The state agency Iowa Workforce Development has replaced 36 field offices with hundreds of new "enhanced access" computer terminals this year.
Although the shuttered offices are unlikely ever to reopen, they may live on as talking points in many competitive Iowa House and Senate races next fall.
Iowa Workforce Development officials announced the restructuring plans in February as a way to save money while improving access for unemployed Iowans. Some 500 computer terminals in public libraries, Iowa State University extension offices and other locations will eventually be equipped to allow people to seek help from Iowa Workforce Development staff.
The agency will continue to operate 16 "regional integrated one-stop offices" in Burlington, Carroll, Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs, Creston, Davenport, Decorah, Des Moines, Dubuque, Fort Dodge, Marshalltown, Mason City, Ottumwa, Sioux City, Spencer and Waterloo. Additionally, Iowa Workforce Development will keep satellite office locations open in Fort Madison, Iowa City and Webster City.
Many state legislators favored keeping all 55 Iowa Workforce Development field offices open. It was one of the highest priorities for Senate Democrats during lengthy negotiations over the state budget. In fact, Teresa Wahlert barely won Senate confirmation as Iowa Workforce Development director because of this controversy. Iowa House Republicans supported funding to keep the field offices open for another year, but Branstad used his line-item veto power to reject that portion of the economic development appropriations bill for fiscal year 2012.
Senate Democrats called for a special legislative session to override Branstad's veto, but House and Senate Republicans rejected that path. During the summer, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal vowed to try to override the veto during the 2012 legislative session. Republicans are certain to ignore that call.
Several Democratic legislators are co-plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging Branstad's use of his item veto power with respect to Iowa Workforce Development funding. But as the governor pointed out during a recent press conference, it will be a long time before that case works its way through the court system.
Branstad seems unconcerned about any lingering political controversy over his administration's actions. In his view, the restructuring has been a "significant success":
"Our tracking data indicates that services are equal to or greater than what they were available at this time last year. I see this as a significant success and commend Director (Teresa) Wahlert and Iowa Workforce Development for their good work," Branstad said. [...]
In place of the unemployment offices, the state is installing hundreds of kiosk-like computer stations in places like libraries and homeless shelters where Iowans can access online training, assistance in preparing for interviews and other job application services.
Critics contend that what's essentially a self-help computer program is a far cry from personal, one-on-one assistance previously provided to thousands of unemployed workers.
But advocates say the move will prove to be more beneficial to Iowans, saving $6.5 million a year and also enhancing job searches through computer software. [...]
There are now 373 virtual access points with at least one kiosk-like center in each county. Iowans have access to phone or online interaction with state unemployment officials at the sites, which has led to an extension of the number of hours of service, state officials said today.
"We continue to add new things. This is a very evolving technology. One of the things we added just today...is a fifth option for people and it's called, 'I am a student,'" Wahlert says. "And in this fifth option we have things like 'How to find a job', what the requirements are for GED. We are working on a partnership with ACT to add practice testing."
Those practice tests for the ACT and for GEDs will be available in December.
Workforce Development staff are now available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. 'til 2 p.m. to answer questions from people who go online and seek help with their job search. Wahlert says in the past, Workforce Development offices weren't open past 4:30 p.m. and not every county in the state had an office. Today, there are 370 on-line access points for the Workforce Development computer program.
If 500 computer terminals across the state serve unemployed people well, the Iowa Workforce Development restructuring may be a non-issue next year. Still, I expect to see some Democratic statehouse candidates pointing to vacant storefronts where field offices used to be. The "enhanced access points" could become a symbol of failed Republican governance if they don't function as advertised in numerous locations.
Here's a list of the 36 cities and towns that lost Iowa Workforce Development field offices this year, along with background on the 2012 Iowa House and Senate races in those areas. Scroll to the end of this post for a shorter list of potentially competitive statehouse campaigns in communities that no longer have an Iowa Workforce Development field office.
