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state legislature

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.  

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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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A smoke-free Cedar Rapids casino is not a public health initiative

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 19:34:00 PM CDT

The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission sent a strong message last week to backers of a casino project in Cedar Rapids: don't bother trying to get a license for at least the next three years.

Rational actors would have started working on Plan B for prime downtown real estate as soon as commissioners voted down the application for a Cedar Rapids casino in April. But Mayor Ron Corbett and some other movers and shakers are determined to chase the gambling dream, through legislative or judicial means. Instead of taking the hint from the Racing and Gaming commissioners, Corbett is ratcheting up his strategy for gaining legislative approval for a new casino. He's smart and experienced enough to know that state lawmakers need a better excuse for acting than "we don't like what the commission did." So, he's now dressing the casino project up as a public health initiative. Lawmakers shouldn't fall for or hide behind this ruse.

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Iowa Senate district 7: "Sore loser" Maria Rundquist gives Bertrand breathing room

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Aug 01, 2014 at 09:12:36 AM CDT

Iowa's status as one of only three states to allow losers of major-party primaries to seek the same office as independents is good news for Republicans hoping to hold Iowa Senate district 7. First-term Senator Rick Bertrand is seeking re-election in the Sioux City-based seat, where President Barack Obama performed better than in any other Iowa Senate district now held by a Republican. Although midterm electorates sometimes favor GOP candidates, and Iowans tend to re-elect their statehouse incumbents, the voter registration totals here lean toward Democrats. Both parties are targeting Senate district 7, and a victory for challenger Jim France would virtually assure continued Democratic control of the Iowa Senate.

Enter Maria Rundquist, who lost the Democratic primary to France in June, but filed this week to run in Senate district 7 as an independent. Her campaign website provides a short bio and background on her civic involvement in the Sioux City area. I sought comment from Rundquist about why she is running as an independent, and how she would answer critics who say she can only help re-elect Bertrand. She responded, "I am running because, I can provide the leadership, integrity and ethics so needed in our government. I believe the people in the Iowa Senate District 7, deserve an honest and smart choice."

Following up, I asked Rundquist whether she was aware that a third-party candidate has not won an Iowa legislative election in several decades, if ever, and whether she would have any regrets if Bertrand were re-elected with fewer votes than she and France received combined. She answered,

Yes, I am aware about  third-party never won an Iowa legislation seat. So let make history and pass the word to elect Maria Rundquist to change the system. I don't have regrets to Rick Bertrand or any candidate. We leave in a Nation of Democracy and the voters have the right to chose the right person to represent them. So stop questioning me and get to work and campaign for Maria Rundquist.

Sorry, that's not going to happen. I've voted for lots of Democrats who didn't win their primary. None of them became what is known in political science as a "sore loser." One can argue that voters should be able to select any candidate they choose, but upholding state sore loser laws during the 1970s, the U.S. Supreme Court held that there is no constitutional right to continue an intra-party struggle during the general election. I'm with John Deeth: candidates who seek a party's nomination should abide by the primary voters' verdict. Rundquist must know that she won't "change the system" through this campaign. I hope she doesn't become a spoiler, but there's no question that her candidacy will hinder France's effort to unseat a Republican incumbent.

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Republicans nominate Jonathan Lochman in Iowa Senate district 17

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 28, 2014 at 07:05:00 AM CDT

After fielding candidates in every Iowa Senate district in 2012, Republicans left a bunch of low-probability seats uncontested this year. One of those districts now has a GOP candidate, however: a special convention on July 24 selected Jonathan Lochman to run in Iowa Senate district 17. I don't see a website for his campaign, but Lochman's on Facebook here. During 13 years of active duty in the U.S. Army, he served wartime tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq. He's now the Iowa coordinator for Team Rubicon (the Iowa chapter is on Facebook here).

Iowa Senate district 17 is open because State Senator Jack Hatch is running for governor. Tony Bisignano narrowly won a contentious three-way primary in this heavily Democratic seat covering parts of downtown Des Moines and the south side. In a press release, Lochman asserted that Bisignano would "be a rubber stamp for the radical, obstructionist agenda of Mike Gronstal," whereas the Republican would "be an independent voice for my community." Iowa Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix asserted, "Des Moines voters deserve a candidate​ like Jonathan Lochman, who has​ the integrity, honor and passion to effectively represent their interests at the State Capitol​." Judging from that comment and various Republican posts on social media, the plan is for Lochman to win by playing up Bisignano's drunk driving arrests and scandals from his previous term of service in the Iowa Senate during the 1990s.

