Iowa Senate leader stripped two Republicans of committee chairmanships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Weekend open thread: Iowans remember Don Avenson

A an Iowa political legend passed away suddenly this week. Former House Speaker Don Avenson had a heart attack on May 19 while on the way home from vacation. He told Iowa Public Television in 1984, “A speaker of the House, if he wants to, can change the course of the state, can change the face of a great deal of legislation, a great deal of law.” As speaker from 1983 through 1990, “nearly twice as long as any other Speaker in Iowa history,” Avenson helped craft many laws that still affect state government and education. He left the House to run for governor in 1990, winning the Democratic nomination but losing to Terry Branstad. For more than 25 years, he remained an influential force at the statehouse, representing many clients through the Avenson, Oakley & Cope lobbying firm.

Dozens of people who have been involved in Iowa legislative politics reflected on Avenson’s legacy as news spread of his death. I compiled some of those recollections after the jump.

The Vilsack family suffered a devastating loss this week as Ella Vilsack, daughter of Jess and Kate Vilsack and granddaughter of Tom and Christie Vilsack, died at the age of six of complications related to influenza. Condolences to all who are bereaved. This kind of tragedy is every parent’s worst nightmare.

Speaking of untimely passings, Nina Martin of ProPublica and Renee Montagne of NPR published a terrifying article this month about maternal mortality, which “is rising in the U.S. as it declines elsewhere” in the developed world. Because “the American medical system has focused more on fetal and infant safety and survival than on the mother’s health and well-being,” new mothers are rarely monitored closely in hospitals, and doctors and nurses often miss symptoms of potentially life-threatening complications. The central figure in this article is Lauren Bloomstein, a neonatal intensive care nurse who died of preeclampsia the day after giving birth. It’s important to be aware of the signs; I know healthy women who had close calls with this condition during pregnancy or shortly after delivery.

The scenarios Martin and Montagne describe are among the reasons peer-reviewed research has shown the “risk of death associated with childbirth is approximately 14 times higher than that with abortion.” But in their infinite wisdom, Branstad and Iowa’s Republican lawmakers enacted new requirements this year for doctors to warn women seeking to terminate pregnancies about “possible detrimental physical and psychological effects of abortion.” Naturally, the state does not require obstetricians to give patients information about the risks of continuing a pregnancy.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

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Iowa Democrats face incredibly difficult path back to legislative majorities (part 1)

Many Iowa Democrats expect to have the wind at their backs for the 2018 elections, due to surging progressive activism, an unpopular Republican president, and backlash against GOP lawmakers who used their power this year to take rights away from hundreds of thousands of workers, lower wages for tens of thousands more, and undermine protections for those who suffer workplace injuries.

It’s too early to predict the political climate next fall, but Democrats need to hope for favorable external conditions as well as strong recruits and well-run campaigns. New calculations of last year’s presidential election results by state legislative district point to a very steep climb back to 51 seats in the Iowa House and 26 seats in the Senate. This post will survey the terrain in the upper chamber.

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Special election coming on June 27 in Iowa House district 22

Voters in Iowa House district 22 will choose a successor to the late State Representative Greg Forristall on Tuesday, June 27, in accordance with a proclamation Governor Terry Branstad issued today. The district covers a small portion of Council Bluffs and most of Pottawattamie County outside that city (see map above).

Special district conventions, tentatively scheduled for May 30, will determine the Democratic and Republican candidates for House district 22. Forristall’s widow and longtime clerk, Carol Forristall, will seek the GOP nomination, but others are expected to compete at the Republican district convention as well. (The late State Senator Pat Ward’s widower did not win the 2012 nominating convention in Senate district 2012.) The conservative blog Iowa Statesman reported that some locals recruited Naomi Corrie to run for the seat. Corrie was heavily involved as a volunteer for former Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz and new State Senator Dan Dawson, and has “been a Council Bluffs organizer for Senator [Joni] Ernst and Lt. Gov [Kim] Reynolds.” However, Corrie ruled herself out of this race today.

The GOP will be heavily favored to hold House district 22, where more than twice as many voters are registered Republicans as Democrats. However, an activist reported on Facebook this evening that as many as a dozen people have already contacted Pottawattamie County Democratic Chair Linda Nelson to express interest in the race. Anything can happen in a low-turnout special election.

Forristall had a Democratic opponent for his first election in 2006 but did not face a Democratic challenger in his 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, or 2016 re-election bids.

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Interest in running for office surging among Iowa women

Iowa has historically not been a friendly environment for female candidates. The number of women in our state legislature is stagnant and below the national average. But Iowa is no exception to a trend observed across the country: since Donald Trump was elected president, record numbers of women are considering running for office and signing up for candidate training programs.

Participants in the latest set of Ready to Run® workshops at the the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University more than doubled the previous record in the program’s ten-year history.

Bleeding Heartland will soon begin publishing an occasional series of commentaries by Iowa women who recently decided to run for state or local offices, or who have become more deeply involved in political or issue advocacy campaigns. I reached out to Dr. Dianne Bystrom, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center, for more details on this year’s Ready to Run® workshops and participants.

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