The Secretary of State race is getting interesting

The Republican primary campaign for Iowa secretary of state has lacked the drama and publicity of the governor’s race, but it is turning into a test of strength between a “fresh face” and a veteran of Iowa Republican politics.

The nominee challenging our outstanding Secretary of State Michael Mauro will be either Council Bluffs City Council member Matt Schultz or former State Representative George Eichhorn (“say I-Corn”).

A third Republican qualified for the ballot in this race, but I’m focusing on Eichhorn and Schultz because Chris Sanger is not a serious contender. He has no campaign staff and has raised only about $400, all at bake sales in Stuart, where the candidate and his wife own a bakery. The only newsworthy moment in Sanger’s campaign was his involvement in a meet and greet organized by a guy who thinks killing abortion providers is justifiable homicide. In fairness to Sanger, though, he may have a place in the record books for choosing the longest campaign committee name in Iowa history: Elect Chris Sanger, He Will Vote The Way People Want. Someone should have told him the secretary of state isn’t a legislator who votes on policies.

But I digress. Links and commentary about Schultz and Eichhorn are after the jump.  

Early on in this campaign, I didn’t think much of Eichhorn’s chances. Although he has relevant experience as a former state legislator, his recent career moves haven’t turned out well for him. In 2006 he unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination in Iowa Senate district 5 after Stew Iverson announced his retirement. Then Eichhorn lost the 2006 general election in Iowa House district 9 to McKinley Bailey. Eichhorn finished second in the 2008 Republican primary for U.S. Senate to the novice candidate Christopher Reed. In the current electoral cycle, his opening salvo against Mauro distorted some facts. He was the first secretary of state candidate to release a list of well-known endorsers, but in March and April Schultz’s campaign rolled out quite a few endorsements too. Eichhorn may be a hero to opponents of Iowa’s public smoking ban, but I didn’t expect that to carry him far in a statewide primary.

Despite Eichhorn’s years in the Iowa House, he didn’t manage to raise any more money than the newcomer Schultz. Between January and mid-May, each candidate had raised about $9,000 and had more outstanding bills than cash on hand.

I will say this for Eichhorn: the “massive list of endorsements” his campaign released yesterday included a lot of well-known Republicans. Ten current state senators and 19 state representatives from all over the state were among more than 50 Eichhorn supporters listed. In addition, the press release named some prominent former legislators and a few power-brokers, like former Iowa GOP chairman David Oman, longtime Republican National Committeeman Steve Roberts, and John Gilliland of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry. Eichhorn also has the backing of the Iowa Family PAC, which could be helpful as that group’s organizers and volunteers work to get out the vote for Bob Vander Plaats next Tuesday.

Schultz is a first-time statewide candidate, and about a dozen state legislators are backing him, including former Iowa House Speaker Chris Rants. Schultz seems to have the unofficial seal of approval from The Iowa Republican blog, which represents a certain faction of the Iowa GOP establishment. Publisher Craig Robinson heaped praise on “the new kid from Council Bluffs,” while writer Chuck Laudner depicted Schultz as stronger on immigration issues than Eichhorn and Krusty Konservative wrote, “I couldn’t pick Schultz out in a crowd, but we need new faces, not perennial losers.”

Yesterday Schultz’s campaign announced its biggest endorsement so far, from Paul Pate, the last Republican to serve as Iowa’s secretary of state. Pate also agreed to be “state chair” of Schultz’s campaign.

Paul Pate, a successful small businessman from Cedar Rapids who is a former State Senator, Iowa Secretary of State, Mayor of Cedar Rapids and President of the Iowa League of Cities, pointed to elected experience in city government, knowledge of the issues and a youthful fire in the belly as reasons for his support of Matt Schultz.

“As the former chief commissioner of elections, I know too well the importance of having a watchdog over our election process to guarantee that they are both clean and fair. Matt Schultz has demonstrated to me that he is indeed the man to do just that,” said Pate.

Not only did Schultz score some free media coverage from the Pate endorsement, he has managed to launch a limited radio and television advertising campaign during the final week before the primary. That may give him a boost in name recognition before Republicans vote. Neither candidate for secretary of state has a lot of visibility, but I’ve seen a few Vote Matt Schultz signs around the Des Moines area, and nothing for Eichhorn.

As for campaign issues, Eichhorn emphasizes his greater experience in matters related to the Secretary of State’s Office. He claims Iowa regulations “leave the door open for elections fraud” and wants all voters who register on election day to use provisional ballots rather than regular ballots. He also supports a task force to develop small business regulatory reform and asserts that he will “protect the taxpayer” by eliminating wasteful spending in the Secretary of State’s Office. (Take Eichhorn’s claims about misuse of money with a grain of salt.)