It would be a historic upset for a Republican to win a state legislative seat here. The latest official figures show that Senate district 17 contains 16,388 active registered Democrats, 6,559 Republicans, and 9,792 no-party voters. Bisignano should have help from the Iowa Democratic Party's coordinated campaign, because other Democratic candidates (notably Hatch, U.S. Senate nominee Braley, and IA-03 nominee Staci Appel) are counting on good GOTV in strongholds like the south side of Des Moines.

Also on July 24, Polk County Republicans held a special convention to nominate Army veteran Tom Hess in Iowa House district 34, covering half of Senate district 17. Hess will challenge longtime Democratic State Representative Bruce Hunter and has about the same chance of winning as Lochman (slim to none). As of July 1, House district 34 contained 8,404 active registered Democrats, 3,497 Republicans, and 5,114 no-party voters.

P.S. - I would have posted the full press release on Lochman's campaign launch, but the "latest news" on the Iowa Senate Republicans website is a press release from mid-May.

UPDATE: Cityview's Civic Skinny published a detailed account of Tony Bisignano's drunk driving arrest and how the case unfolded from there. Many details were new to me, and I suspect that if they had been more widely known, Nathan Blake might have won the Senate district 17 Democratic primary.

The most surprising fact recounted by Civic Skinny is that Jennifer Jacobs apparently e-mailed her draft Des Moines Register story on the OWI to Bisignano before publishing. Double-checking quoted remarks is one thing, but I am not aware of any newspaper where it is standard practice to run a full draft by the public figure who is the subject of the article.

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Martin O'Malley: Presidential candidate? Maybe. Clinton rival? No way.

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jul 25, 2014 at 14:45:00 PM CDT

It makes perfect sense for potential Democratic presidential candidates to visit Iowa, meeting activists and keeping their options open. That doesn't mean any of them would run against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Case in point: Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley. Having keynoted the Iowa Democratic Party's state convention last month, he's coming here again this weekend, headlining events for State Senator Rita Hart and state Senate candidate Kevin Kinney on Saturday, then Council Bluffs and Sioux City events for gubernatorial nominee Jack Hatch on Sunday. Politico's Maggie Halberman notes that O'Malley "has said he's exploring a 2016 presidential run." A Des Moines Register headline writer termed him a "possible rival" to Clinton. Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post speculated, "O'Malley is term limited out as governor at the end of this year and undoubtedly thinks a credible run for president might bolster his chances of a spot in a Clinton Administration."

I just don't see it. Laying the groundwork for a potential campaign is not the same thing as preparing to embark on a suicide mission. O'Malley doesn't come across as a guy like Senator Bernie Sanders, who knows he will never be president but might run to shine a light on issues important to him. O'Malley goes way back with Bill and Hillary Clinton. He stuck with Hillary for president even after Barack Obama dominated the 2008 Maryland primary. From where I'm sitting, CNN's Dan Merica had it exactly right when he described O'Malley as an "understudy," "angling to be the person who could step in" if Clinton does not run for president for whatever reason. Maryland's term limits for governors make 2016 an ideal time for O'Malley to run for president, but he's only 51 years old--young enough to wait until 2020 or 2024 if necessary.

Meanwhile, I hope all of this weekend's events are successful, because Hatch, Hart, and Kinney are very worth supporting.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

P.S. - Hart's re-election bid in Senate district 49 is a must-hold for Democrats. Kinney's running in the open Senate district 39, and if he wins, it would virtually guarantee a Democratic majority in the state legislature's upper chamber for the next two years.

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Weekend open thread: Walking the talk edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Jul 20, 2014 at 08:01:34 AM CDT

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

State Representative Chuck Isenhart, the ranking Democrat on the Iowa House Environmental Protection Committee, has installed solar panels on his Dubuque home as a personal step to address climate change. Details are after the jump. Solar power has a reputation for being expensive to install, but technological advances and policy changes have reduced the payback time for many home and business owners. Isenhart expects to save money in the long-term. A bill approved during this year's legislative session improved Iowa's tax incentives for solar in several ways.

The Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, begins its northern route in Rock Valley today. Good luck to everyone in the Bleeding Heartland community planning to do all or part of RAGBRAI. Last week's weather would have been absolutely perfect; I hope the high temperatures will mostly stay below 90 this week. In its recent feature on "33 useful tips for newbies" to the experience, I found it strange that the Register focused so much on the drinking culture. Carl Voss, a Des Moines bicycling advocate and veteran of 36 RAGBRAIs, unloaded on what he called "sophomoric drivel" in an angry letter to the editor. Excerpt:

Granted, alcohol attracts some riders and non-riders among the more than 10,000 RAGBRAI participants. It happens. But trust me, that isn't the way most participants enjoy RAGBRAI, Iowa and our communities.

Now, flip to the RAGBRAI website, where RAGBRAI (and therefore the Register) includes among the "Top 10 Recommendations for Rider Safety": Do NOT drink alcohol and ride. [...]

Publishing crap like this in your news columns will turn me off to RAGBRAI and the Register.

Another letter to the editor, which I've posted after the jump, focused on the large number of puppy mills near this year's RAGBRAI route. The Iowa legislature passed a bill in 2010 that was designed to reduce abuses at puppy mills, but unfortunately Iowa still has some bad actors in the industry. Adopting a pet from a shelter such as the Animal Rescue League has so many advantages. If your heart is set on a purebred animal, at least visit the breeder's facility before buying a pet.

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Change in Iowa Medicaid policy hasn't reduced abortion access

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jul 15, 2014 at 20:43:35 PM CDT

A year after Iowa law changed to require the governor to approve all Medicaid reimbursements for abortions, the new policy does not appear to have limited low-income women's access to abortions in cases of rape, incest, threat to the mother's life or severe fetal abnormality.

On the other hand, the policy has in effect ended Medicaid coverage of abortion in Iowa, which was already among the most restrictive states in this area.  

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Weekend open thread, with Iowa medical marijuana links

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Jul 13, 2014 at 08:36:13 AM CDT

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

Among the new Iowa laws that took effect at the beginning of the current fiscal year on July 1, the act legalizing the use of cannabis oil for certain seizure disorders drew the most media attention. Senate File 2360 (full text) passed the Iowa House and Senate during the final hours of the 2014 legislative session. This week the Iowa Department of Public Health released draft rules on how Iowans can gain legal access to this drug derivative for medical purposes. This page on the Iowa DPH website contains details on how to obtain a "Cannabidiol Registration Card." Eligible Iowans will be able to pick up cards through their county's Iowa Department of Transportation office, because DOT offices are more accessible for many people.

During negotiations with Iowa House Republican leaders and staff from Governor Terry Branstad's office, the scope of Senate File 2360 was narrowed to cover only the use of cannabis oil (not marijuana in any smokeable form), and only for seizure disorders, meaning that roughly a few hundred Iowa families will benefit from the new law. But a criminal trial verdict that made headlines this week may spur future efforts to help the thousands of Iowans who seek to use marijuana to treat chronic or terminal health conditions. A Scott County jury convicted Benton Mackenzie, along with his wife and son, of drug charges for growing marijuana plants. Mackenzie's elderly parents are due to stand trial soon for allowing the plants to be grown on their property. The presiding judge didn't allow Mackenzie's attorneys to tell jurors he was growing the drugs to treat a rare cancer, because medical marijuana is not legal in Iowa.

Quad-City Times reporter Brian Wellner covered the Mackenzie case and discussed it on Iowa Public Radio this week. After the jump I've posted excerpts from a few news reports on the verdict. I agree completely with State Senator Joe Bolkcom, the leading advocate for medical marijuana in Iowa, who called the decision to prosecute Mackenzie and his family members a "waste of taxpayer money."  

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July 4 weekend open thread: Iowa fireworks debate

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jul 04, 2014 at 12:34:00 PM CDT

Happy Independence Day to the Bleeding Heartland community. We're heading out to the Windsor Heights parade soon. Holiday parades and summer festivals are great outreach opportunities for candidates and their campaigns. Please share any favorite parade stories in this thread.

