Since the fiasco that doomed the "prevailing wage" bill in February, I've thought that electing better Democrats to the state legislature is at least as important as electing more Democrats. With a 56-44 majority in the Iowa House, it's ridiculous not to be able to find 51 votes for some of these bills.
According to a letter I received last weekend, Ed and Lynn Fallon of I'M for Iowa are already meeting with potential progressive challengers in some House districts. I've posted the full text of the letter after the jump. I share their disappointment with what the Democratic "trifecta" has accomplished since the 2006 elections.
The Fallons do not specify where they are recruiting candidates. The obvious targets are the six House Democrats who refused to support "prevailing wage." Known in Iowa political circles as the "six-pack," these incumbents also stood in the way of other labor bills. Of those six, Geri Huser and Dolores Mertz seem particularly likely targets, because they supported House Republican efforts to ban same-sex marriage in April. Marriage equality is one of I'M for Iowa's priority issues.
Good opportunities for primary challengers include districts that are relatively safe for Democrats in the general election. That points to "six-pack" members Huser (House district 42), Brian Quirk (district 15) and Doris Kelley (district 20).
Challenging the rest of the group is somewhat more risky. McKinley Bailey (district 9), Larry Marek (district 89) and Dolores Mertz (district 8) represent marginal districts. In fact, first-termer Marek will probably be the most endangered Democratic House incumbent next year. Bailey beat back a strong challenge from Republicans to win a second term by a fairly healthy margin in 2008, but according to this report by Iowa Independent's Jason Hancock, some House Democrats have been "quietly concerned" that he might consider switching parties.
Mertz is a longtime incumbent in a very conservative district. In the unlikely event that a progressive challenger defeated her, Republicans would almost certainly pick up the seat. On the other hand, a smaller Democratic House caucus without Mertz would be an improvement over a larger caucus with Mertz, in my opinion. As chair of the House Agriculture Committee, she blocks any decent bill in sight, and she will be the Republicans' biggest Democratic ally in the fight to overturn the Iowa Supreme Court's ruling in Varnum v Brien.
Two big questions come to mind. First, will organized labor put money and/or foot soldiers into serious Democratic primary races? Earlier this year, Ken Sagar of the Iowa AFL-CIO didn't rule out supporting competitors to Democrats who are unfriendly to labor.
Second, will the Iowa House Democratic leadership spend money or political capital to defend targeted incumbents? In 2008 the Iowa Democratic Party blocked Huser's primary challenger from access to the voter database. I heard from multiple sources at the time that the House Democrats made that call. Huser returned her colleagues' favor by not being a team player during the general election campaign, then refusing to support the labor bills mentioned above.
I look forward to reading your comments on whether it's worth taking on any House Democratic incumbents next year, and if so, which ones. The Fallons' letter laying out the case for primary challenges is after the jump.
Note: this letter contains a small error about the 1965 legislative session (as does this Iowa Public Television program about that historic session). Judicial elections were abolished in Iowa when voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1962. The judicial reform passed during the 1965 session reduced the mandatory retirement age for judges.
June 1, 2009
Through I'M for Iowa, we have fought hard for a broad range of progressive policy reforms since 2006. We haven't asked a lot from most of our supporters. But as we "take off the gloves" and embark on a year-long campaign attacking the heart of the problem in state government, we need to ask for your help in a big way.
Three years ago, Iowa Democrats took control of the House, Senate and Governor's office for the first time in forty-two years. Iowans had great expectations about what this "trifecta," as Governor Culver called it, would accomplish.
And great expectations were in order. In 1965, Democrats also controlled the Statehouse. That year, a slew of landmark legislation was enacted:
*The community college system was created.
*The Iowa Civil Rights Act was passed.
*The voting age was lowered from 21 to 18.
*Committee meetings were opened to the general public.
*Judges went from being elected to appointed.
But this year at the Statehouse, despite democratic control, proposed progressive reforms were shot down right and left:
*We saw no action on reforming campaign finance law.
*Long-needed changes regulating hog confinements were ignored.
*The House failed to pass any of four reforms proposed by organized labor.
*There was no real progress on climate change, the environment, health care, criminal justice or education.
No doubt, leading legislative Democrats will point to small accomplishments, and some of these are certainly welcome. But face it: most of the big priorities so desperately needed are going nowhere at the Iowa Statehouse.
First of all, Governor Culver's leadership has been weak, and he has failed to work cooperatively or effectively with many of those who helped him get elected.
Second, corporate lobbyists and their money still command far too much power at the State Capitol, and Democratic leaders have grown quite cozy with this power.
Finally, a handful of House Democrats consistently torpedo the good legislation our Democratic friends offer.
Of these three factors, the latter is the key pressure point. The current Democratic majority in the House simply is not a functional majority. Because of I'M for Iowa's deep statewide network, we are in a unique position to help change that - but to do so, we need your support.
Our goal is to help recruit candidates to run in next year's primary election against House Democrats who consistently stand in the way of progress. We're excited to tell you that, already, we have met with some very promising prospective candidates.
Recruiting good candidates is no small task. Yet it will take only a handful of new progressive leaders in state government to tip the balance and give us the opportunity to enact the reforms Iowans are hungry for.
We need you to partner with us in this work. Help us recruit the candidates who will become tomorrow's progressive leaders. Please contribute $100, or more if you are able, but know that we will be grateful for whatever support you can offer in these challenging times. Thank you.