Schultz has talked about “fighting for Iowa jobs,” streamlining the secretary of state’s business services and cracking down on illegal immigration, but stopping alleged voter fraud is the centerpiece of his campaign. He agrees with Eichhorn that election-day registrants should have to vote with provisional ballots, but he goes further. Schultz’s stump speech, campaign website and radio ad all advocate photo identification requirements for Iowans voting in person. Here’s the script of the radio ad:

Did you know you have to show a photo ID before you get on an airplane, open a checking account, and even to buy adult beverages?  So why don’t we have to show an ID when we vote?  I’m Councilman Matt Schultz, and when I’m elected Secretary of State I’m going to fight to require a Photo ID when you go to vote.  Remember, Ronald Reagan always said “Trust, but verify.”  Go to my website, then vote Schultz for Iowa Secretary of State on June 8th so we can stop voter fraud in Iowa.

I give “the kid from Council Bluffs” extra credit for the Reagan reference, even though he is surely too young to remember that Reagan was talking about arms control and U.S.-Soviet relations when he used that phrase.

Anyway, Schultz’s fear-mongering about rampant election fraud, complete with ACORN references, will probably strike a chord with the Republican base. For most of the last decade, influential Republicans have stoked fears about voter fraud in order to build support for voter suppression policies. A fake “think tank” called the American Center for Voting Rights became “the only prominent nongovernmental organization claiming that voter fraud is a major problem.” Researchers trying to find evidence of voter fraud have mostly come up empty. Voter registration fraud, in which someone paid per person registered fills out cards for non-existent or dead people, does occur, but the fake voters don’t turn out on election day and consequently don’t affect the results.

Photo ID requirements have become the “most widespread modern voter suppression tactic” in the U.S. because

Identification requirements pose a special burden to the approximately 12 percent of voting-age Americans – mainly the poor, racial minorities, senior citizens and students – who do not have a driver’s license.[1]

Proponents of new voter identification requirements cite the supposed problem of voter fraud as the impetus for their action, but there’s no evidence that voter fraud exists in this country in any significant way, or that identification requirements would fix the problem if it were to exist. Indeed, the Carter-Baker Commission on Federal Election Reform acknowledged that “there is no evidence of extensive fraud in U.S. elections or of multiple voting,”[2] And, according to a 2005 study by the Ohio League of Women Voters, out of more than nine million ballots cast in Ohio in 2002 and 2004, just four were found to be fraudulent.[3]

What about Schultz’s point that if we have to show photo ID to board a plane, we should be willing to do the same to exercise our right to vote? Spencer Overton, a law professor at George Washington University, refuted that argument:

Just under half the states require ID to vote, and most of these states accept a long list of non-photo ID such as a utility bill, bank statement, government check or paycheck. About a dozen of these ID states allow voters without ID to prove their identity by signing an affidavit or reciting information such as birthdate and home address. […]

ID proponents claim that their proposal is reasonable because photo IDs often are required to board a plane or cash a check. But voting is different. Airlines have no incentives to exclude legitimate travelers. Some politicians, however, reap political benefits by reducing turnout among legitimate voters of particular demographic groups. […]

Granted, most Americans would bring a Real ID card to the polls if required to do so, and some who forget to bring ID would track down the “appropriate election office” and present ID within the commission’s 48-hour deadline. But millions of Americans — many of whom are poor, elderly, disabled or people of color — would not overcome the commission’s hurdles.

For all the Republican chatter about voter fraud, the irony is that no one has done more to keep Iowa elections clean and fair than Mauro. Thanks to his leadership, all Iowans are voting with paper ballots that can be secured and recounted if necessary. The Secretary of State Project recognized other achievements by Mauro too:

In the fall of 2009, Iowa’s election laws and procedures implemented by Secretary Mauro gained national attention when the state ranked first in a study focusing on the ease of voting for members of the military and U.S. citizens living overseas. In just his first term, he has worked with the state legislature to allow same-day voter registration and to establish a uniform voting system for all 99 counties. As a result, legislation is now in place to ensure a voter-verified paper trail for all future elections. He has also helped create electronic poll books available for use across the state, enhancing precinct officials’ ability to process voters effectively and consistently and adding another layer of security to Iowa’s voting process.

But wait, there’s more: this spring Mauro’s office introduced a system for Iowans to track their own absentee ballots.

The reality is that same-day voter registration went smoothly in 2008 and allowed tens of thousands of Iowans to vote. Eichhorn and Schultz want to fix a system that isn’t broken.

The secretary of state race is clearly a stepping stone for Schultz, and Eichhorn will run for just about any political office. Mauro has a “passion” for the work of the secretary of state and isn’t using the platform to run for higher office someday. He is doing a great job and deserves our support.

Share any thoughts about the secretary of state’s race in this thread.

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  • Silly

    They can at least come up with ideas on how to streamline business filings or something like that, but no they want to make it about illegal immigrants voting that more than likely GOP donors hired to work in the state.  They’re going to have to settle this schism between the Chamber of Commerce crowd and the border security crowd.