Last weekend Democratic State Senator Jeff Danielson and Republican State Senator Jake Chapman co-authored an editorial promising to work together next year to legalize fireworks in Iowa.

Senate File 2294 had several provisions that would allow fireworks to be safely regulated. Those stipulations would include prohibiting minors from purchasing fireworks, giving local municipalities the ability to restrict fireworks and the fire marshal the ability to regulate fireworks in the case of droughts.

The fireworks ban originally was a result of a Depression-era fire created by a sparkler in the middle of a drought when temperatures were nearing 100 degrees.

There also are misnomers and myths surrounding the fireworks-related injuries. In fact, the number of fireworks-related injuries in the U.S. has decreased drastically - nearly 61 percent - from 1994 to 2011, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. This decrease in reported injuries is noteworthy considering the use of fireworks increased nearly 100 percent during the same time period.

We remind Iowans that as we near the celebration of our independence, fireworks remain illegal in Iowa. About 42 states have legalized some form of fireworks. We encourage all those who wish to have the same freedom to display fireworks, to please contact your legislators and let them know it is time for Iowa to join America in celebrating our Independence Day with fireworks.

Here's some background on "The Great Spencer Fire" of 1931.

I'm a bit surprised to see Danielson taking the lead on this issue, as he is not only a firefighter but also a veteran. Amateur fireworks can prompt anxiety or panic attacks for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Playing with sparklers, which are legal, as well as fireworks purchased from neighboring states, contributes to a surge in eye injuries around July 4. Interest groups representing doctors have lobbied strongly against lifting the ban on most fireworks because of the risk of burns.

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Ronda Bern will face John Forbes in Iowa House district 40

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 06:28:00 AM CDT

Republicans held a special convention in Iowa House district 40 yesterday to nominate a candidate against first-term State Representative John Forbes. Remarkably, no Republican filed to run in this district before the March filing deadline. Two candidates attempted to win the nomination through write-in votes on the June 3 primary, but neither reached the required threshold.

Kevin Hall reported for The Iowa Republican that establishment candidate Ronda Bern won the nominating convention by 4.5 to 3.5 over college student Jeremy Freeman. (GOP Polk County Central Committee members from the various precincts in the House district cast weighted votes based on how many Republican votes came from each precinct in the last general election.) I'm surprised Bern didn't defeat Freeman more decisively. The nominating convention could have gone the other way if Freeman had a few more friends on the central committee.  

Click here for background on Bern. After the jump I've posted a map of House district 40 and the latest voter registration numbers. This will likely be a targeted seat in the general election. Republicans currently hold a 53 to 47 Iowa House majority.

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Branstad vetoed funds for Iowa civil rights history project

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jun 16, 2014 at 17:10:00 PM CDT

I was so focused on the environmental impacts of Governor Terry Branstad's recent vetoes, I failed to look closely at other appropriations in a supplemental spending bill he axed. Today I learned from Democratic State Senator Rob Hogg,

Saturday is the 50th anniversary of the start of Freedom Summer and the murder of Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney - it is too bad Governor Branstad vetoed the $300,000 the Legislature appropriated on a bipartisan basis to help the African-American Museum of Iowa collect Iowa's civil rights history and educate the public about these historic events.

There it is on page 4 of Senate File 2363: $300,000 for "an oral history of civil rights" at the African-American Museum of Iowa in Cedar Rapids.

It's maddening that Governor Branstad has no problem with tens of millions of dollars in tax giveaways to wealthy corporations, yet he pleads fiscal prudence when vetoing spending like this, which serves the public interest without major impact to the state budget. Many of the 1950s and 1960s civil rights activists have already passed away, and those who haven't are senior citizens. "Freedom Summer" was a major event in 20th century American history. Some Freedom Summer veterans with connections to Iowa City or the University of Iowa have already told their stories to historians or recorded their memories on paper or film. The Historical Iowa Civil Rights Network are doing their part too, and you can follow their work here. I'm disappointed that the African-American Museum of Iowa won't have the funding to collect and archive these stories on a larger scale.  

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