Is Bill Dix the Iowa Senate Republicans' leader-in-waiting?

Civic Skinny’s latest column at the Des Moines weekly Cityview leads with a warning for Iowa Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley. Citing “top people in both parties,” Skinny speculates that “powerful party forces – and that’s code for Ed Failor Jr.’s Iowans for Tax Relief” want to replace McKinley with “one of their own – and that probably means Bill Dix […]”

Follow me after the jump for Skinny’s case as well as some additional supporting evidence and background on Dix, Iowans for Tax Relief, and longstanding Republican discontent with McKinley.

Skinny notes that Iowans for Tax Relief hasn’t been subtle about how it invests its capital:

Failor’s group rained money on Dix in his bid last fall to return to the Legislature after dropping out to run unsuccessfully for the U.S. House in 2006. The group gave him $62,500 – more than it gave anyone else except House Speaker Kraig Paulsen – as he steamrollered Democratic incumbent Bill Heckroth in the Butler County district. (Dix is a former director of Iowans for Tax Relief, and Failor was at Dix’s side when he announced.) In contrast, it gave $1,000 to McKinley, and that was nearly two years before the election.

– The personable Dix and the newly elected and equally conservative but not equally personable Kent Sorenson were right up front along with House leaders Paulsen and Linda Upmeyer when Iowans for Tax Relief brought Michelle Bachman[n] to Des Moines a couple of weeks ago. McKinley wasn’t. […]

“Iowans for Tax Relief now pretty much runs the Legislature,” a former GOP legislative leader told Skinny last week, and a current GOP legislator said the same thing. Indeed, the Muscatine-based organization has gone from writing checks for a few thousand dollars to disbursing six-figure amounts. In the last campaign, it gave more than $250,000 to Paulsen, who in turn funneled more than $1 million to the Eisenhower Club of the state Republican Party – the group that spreads money to worthy candidates. And Iowans for Tax Relief gives directly to its favorites; Sorenson, for example, got $11,000 in his successful effort to unseat Staci Appel.

Giving nothing to the leader of Republicans in the state Senate is quite a snub, considering how generous the Iowans for Tax Relief PAC was to so many GOP candidates in 2010. As McKinley got nothing from Failor’s group, other Senate Republican candidates received donations the PAC, including some long-shots like Chris McGonegle, challenger to Democratic State Senator Daryl Beall. Many House Republican candidates also received sizable donations; Failor’s PAC gave $17,000 to Iowa House candidate Cate Bryan during the primary campaign alone (see here and here). Heck, Iowans for Tax Relief gave $13,000 to Clair Rudison, a Democratic primary challenger to State Representative Ako Abdul-Samad in House district 66.

While Iowans for Tax Relief froze out McKinley last year, Dix spread around his campaign’s wealth. Democrats stopped seriously competing for Senate district 9 in the late summer, seeing an insurmountable advantage for Dix in the Republican-leaning area. Less than two weeks before the general election, Dix’s campaign gave $7,000 to the Republican Party of Iowa and its Eisenhower Club and cut a check for $60,000 to the Butler County Republican Central Committee. (I wonder if that is the largest single donation to a county party committee in Iowa history.) The Butler County Republican leaders turned the money around in a day: $15,000 to Rick Bertrand, GOP candidate in Senate district 1; $15,000 for Sorenson’s campaign in Senate district 37; $10,000 to Sandy Greiner’s campaign in Senate district 45; and $10,000 for challenger Rob Bacon in Senate district 5. All those candidates won their races, and you can be sure they won’t forget how much money they received from Iowans for Tax Relief, both directly and via Dix’s campaign/the Butler County Republicans.

Normally, a newly-elected lawmaker wouldn’t be a contender for a leadership position, but Dix spent ten years in the legislator representing House district 17, rising to the powerful position of Appropriations Committee chair. He left that post to run for Congress in the first district in 2006, and he raised more money than any other Republican candidate, but he lost the GOP primary to Mike Whalen.

McKinley was elected Senate Republican leader in November 2008 but faced criticism from some Republicans the following year for supposedly not doing enough to get a vote on a marriage amendment in the Iowa Senate. WHO talk radio host Steve Deace was one of McKinley’s loudest critics. McKinley’s strange short-lived gubernatorial campaign didn’t boost his credibility either; after promising to “aggressively explore” a run for governor, McKinley skipped several events on the campaign circuit before ending his campaign with a whimper. Craig Robinson, purveyor of GOP conventional wisdom at The Iowa Republican blog, speculated in September 2009,

McKinley’s indecisiveness since announcing his gubernatorial campaign hasn’t just sunk any aspirations he may have for higher office in the future, but it might also have impacted his effectiveness as the Senate Republicans’ chief fundraiser, recruiter, and strategist. With McKinley not devoting his full attention to his gubernatorial campaign and not having communicated his progress in advancing the Republican cause in his current position, one might question if he is the right person to lead Republicans in the State Senate.

If Dix does succeed McKinley as leader of the Senate Republican caucus, Iowans for Tax Relief would increase its already immense influence over state GOP politics. Governor Terry Branstad’s campaign manager and chief of staff, Jeff Boeyink, worked for Failor’s organization for many years, and Branstad’s son Eric is Iowans for Tax Relief’s current development director. Among Republican interest groups in Iowa, only the American Future Fund rivals Iowans for Tax Relief in terms of access to the new governor and his staff.

Civic Skinny already mentioned Iowans for Tax Relief’s huge patronage of House Speaker Kraig Paulsen. More evidence that House Republicans ask “How high?” when Failor says “Jump”:

*In November 2009, Failor came up with this bright idea in an opinion column:

If we were to merge the three universities, to combine the strengths of the schools, and reduce the bureaucratic burdens the state could be able to trim the portion of your tax dollars which go to the Regents Universities.  Between combining the three payroll and information technology systems, reducing duplicative administrative functions, and removing the built-in bureaucracy; a merger of the three public universities could likely result in more than twelve percent budget savings.  If the state was able to trim one-eighth of the General Fund spending to the Regent Universities, there would be a budget savings over $62 million.  Although there is limited empirical data on the cost savings of merging public universities, this number is easily attainable through reducing duplication and administration.

Iowa House Republicans accepted Failor’s $62 million figure without running it by real budget analysts. During the 2010 legislative session, House Republicans included that figure in their package of proposed spending cuts. This year, Legislative Services Agency analysts calculated only $6.2 million in potential savings from combining administrative functions at the three state universities.

*Last month Iowans for Tax Relief board member Christian Fong (a former Republican candidate for governor) was the first speaker at a high-profile public hearing on House File 45, the first bill moved during the 2011 legislative session. Some advocates complained that Fong was bumped to the front of the line after being around the 90th speaker to sign up; Republicans had promised to dole out the speaking slots on a first-come, first-served basis.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that the Republicans in effect outsourced the 2009 special election campaign in House district 90 to Iowans for Tax Relief staff.

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