More names surface as contenders for Iowa secretary of agriculture

Governor Kim Reynolds is considering at least four Republican farmers–all current or former state lawmakers– to replace Bill Northey as Iowa secretary of agriculture, James Q. Lynch reported for the Cedar Rapids Gazette today. In addition to State Representative Pat Grassley and former State Representative Annette Sweeney, whom Bleeding Heartland discussed here, State Senators Dan Zumbach and Tim Kapucian are in the running, according to Lynch’s story.

“I’ve had a couple conversations with governor about it,” Zumbach, 56, said Wednesday between meetings on housing development and soybean production. “I’d certainly be available and honored” if appointed to fill out Northey’s term that runs through early 2019. The position will be on the statewide ballot in 2018.

Zumbach, whose “heart, soul and passion has always been in agriculture,” said serving as state secretary of agriculture would be an “opportunity to share my lifetime of experience to guide Iowa agriculture in a good direction.”

Zumbach chairs the Iowa Senate Agriculture Committee, having previously served as its ranking Republican. Kapucian, who has long served on the Senate Agriculture committee, “could not immediately be reached for comment” by Lynch. As the top Republican on the chamber’s Transportation Committee, he was a strong voice for raising the gasoline tax in order to fund better maintenance of farm-to-market roads. Grassley and Sweeney are both former leaders of the Iowa House Agriculture Committee and confirmed their interest in Northey’s job to Lynch.

Iowa law gives Reynolds the authority to fill Northey’s current position after he resigns upon confirmation to a senior U.S. Department of Agriculture post. The person she selects will be heavily favored–if challenged at all–in next year’s GOP primary for secretary of agriculture.

Choosing a relatively low-profile lawmaker like Zumbach or Kapucian would allow the governor to avoid taking sides between Republican power-broker Bruce Rastetter (a major donor to Reynolds and decades-long friend of Sweeney’s) and Senator Chuck Grassley (Pat Grassley’s grandfather). The downside for Reynolds: that path could anger both Rastetter and the elder Grassley.

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Six hints Iowa Senate Republicans didn't fire Kirsten Anderson over work product

Iowa taxpayers are on the hook for $2.2 million dollars after former Senate Republican communications director Kirsten Anderson won a huge sexual harassment lawsuit last week.

If Senate Republican leaders had any sense of accountability, they would resign, or at least offer to raise money to cover the cost of the verdict, so the general fund doesn’t take another hit while the state budget is in terrible shape.

But Majority Leader Bill Dix refuses to admit any wrongdoing by his colleagues or his staff. He is sticking to his story: “Kirsten Anderson was terminated for her work product and for no other reason.” Dix’s top aide Ed Failor, Jr. has been saying the same thing for years.

The jury didn’t buy the official line, and you shouldn’t either.

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Iowa Democrats, talk less about ALEC and more about people's lives

Thousands of Iowans will suffer brutal consequences from the two major bills Republican senators approved Monday. House File 295 blocks local governments from raising the minimum wage. Once Governor Terry Branstad signs the bill, thousands of people working in Linn, Johnson, and Wapello counties will get an immediate pay cut. Some 25,000 people in Polk County will be stuck earning $7.25 an hour, instead of getting a raise to $8.75, beginning next week. House File 518 will make it harder for employees to file workers’ compensation claims and will vastly reduce benefits for those who do qualify, especially anyone with a shoulder injury.

Both bills passed on party-line 29-21 votes after Republicans had rejected every effort to mitigate the harm done to working people.

As each Democratic amendment went down during hours of debate on the Senate floor, feelings of sadness, disgust and anger came through in the speeches of some Democrats and independent State Senator David Johnson. Why are you doing this, several asked their GOP colleagues. You don’t have to follow your floor manager, some pleaded. You can reject the “shameful” attempt to target poor people or those affected by life-altering workplace accidents.

Another dismal day in the Iowa legislature provoked an outpouring on social media, where progressive activists have mobilized this year in response to the Republican agenda. A measurable wave of “greater grassroots activism on the political left” is one of the few bright spots in the national landscape. In Iowa too, ordinary people are contacting their state lawmakers in record numbers and showing up to challenge them at district forums.

Watching these discussions unfold, I’ve noticed a reflexive tendency to blame one destructive Iowa GOP bill after another on the Koch brothers or the American Legislative Exchange Council. The more Democrats make the conversation about Koch money or ALEC, the easier it is for Republicans to avoid talking about the real-world consequences of their actions.

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"Personhood" in trouble as Iowa legislative deadline approaches

One of the anti-abortion community’s top legislative priorities, a bill declaring that life begins at conception, appears likely to perish in this week’s “funnel.” Social conservatives introduced companion “personhood” bills in the Iowa House and Senate two weeks ago. Under legislative rules, all non-appropriations bills must pass at least one committee in one chamber by March 3 in order to remain eligible for consideration this year.

However, House File 297 has not even been assigned to a House Human Resources subcommittee, and Senate File 253 appears not to have the votes to get out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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Who's who in the Iowa Senate for 2017

The Iowa legislature’s 2017 session begins today with minor adjustments to business in the state House but massive changes in the Senate. After ten years of Democratic control, the last six with a one-seat majority, the upper chamber now contains 29 Republicans, 20 Democrats, and one independent (former Republican David Johnson).

I enclose below details on the Iowa Senate majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing Senate committees. Click here to find the same information from the 2016 legislative session.

Just six senators are women (five Democrats and a Republican), down from ten women serving in the chamber in 2013 and 2014 and seven during the past two years. All current senators are white. To my knowledge, the only African-American ever to serve in the Iowa Senate was Tom Mann, elected to two terms during the 1980s. No Latino has ever served in the Iowa legislature; in 2014, Nathan Blake fell 18 votes short of becoming the first to join the Senate. No Asian-American has served in the state Senate since Swati Dandekar resigned in 2011.

As a group, the members of the new majority caucus have much less legislative experience than do their Democratic counterparts. As detailed below, only three of the 29 Senate Republicans have served ten or more years in the Iowa legislature, compared to thirteen of the 20 Democrats.

Some non-political trivia: the 50 Iowa senators include two with the surname Johnson, four Marks, three Bills, and two men each named Richard (Rich and Rick), Robert (a Rob and a Bob), Dan, Tim, Tom, Jeff, and Charles (one goes by Chaz).

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After campaigning on lies, Iowa Senate Republicans still won't lay out agenda

All but one of the 29 Republicans who will serve in the Iowa Senate for the next two years elected their leaders on Friday, changing little from the group that led the minority caucus during the last legislative session.

Bill Dix moves from Senate minority leader to majority leader.

Jack Whitver moves from minority whip to Senate president.

Jerry Behn, who preceded Dix as minority leader but hasn’t been in leadership since 2012, will become Senate president pro tem. He’s the longest-serving current Republican senator.

My own state senator, Charles Schneider, moves from an assistant minority leader position to majority whip.

Dan Zumbach and Randy Feenstra will be assistant majority leaders, having been assistant minority leaders during the last legislative session. The other two assistant majority leaders are new to leadership: Michael Breitbach and Amy Sinclair, the only woman in the 29-member incoming GOP caucus.

After the caucus meeting, Dix spoke only in general terms about the new majority’s plans.

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