Algona (Kossuth County)
For the past decade, Algona has been in the old House district 8, where Republican Tom Shaw won an open-seat race in 2010. Iowa's new map of political boundaries put Algona in the new House district 7 (map), represented by first-term Democrat John Wittneben. He won his open-seat race in 2010 by less than three dozen votes. House district 7 has a small Democratic voter registration advantage, but I expect Republicans to mount a strong challenge for this seat. Algona is also part of the new Senate district 4 (map), which has a comfortable Republican voter registration advantage. No Democratic candidate has declared for that race. Former State Senator Jim Black is likely to be the Republican nominee.
Ames (Story County)
Both Iowa House districts in Ames are fairly strong seats for Democrats Beth Wessel-Kroeschell and Lisa Heddens, who decided to move after the redistricting plan put her home outside the north Ames-based district 46 (map). Wessel-Kroeschell lives in the new House district 45 (map). Democratic State Senator Herman Quirmbach is the incumbent in the new Senate district 23 (map), and he won't be on the ballot again until 2014.
Atlantic (Cass County)
Atlantic will be part of the new House district 21 (map) and Senate district 11 (map). Both districts have huge Republican voter registration advantages, and Democrats are unlikely to mount serious challenges to GOP State Representative Jack Drake or State Senator Hubert Houser, assuming both seek re-election.
Boone (Boone County)
Both the House and the Senate race here have potential to be competitive in 2012. First-term Republican Chip Baltimore represents the current House district 48, where he defeated Democratic incumbent Donovan Olson by only a couple dozen votes in 2010. Boone is part of the new House district 47 (map), which has a tiny Democratic registration advantage but a plurality of no-party voters. Olson has not disclosed whether he plans to seek a rematch with Baltimore. No other Democrat has declared for the seat yet. Boone is in the new Senate district 24 (map), represented by Republican Jerry Behn. His new district has only a small voter GOP registration advantage, with a plurality of no-party voters. No Democrat has stepped up to challenge Behn, whose long incumbency and recent election as Iowa Senate Republican leader make him the clear favorite in my opinion.
Centerville (Appanoose County)
Retiring Democrat Kurt Swaim currently represents this area, but the new map of political boundaries puts Appanoose County in House district 80 (map). No incumbent currently lives in the district. Democrat Joe Judge announced his candidacy in May, shortly after the redistricting plan was approved. It's among the most balanced House districts, with roughly equal numbers of registered Democrats, Republicans and no-party voters. To my knowledge, no Republican has entered the race. On the Senate side, Centerville is in the new district 40 (map). Two-term Democratic incumbent Tom Rielly faces a big uphill climb here, and he hasn't represented Appanoose County before.
Charles City (Floyd County)
Charles City is current represented by Republican State Representative Josh Byrnes, who won an open-seat race in 2010. However, in 2012 it will be in the new Iowa House district 52 (map), where six-term Democratic State Representative Brian Quirk is the incumbent. The district leans Democratic in terms of voter registration. When Democrats controlled the Iowa House from 2007 through 2010, Quirk was known as a member of the conservative "six-pack" that opposed organized labor's legislative priorities. Since Republicans won back the Iowa House majority, Quirk has voted with most GOP lawmakers on legislation serving the interests of big ag multiple times. He also voted for a controversial bill to promote nuclear power in Iowa. The more interesting race here is likely to be on the Senate side, because the new Senate district 26 (map) pits two incumbents against each other: Democrat Mary Jo Wilhelm and Republican Merlin Bartz. Both parties are certain to target this race, which Bleeding Heartland previewed here. The district has a Democratic voter registration advantage of about 1,300, and Bartz has drawn some unflattering local press over a fence dispute with neighbors. On the other hand, Bartz has had a much longer career in the Iowa legislature than Wilhelm.
