Brian Schoenjahn still lacks a GOP challenger in Iowa Senate district 32

MARCH 16 UPDATE: Republican Elliott Henderson of Independence qualified for the ballot on the last day of the filing period. Bleeding Heartland will discuss his campaign in a future post.

State Senator Brian Schoenjahn confirmed today that he is running for re-election in the new Senate district 32. This politically balanced seat is a must-win for Democrats hoping to retain their majority in the upper chamber. With barely a month to go before the filing deadline for state legislative candidates, Republicans do not yet have a challenger in this district.

The new Senate district 32 covers all of Bremer County, most of Buchanan County, about half of Fayette County, and much of northern Black Hawk County outside the Waterloo-Cedar Falls limits.

Iowa Senate district 32, The new Iowa Senate district 32, under the redistricting plan adopted in 2011.

This is one of the most evenly-divided Senate seats in terms of voter registration. As of February 2012, Senate district 32 contained 11,621 Democrats, 11,686 Republicans, and 18,537 no-party voters, according to the Iowa Secretary of State’s office (pdf). When the Iowa legislature approved the new map of political boundaries last April, Democrats had a slight voter registration advantage.

Schoenjahn was first elected to the Iowa Senate in 2004. He currently chairs the appropriations subcommittee on education and is vice-chair of the Education Committee. Earlier this month, Schoenjahn defended Democratic efforts to approve a 4 percent increase in allowable growth for K-12 school budgets during the 2013/2014 academic year. That bill passed the Senate last week on a party-line vote.

Schoenjahn’s press release today made clear that school funding will be a major theme of his re-election campaign. Excerpt:

“Two words: education and jobs,” said Schoenjahn. “That’s our focus. We’ve made some progress on job growth and unemployment continues to slowly decline across Iowa. However, we must keep the focus on programs in both education and economic growth that foster job creation and put our kids in a position to compete for work when they graduate.”

Schoenjahn added: “The governor’s current proposal to slash funding for nearly every level of education-from preschool to K-12 schools to community colleges, private colleges and universities-is a mistake. Many of our schools and colleges are in partnerships with area businesses to offer job-training programs that match a community’s workforce needs. It’s a great system of public and private institutions working together. But the governor’s plan to cut college funding would throw a wrench right into it.”

Schoenjahn serves as Vice Chair of the Senate Education Committee and as Chair of the Education Appropriations Subcommittee. Before being elected to his first term, Schoenjahn was a teacher for 32 years.

“There is a clear need to reform our educational system in Iowa,” Schoenjahn said. “We must restore the world-class academics Iowa was once known for into our schools. In a tight economy, we certainly must be efficient with our available resources, but we’ve got to make school funding a priority.

“The bottom line is, there’s more work to do and that’s why I’m running for re-election.”

Schoenjahn said he’s visited every town in the new parts of his district and is currently holding legislative forums throughout Senate District 32 to gather input from the people.

“As a long-time teacher, I know you have to listen first and then work together to get things done. I’m going to continue to meet as many people in District 32 as I can. I want to hear what the people have to say. If I don’t see you at a forum this spring or knock on your door this summer, please feel free to call me at home at (563) 633-4065 to let me know about your concerns or ideas.”

Brian Schoenjahn and his wife Barb, an Elementary Physical Education teacher live in Arlington, where Schoenjahn served as Mayor for 27 years. They have one daughter, Ashley, who is a law student at the University of Iowa. They’re active members of Sacred Heart Church in Oelwein.

Schoenjahn also serves on the Iowa Senate Commerce, Local Government, and Natural Resources and Environment committees. This early in the legislative session, those committees haven’t held many high-profile votes. The Commerce Committee was supposed to consider a bill promoting nuclear power on January 31, but that meeting was canceled at the last minute, presumably because supporters didn’t have the votes to pass the bill. The American Association of Retired Persons and various Iowa environmental organizations generated at least 1,500 phone calls to the Senate switchboard from Iowans against the nuclear bill. I am not aware of Schoenjahn speaking publicly about this legislation, but he voted for a version that cleared the Commerce Committee in March 2011 (pdf). I am seeking comment on whether he will support the bill this year.

Schoenjahn voted for a resolution to overturn the ban on lead ammunition for dove hunting in Iowa, which passed the Senate Natural Resources Committee in late January. That resolution to nullify an Iowa Department of Natural Resources rule is one of the National Rifle Association’s legislative priorities in Iowa for 2012.

Iowa Democrats expect Schoenjahn’s race to be one of a cluster of competitive Senate races in northeast Iowa, along with the clash of two incumbents in district 26, Senator Jeff Danielson’s re-election bid in district 30, and the open seats in district 28 and district 48. I am surprised that no one has declared against Schoenjahn, nor have I heard rumors of Republicans working this district ahead of a formal announcement. Surely someone will enter the race shortly before the March 16 filing deadline. Governor Terry Branstad said recently that he is helping Iowa Senate Minority Leader Jerry Behn recruit Republican candidates. I suspect that this seat is on their list.

Senate district 32 might have been a good opportunity for Ben Lange, who practices law in Independence (Buchanan County). During his 2010 Congressional campaign against Bruce Braley, Lange carried Bremer and Buchanan Counties and came close to matching Braley’s votes in Fayette. But Lange is running for Congress in IA-01 again this year. His official campaign announcement is scheduled for this evening in Cedar Rapids.

Without knowing who Schoenjahn’s challenger will be, it’s hard to assess his re-election prospects. The advantages of incumbency should give him an edge, but Democrats will need strong GOTV, with supporters filling out the whole ballot. Schoenjahn also needs to do better among no-party voters than many Democratic incumbents did in 2010.

The two House districts that make up Senate district 32 are both potentially competitive. The western half of the Senate district (Bremer County and parts of Black Hawk) form House district 63, an open seat. Former Democratic State Senator Bill Heckroth jumped in this race shortly after the new map was approved. So far the only declared Republican candidate is Sandy Salmon, who announced in October. She finished second in the 2010 GOP primary for what was then House district 18. I would not be surprised to see another Republican join this campaign. House district 63 contained 5,481 Democrats, 6,912 Republicans and 9,981 no-party voters as of February 2012 (pdf).

The eastern half of Senate district 32 (parts of Fayette and Buchanan Counties) make up House district 64, where Republican State Representative Dan Rasmussen is seeking another term. His Democratic opponent is high school teacher and Oelwein City Council member Bruce Bearinger. The latest voter registration numbers from the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office show 6,140 Democrats, 4,774 Republicans, and 8,556 no-party voters in House district 64 (pdf).

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention that Schoenjahn’s latest campaign finance report shows that he started 2012 with $11,144.75 cash on hand after raising a little less than $13,000 during 2011.

In House district 63, Heckroth reported raising $7,820.00 during 2011 and started this year with $5,034.36 cash on hand. Salmon raised a little less than Heckroth during 2011 but reported $6,123.42 cash on hand as of December 31.

In House district 64, the incumbent Rasmussen raised only $1,450 last year, mostly from political action committees, and had $1,403.91 on hand going into the election year. Bearinger declared his candidacy last month and therefore has not yet filed a report on fundraising with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board.

MARCH 16 UPDATE: Rasmussen did not file for re-election. Jim Givant of Oelwein will be the GOP candidate in House district 64.

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