta." In 2007, the Iowa House and Senate approved, and Governor Chet Culver signed, a bill capping interest rates on car title loans. (Such legislation had been stalled for years when Republicans controlled the Iowa House, although it attracted bipartisan support in both chambers in 2007.) Three years later, Bolkcom and then Iowa House Democrat Janet Petersen made a major push to pass a similar interest rate cap on payday lenders. However, industry lobbyists warned that such a law would put payday lenders out of business, as had happened with car title lenders. A wide range of organizations supported the payday lending reform, including the Iowa Attorney General's office, the Iowa Catholic Conference, the Child and Family Policy Center, and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. But ultimately, the House version of that bill died when conservadem State Representative Mike Reasoner sided with two Republicans to kill it in subcommittee.

Some Iowa local governments, most recently in Waterloo, have passed zoning rules to try to prevent payday lenders from targeting low-income neighborhoods. But state regulations are the only realistic way to stop the cycle of debt perpetuated by lenders who keep borrowers coming back for more high-interest loans and cash advances. Iowans on the edge are paying the price for the legislature's failure to act years ago.

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New data bolster supporters of raising Iowa's gas tax

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Aug 18, 2014 at 07:33:30 AM CDT

The average cost of owning a car is lower in Iowa than in any other state, the Cedar Rapids Gazette's B.A. Morelli reported on August 16, citing an analysis by Bankrate.com. Car insurance costs an average of $630 per year in Iowa, the lowest in the 50 states. Vehicle repairs cost Iowa drivers an average of $315 per year, also the lowest number for any state. The average cost of gasoline for Iowa drivers worked out to $998 a year, taking into account not only the price of gas but also vehicle miles traveled and fuel efficiency rates. That's "middle of the pack," Morelli noted.

Iowa's gasoline tax has not been increased since 1989, reaching a historic low in real terms. Meanwhile, Iowa road and bridge conditions continue to deteriorate. Three years ago, our state ranked third-worst in the country for structurally deficient bridges. The latest data indicate we are second-worst in that category, with more than 20 percent of the state's bridges in need of repairs or replacement.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jack Hatch supports raising the gas tax, while Governor Terry Branstad has said he favors other ways to finance road and bridge work. The candidates clashed over that issue during last week's debate. Branstad has left himself some wiggle room by not pledging to veto a gas tax increase.

The current leaders of the Iowa House and Senate Transportation Committees strongly support raising the gas tax to pay for road work. Bills to increase the tax by a total of 10 cents per gallon over several years passed committees in both chambers in recent years, but advocates were unable to recruit enough bipartisan support to pass them in the full Iowa House or Senate in either of the past two legislative sessions. Iowa House Transportation Committee Chair Josh Byrnes has promised to keep working on this issue, and State Representative Brian Moore, the vice chair of that committee, said this spring that a gas tax hike is "in the works" for 2015. He has emphasized that weight limits on structurally deficient bridges are bad for businesses like the livestock transportation company he owns.

Republicans Byrnes and Moore both represent Iowa House districts that may be targeted this fall, as does Iowa Senate Transportation Committee Chair Tod Bowman, a Democrat. Prospects for raising the gas tax will depend in part on whether key advocates are re-elected in November. Regardless of which parties control the Iowa House and Senate after the midterm elections, a gas tax increase would have to be a bipartisan effort.

Democratic and Republican critics of increasing the gasoline tax have pointed out that consumption taxes tend to be regressive, hitting lower-income people harder. A gas tax hike would also disproportionately affect rural residents, who may need to travel further to work or shop. The Washington-based Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy has recommended reforms to address those concerns. I've posted the short summary after the jump; you can read more in depth on their ideas for "building a better gas tax" here. I would add that any increase to Iowa's gas tax should be accompanied by "fix-it first" language, so that new road construction doesn't swallow the most of the revenue that should be earmarked for repairs. Fixing roads and bridges gives taxpayers more bang for their buck and creates more jobs than building new roads or putting new lanes on existing roads, which (while sometimes needed) increase future maintenance costs.