Cherokee (Cherokee County)
Both Iowa House district 3 (map) and Iowa Senate district 2 (map) lean heavily Republican. It will take a lot more than Iowa Workforce Development closing an office to make this part of northwest Iowa politically competitive. State Senator Randy Feenstra should be safe for 2012. Two current Iowa House Republicans, Royd Chambers and Dan Huseman, live in this district; it's not clear whether they will face off in a GOP primary or whether one will retire.
Clarinda (Page County)
Similar story here: the new Iowa House district 24 (map) and Senate district 12 (map) cover parts of southwest Iowa that are safe for Republicans. State Senator Joni Ernst should have no trouble winning re-election. On the House side, the eventual nominee (Cecil Dolecheck or Rich Anderson) should have no problem winning the general election, with or without an Iowa Workforce Development office.
Clinton (Clinton County)
First-term Iowa House Democrat Mary Wolfe represents the Clinton area, which is in the new House district 98 (map). It's a Democratic-leaning district already. Voter registration numbers favor Democrats in Senate district 49 as well (map), but Republicans have a strong announced candidate in Andrew Naeve. No Democrat has declared for that open Senate race. It will be on the ballot despite its odd number, because State Senator Tod Bowman opted to stay in the new Senate district 29 instead.
Denison (Crawford County)
Restructuring of state services for the unemployed is sure to become an issue here, because the Democratic candidate in the new Iowa House district 18 (map) is Kasey Friedrichsen, a former Iowa Workforce Development employee in the Denison office. Her opponent will be two-term Republican State Representative Jason Schultz. He's not my cup of tea, but he has a fairly substantial GOP voter registration edge on his side. Senate district 9 (map) also leans heavily Republican. It may not be on the ballot in 2012, unless current GOP incumbent Senators Nancy Boettger and Jim Seymour decide to face off in a primary. JANUARY 2012 UPDATE: Seymour is retiring, so there will be no election this year in Senate district 9.
Emmetsburg (Palo Alto County)
To my knowledge, there is no Democratic candidate yet in the new Iowa House district 2 (map). The Republican nomination is up for grabs, as no current incumbent lives in this district. There won't be a 2012 campaign in the new Senate district 1 (map), which includes Palo Alto County. Democrat Jack Kibbie's retirement means Republican Senator David Johnson will hold over until 2014.
Estherville (Emmet County)
Like Algona, which I covered above, Estherville is located in the new House district 7, represented by Democrat John Wittneben, and the new Senate district 4, which has no incumbent. Estherville is Wittneben's home base, and he'll need to run up the score here to win in this swing district. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Iowa Workforce Development office closure become a campaign issue for him.
Fairfield (Jefferson County)
Fairfield is located in the new House district 82 (map). Democrat Curt Hanson is the incumbent. Republicans will contest the new district 82 in 2012, because they have a slight voter registration advantage here. However, Hanson has strong local support, having won a 2009 special election and re-election in 2010 in the old House district 90. First-term Republican State Senator Mark Chelgren holds over until 2014 in the new Senate district 41 (map), which includes the Fairfield area. That's lucky for him, because Democrats should win this district back next time it's on the ballot. Chelgren defeated Democratic incumbent Keith Kreiman by only a dozen votes in 2010.
Glenwood (Mills County)
Glenwood is located in the new House district 23 (map), which has no incumbent but should be safe for Republicans, considering their commanding voter registration advantage in the area. The same goes for the new Senate district 12 (map), where Republican Joni Ernst, a 2011 special election winner, should easily be elected to a full term in 2012.
Harlan (Shelby County)
Like Denison, which I discussed above, Harlan is located in the new House district 18 (map). This campaign will pit Republican State Representative Jason Schultz, case law hater and Ron Paul endorser, against Democrat Kasey Friedrichsen, a former Iowa Workforce Development employee in the Denison office. Senate district 9 (map) contains two GOP incumbents, Nancy Boettger and Jim Seymour. If one of them retires, the other holds over until 2014. JANUARY 2012 UPDATE: Seymour announced his retirement; there will be no Senate district 9 election in 2012.
