Throwback Thursday: Curt Hanson's crucial Iowa House special election victory

Today is State Representative Curt Hanson’s birthday. Six years ago at this time, he was in the thick of the first state legislative campaign following the Iowa Supreme Court’s Varnum v Brien ruling on marriage equality. Hanson’s win in a highly competitive House district was probably the second most important special election in recent Iowa history (after Liz Mathis’s victory in November 2011, which protected the Democratic Iowa Senate majority).

Kicking off an occasional “throwback Thursday” series, Bleeding Heartland takes a look at Hanson’s first campaign for the Iowa House.

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Clue to a mystery in Iowa House district 7?

Republicans made huge gains in the Iowa House on November 2, defeating 13 Democratic incumbents and winning four Democratic-held open seats. Republicans fell just short in several other House races, and one that puzzled me was in district 7, covering Emmet and Palo Alto Counties and part of Kossuth in north-central Iowa.

Democrat Marcella Frevert retired after representing the district for 14 years in the Iowa House. The district leans a bit Democratic in voter registration, but open seats tend to be harder for parties to hold than districts where they have established incumbents. Clearly district 7 was winnable for the GOP; the certified results put Democrat John Wittneben just 32 votes ahead of Republican Lannie Miller.

For some reason, the Iowa GOP and allied groups didn’t invest nearly as much in Miller’s campaign as in other House Republican candidates. But why?

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Rematch coming in Iowa House district 90

Jefferson County supervisor Stephen Burgmeier filed yesterday to be the Republican candidate in Iowa House district 90, setting up a rematch with Democrat Curt Hanson. The district covers all of Van Buren County, most of Jefferson County (including Fairfield) and a small portion of Wapello County (map here).

Last summer Hanson narrowly defeated Burgmeier in a special election, even though Iowa-based conservative interest groups went all-in for Burgmeier and the National Organization for Marriage spent nearly $90,000 on advertising to support him.

Notably, Hanson built up a strong advantage in early voting and beat Burgmeier in Jefferson County by about 600 votes. In addition, two social conservatives ran as third-party candidates, and the 282 combined votes they received was greater than Hanson’s 127-vote margin over Burgmeier. The spoiler candidates were unhappy that Burgmeier didn’t talk much about abortion and gay marriage during the campaign.

Iowa Republicans tried to put a good face on the special election result, but the outcome was disappointing for them on several levels.

House district 90 is likely to be one of the most competitive races in the state. If you living within striking distance of the area, please consider volunteering for Hanson’s campaign this summer and fall. That said, I like Hanson’s chances of holding the seat this November. Burgmeier couldn’t win a low-turnout special election during a severe recession when the GOP base was all fired up about the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage. Despite having been elected three times as a supervisor, Burgmeier lost his own county by a sizable margin.

This week Hanson, a retired driving instructor, co-chaired a conference committee to resolve differences between the Iowa House and Senate bills to restrict texting while driving.

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Year in review: Iowa politics in 2009 (part 2)

Following up on my review of news from the first half of last year, I’ve posted links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of Iowa politics from July through December 2009 after the jump.

Hot topics on this blog during the second half of the year included the governor’s race, the special election in Iowa House district 90, candidates announcing plans to run for the state legislature next year, the growing number of Republicans ready to challenge Representative Leonard Boswell, state budget constraints, and a scandal involving the tax credit for film-making.

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Year in review: Iowa politics in 2009 (part 1)

I expected 2009 to be a relatively quiet year in Iowa politics, but was I ever wrong.

The governor’s race heated up, state revenues melted down, key bills lived and died during the legislative session, and the Iowa Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in Varnum v Brien became one of this state’s major events of the decade.

After the jump I’ve posted links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of Iowa politics from January through June 2009. Any comments about the year that passed are welcome in this thread.

Although I wrote a lot of posts last year, there were many important stories I didn’t manage to cover. I recommend reading Iowa Independent’s compilation of “Iowa’s most overlooked and under reported stories of 2009,” as well as that blog’s review of “stories that will continue to impact Iowa in 2010.”

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Department of unconvincing spin

This article by Jason Clayworth in Thursday’s Des Moines Register was good for a few laughs:

A group opposed to same-sex marriages failed to secure victory for Republicans in Iowa this week, but the massive injection of out-of-state money on the issue foreshadows what’s to come in next year’s elections, political scholars said Wednesday.

Despite the loss, the National Organization for Marriage succeeded in making gay marriage an issue, the head of the group said Wednesday. He vowed that its “Reclaim Iowa Project” will remain active in the 2010 state elections.

I’m sure “making gay marriage an issue” was just the kind of success the NOM’s generous donors (whoever they are) were looking for. Why, Iowans in House district 90 might never have realized same-sex couples could marry if not for the NOM’s major ad campaign.

Back to that Register article:

Jeff Boeyink, executive director of the Iowa Republican Party, said many no-party voters Tuesday supported [Stephen] Burgmeier. That was a victory itself, he said.

Voters want the opportunity to vote on the gay marriage issue, he said.

“We moved the needle a lot,” Boeyink said. “We didn’t get the victory, but we take away some real positives out of this.”

Sure, Mr. Boeyink, you “moved the needle a lot.” Your candidate, elected three times as a Jefferson County supervisor, lost his own county by more than 600 votes.

The marriage group did not lose the race for Burgmeier, said Chuck Hurley, a former Republican legislator and now president of the Iowa Family Policy Center, a group against gay marriage. He said the issue will be a major topic in the 2010 elections.

“Marriage won the day,” Hurley said of the election. “I think it was a huge issue in the campaign.”

Yes, Republicans tried to make marriage a huge issue in the campaign while Curt Hanson talked about jobs, economic development and renewable energy. The National Organization for Marriage’s television ad used the same kind of rhetoric as the Iowa Family Policy Center’s “Let Us Vote” campaign: instead of advocating discrimination against same-sex couples, the ads supported Burgmeier as someone who would “let voters have a say.” Well, voters in House district 90 had their say.

I don’t want to get too cocky. Tuesday’s election could have gone the other way if not for the outstanding GOTV effort by organizers supporting Hanson. But the fact is, a special election a few months after the Iowa Supreme Court ruling went into effect is exactly the kind of race likely to be disproportionately influenced by same-sex marriage. In Vermont and Massachusetts, the electoral backlash against supporters of marriage equality was short-lived. If the Iowa Family Policy Center (which designated a staffer to work on Burgmeier’s campaign) and nearly $90,000 worth of NOM tv ads couldn’t leverage this issue into a victory on Tuesday, I don’t think Republicans will get far running against gay marriage 14 months from now.

For a more honest Republican assessment of Tuesday’s special election results, read this post by Craig Robinson at The Iowa Republican.

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