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State Representative Henry Rayhons charged with abusing his incapacitated wife

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Aug 16, 2014 at 07:25:00 AM CDT

When I criticized State Representative Henry Rayhons for announcing his retirement so late in an election year, I had no idea this was coming down the pike:

Today, 78 year old Henry Rayhons of Garner, Iowa was arrested after charges were filed against him for 3rd Degree Sexual Abuse, a class C Felony. [...]

The criminal complaint states that on or about May 23, 2014, Rayhons committed sexual abuse upon the victim [Donna Rayhons] by performing a sex act upon her as a person suffering from mental defect or incapacity, after he had been told that the victim did not have the cognitive ability to give consent to any sexual activity.

You can view the complaint and affidavit here (pdf). After the jump I've posted the full text of the Iowa Department of Public Safety press release, a statement released by Henry Rayhons' attorney, and excerpts from relevant news coverage. Henry Rayhons has been released from jail after posting bail. Donna Rayhons passed away on August 8.

It appears that the prosecution's case against Rayhons will rely on testimony from Donna Rayhons' roommate at the nursing home, surveillance camera footage from the nursing home, and statements the state lawmaker made while being interviewed by a Department of Criminal Investigations agent on June 12. Judging from comments made yesterday by Rayhons' son and by his attorney, the defense will argue that Rayhons is the victim of a "witch hunt," that he loved his wife, and that the "sexual contact" he admitted to "could be anything from a hug or a kiss."

Rayhons' late retirement makes a lot more sense now. By the way, on August 14 local Republicans held a special election to nominate Terry Baxter in Iowa House district 8, the seat Rayhons will vacate. Baxter will face Democrat Nancy Huisinga in a district that strongly favors Republicans in voter registrations and presidential voting in 2012.

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How not to retire from the Iowa legislature (revisited)

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Aug 05, 2014 at 09:33:21 AM CDT

A few months ago, Bleeding Heartland criticized the practice of longtime Iowa legislators announcing their retirements within a day or two of the filing deadline for primary candidates. Too many incumbents in both parties have pulled that stunt over the years. Respect for one's constituents demands giving people outside a small circle of party activists a few weeks, or ideally a few months, to consider running for the Iowa House or Senate.

Yesterday, State Representative Henry Rayhons demonstrated an even worse way to retire from the Iowa legislature. Just eleven days before the deadline for getting a candidate on the general election ballot, the nine-term Iowa House Republican announced that he would not seek re-election, citing "ongoing family and health matters." Rae Yost reported for the Mason City Globe-Gazette that the Rayhons family "has been dealing with issues regarding appointment of a guardian and conservator" for the 78-year-old lawmaker's wife.

Rayhons should have announced his retirement earlier this year, anticipating that he would be unable to serve another two-year term. Then other Republicans could have competed in a primary to represent Iowa House district 8, covering part of Kossuth County and all of Hancock and Wright counties. Now only a handful of GOP activists will have a say in choosing Rayhons' successor. They need to convene a nominating convention in the middle of vacation season and the Iowa State Fair. The GOP nominee will face Democrat Nancy Huisinga in a district that strongly favors Republicans in voter registrations and presidential voting in 2012.

Arguably, Rayhons should have stepped aside gracefully three years ago, after Iowa's new map of political boundaries threw him and two House GOP colleagues into House district 8. Instead, House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer moved to the Clear Lake area to run in House district 52. It made no sense for Upmeyer to defer to an eight-term backbencher like Rayhons when doing so meant bigfooting Gabe Haugland, the ambitious young Republican who was already planning to run in HD-52. Everyone could see that Rayhons didn't have a long political career ahead of him and wasn't a key member of the House GOP caucus. We haven't seen the last of Haugland, who was elected to the Iowa GOP's State Central Committee earlier this year. But he could be seeking a second term in a safe Iowa House seat by now if Rayhons had allowed Upmeyer to stay in HD-08.

I'm glad there is no mandatory retirement age for Iowa legislators, but sometimes our older incumbents are too reluctant to step aside for a younger generation.

UPDATE: I was sorry to hear that Donna Lou Young Rayhons passed away on August 8.

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