Humboldt (Humboldt County)
A contested Republican primary is likely in the new House district 10 (map). Neither first-term State Representative Tom Shaw nor five-term incumbent Dave Tjepkes lives in Humboldt County. Social issues may dominate the primary campaign. Shaw is more conservative, having been among a handful of House Republicans to back impeaching Iowa Supreme Court justices who concurred in the Varnum v Brien decision. Shaw also has supported bringing "personhood" legislation to the House floor and voted against a late-term abortion ban because it didn't go far enough to restrict abortions in his view. To my knowledge, no Democrat has announced plans to run in the new House district 10, which has a large GOP voter registration advantage. Democratic State Senator Daryl Beall holds over until 2014 in the new Senate district 5 (map), which includes Humboldt County. By then I doubt the Iowa Workforce Development restructuring will be a salient issue.
Iowa Falls (Hardin County)
About half of Hardin County, including Iowa Falls, is in the new House district 50 (map). This will be the site of the premier GOP primary battle of 2012, pitting House Agriculture Committee Chair Annette Sweeney against Economic Growth Committee Chair Pat Grassley, grandson of U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley. My guess is there won't be a Democratic candidate in House district 50, which leans heavily Republican. There also won't be a 2012 election in Iowa Senate district 25 (map), where Iowa Falls is located. First-term Republican Bill Dix didn't get his wish to be Senate minority leader, but he does get to hold over until 2014 thanks to Rob Bacon's decision to run for the Iowa House instead.
Keokuk (Lee County)
Lee County has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state and used to contain two Iowa Workforce Development field offices. The agency decided to keep the other Lee County office open in Fort Madison. Both Keokuk and Fort Madison are located in the new Iowa House district 83 (map). Democratic State Representative Jerry Kearns should have no problem winning re-election in this heavily Democratic area, judging from his comfortable 2010 victory. Senate district 42 (map) lacks an incumbent with the retirement of Democrat Gene Fraise. To my knowledge, no Democrat has announced plans to run for this seat. Republicans have a candidate, Lee County Supervisor Larry Kruse, but the district has what should be a solid Democratic voter registration advantage.
Manchester (Delaware County)
So far Republican State Representative Lee Hein is the only announced candidate in the new House district 96, which includes all of Delaware County (map). The district doesn't have an overwhelming GOP voter registration advantage, but it's not clear whether Democrats can recruit a strong candidate here. The campaign in Senate district 48 (map) should be one of the most competitive statehouse races in 2012. State Representative Nate Willems will be the Democratic nominee and will probably face one of three Republicans running or considering this race: Dan Zumbach, Brian Cook, and Cindy Golding.
Maquoketa (Jackson County)
Democrat Tom Schueller, a Maquoketa native, is trying to return to the Iowa House in the new district 58 (map). He shouldn't need an Iowa Workforce Development office controversy to seal the deal against Republican Brian Moore, who may be the most endangered Iowa House incumbent in 2012. There won't be an Iowa Senate election in the new district 29 (map) next year. Democrat Tod Bowman holds over until 2014, thanks to Senator Tom Hancock's decision to retire.
Mount Pleasant (Henry County)
Republican Dave Heaton has represented the Mount Pleasant area in the Iowa House since the 1994 election. The new map puts Henry County in Iowa House district 84 (map). To my knowledge, no Democrat has announced plans to challenge Heaton, who will be heavily favored even if there is lingering resentment over the demise of the Iowa Workforce Development office. Henry County is part of the new Senate district 42 (map), which I discussed above in the context of Keokuk.
Muscatine (Muscatine County)
Democrats do not yet have a candidate in the new House district 91, which covers the Muscatine area (map). Republican State Representative Mark Lofgren defeated three-term Democratic incumbent Nathan Reichert in the old House district 80 in 2010. FEBRUARY 2012 UPDATE: John Dabeet will be the Democratic candidate in House district 91. The city of Muscatine and nearby areas of Muscatine county also like in the new Senate district 46 (map). That should become one of the most competitive state Senate races of 2012. Democrat Chris Brase will face one of two Republican incumbents: Shawn Hamerlinck or Jim Hahn.
New Hampton (Chickasaw County)
Like the Charles City area, discussed above, New Hampton and the rest of Chickasaw County are in the new House district 52 (map), represented by six-term Democrat Brian Quirk. To my knowledge, no Republican has announced plans to challenge Quirk, who benefits from a Democratic voter registration advantage. Chickasaw County lies in the new Senate district 26 (map), which I discussed above in the context of Charles City. Democratic State Senator Mary Jo Wilhelm has a decent shot here against Republican Senator Merlin Bartz.
Newton (Jasper County)
The optics of closing the Iowa Workforce Development branch in Newton are lousy: unemployment is relatively high in the city that hasn't fully recovered from the Maytag plant closing. On the other hand, Newton isn't far from Marshalltown or Des Moines, which both will retain staffed Iowa Workforce Development offices. Newton lies in the new House district 29 (map), represented by Democrat Dan Kelley. It's a strong Democratic district where no Republican has entered the race, as far as I know. There will be no election next year in the new Senate district 15 (map), which includes Newton and most of Jasper County. Democrat Dennis Black holds over until 2014.
Oelwein (Fayette County)
The Oelwein area lies in the new House district 64 (map), represented by Republican Dan Rasmussen. He narrowly defeated Democratic State Representative Gene Ficken in 2010 in the old House district 23, and the new district 64 leans Democratic in terms of voter registration. I am not aware of any Democrat actively campaigning here yet, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the Iowa Workforce Development controversy pop up during the 2012 campaign. The part of Fayette county that includes Oelwein is in the new Senate district 32 (map). It's almost evenly divided in terms of voter registration, and Democratic incumbent Brian Schoenjahn could face a tough battle in 2012. Schoenjahn is from Arlington, a smaller town in Fayette County. He has no GOP challenger yet, to my knowledge.
Orange City (Sioux County)
Iowa Senate district 2 (map) and Iowa House district 4 (map) are located in one of the most Republican-voting counties in the United States. No amount of fallout over Iowa Workforce Development Offices will threaten State Representative Dwayne Alons or State Senator Randy Feenstra.
Osceola (Clarke County)
Osceola is the largest town in the new House district 27 (map). First-term Republican State Representative Joel Fry lives in Osceola, and his new district has only a slight GOP voter registration advantage. I haven't heard of any Democrat running for this seat yet. Clarke County is part of the new Senate district 14 (map). Neither party has an announced candidate here, as far as I know. Former Republican Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley decided against running for re-election in 2012.
Oskaloosa (Mahaska County)
Oskaloosa lies in the new House district 79 (map). Republican State Representative Guy Vander Linden lives in Oskaloosa. I doubt any resentment over an Iowa Workforce Development office will create a problem for him, given the large GOP voter registration advantage in this district. Meanwhile, two-term Democrat Tom Rielly is arguably the most endangered Iowa Senate incumbent in 2012, despite having previously served as mayor of Oskaloosa. Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats by nearly 5,000 voters in the new Senate district 40 (map), which includes Oskaloosa.
Pella (Marion County)
Pella has a reputation as one of Iowa's most conservative towns, and it lies in the new House district 79 (map) along with Oskaloosa. Should be smooth sailing here for GOP State Representative Vander Linden and a rough ride for Democrat Rielly in he new Senate district 40 (map)
Perry (Dallas County)
The northwest portion of Dallas County, including Perry, lies in the new House district 20 (map). Republican State Representative Clel Baudler, a national board member of the National Rifle Association, is the incumbent here. He voted against the redistricting plan in the Iowa House but is in a fairly Republican district. I am not aware of any announced Democratic challenger to Baudler. Perry is in the new Senate district 10 (map). No incumbent lives here, but the open-seat race won't be attractive for Democrats given the voter registration numbers.
Pocahontas (Pocahontas County)
Like Humboldt, which I discussed above, Pocahontas is in the new House district 10 (map). Republican incumbents Tom Shaw and Dave Tjepkes appear likely to face off in a primary, and there is no announced Democratic candidate to my knowledge. Democratic State Senator Daryl Beall holds over until 2014 in the new Senate district 5 (map).
Red Oak (Montgomery County)
The northern two-thirds of Montgomery County, including Red Oak, are in the new House district 23 (map). Although the seat is open, it won't be an inviting target for House Democrats given the enormous GOP voter registration advantage. The Republican primary will in effect determine the winner of House district 23 in 2012. All of Montgomery County is the new Senate district 12 (map), where Red Oak resident Joni Ernst won't have any trouble being re-elected in 2012.
Shenandoah (Page County)
Storm Lake (Buena Vista County)
Buena Vista County is part of the new House district 11 (map). Incumbent Republican Gary Worthan lives in Storm Lake and will be able to run for re-election in a district with a strong GOP voter registration advantage. Worthan defeated Democrat Danuta Hutchins by nearly a 3:1 margin in 2010, and he shouldn't have much trouble winning a fourth term in 2012. The new Senate district 6 (map) is open, because current Senate Republican whip Steve Kettering has decided to retire in 2012. The winner of the GOP primary will be heavily favored in the general election, and it's possible that Democrats won't even field a candidate here.
Washington (Washington County)
Most of Washington County, including county seat Washington, is part of the new House district 78 (map). The new map paired two Republican incumbents: first-termer Jarad Klein and long-timer Betty DeBoef. She decided to retire, so Klein doesn't have to deal with a competitive primary. Democrats don't have a candidate yet in House district 78, which has a Republican voter registration advantage. There will not be a 2012 election in the new Senate district 39 (map), which covers the Washington area. Republican Sandy Greiner holds over until 2014, by which time the Iowa Workforce Development restructuring will be a long time past.
Waverly (Bremer County)
Waverly is the largest town the new House district 63 (map). Republican Pat Grassley currently represents Bremer County in the Iowa House, but no incumbent lives in the new district. Longtime Waverly resident Bill Heckroth, a former Democratic state senator, is running for this House seat and has at least one Republican opponent, Sandy Salmon. It should be a hard-fought race; Republicans have a voter registration edge, but the Democrat has a stronger base in the Waverly area. Bremer County is part of the new Senate district 32 (map), which I discussed above in the context of Oelwein. Democrat Brian Schoenjahn is the incumbent.
To sum up, the following potentially competitive Iowa House and Senate districts contain towns where Iowa Workforce Development offices have closed in 2011.
House district 7 (Algona)
House district 52 (Charles City, New Hampton)
House district 80 (Centerville) *no incumbent
House district 82 (Fairfield)
Senate district 26 (Charles City, New Hampton) *Democratic vs Republican incumbent
Senate district 32 (Waverly, Oelwein)
Senate district 49 (Clinton) *no incumbent
House district 27 (Osceola)
House district 47 (Boone)
House district 63 (Waverly) *no incumbent
House district 64 (Oelwein)
House district 78 (Washington)
House district 91 (Muscatine)
House district 96 (Manchester)
Senate district 14 *no incumbent
Senate district 26 (Charles City, New Hampton) *Democratic vs Republican incumbent
Senate district 46 (Muscatine)
Senate district 48 (Manchester) *no incumbent
In all of the above districts, I would not be surprised to see Democratic incumbents or challengers criticize the Iowa Workforce Development restructuring, especially if Iowa's unemployment rate doesn't drop significantly during the next year. It's too early to say whether that would be a successful political strategy. It's possible that voters will share Governor Branstad's preference for hundreds of computer terminals instead of a few dozen field offices with part-time hours.
Any comments about the 2012 legislative races are welcome in this thread.