State Senator Joe Seng caught a lucky break yesterday when a three-member panel agreed that he qualified for the ballot in the Democratic primary to represent Iowa’s second Congressional district.
Late last week, a voter in IA-02 filed a challenge to Seng’s nominating petitions, claiming that he did not have enough valid signatures in at least 12 of the 24 counties in the district.
Attorney General Tom Miller, Secretary of State Matt Schultz, and Deputy State Auditor Warren Jenkins heard testimony about the complaint on Tuesday night and issued their decision yesterday. Radio Iowa’s O.Kay Henderson reported on the meeting and included a link to the audio. The challenger, attorney Paul McAndrew, was represented by prominent Democratic consultant and attorney Jeff Link. McAndrew alleged problems with Seng’s signatures in Wayne, Scott, and Wapello counties, including “the signature of a known felon, signatures from at least eight residents of Illinois, plus instances where a husband or wife signed their spouses name along with their own.” In addition,
Part of this drama involves a handful of signatures collected at a bar called the Fibbin’ Fisherman Lounge in Corydon [Wayne County]. The Ottumwa veterinarian who was in the establishment to get those signatures for Seng has said he had to buy “many rounds of drinks” to get people to sign those petitions.
Seng’s attorney countered that “The absence of a specific house number and street, although certainly would be more desirable, we don’t think is grounds for the omission of that signature.”
Miller, Schultz, and Jenkins avoided dealing with the disputed signatures from the Corydon bar.
In the end, however, the panel did not make their decision based on McAndrew’s allegations in Wayne, Scott and Wapello. Rather, they focused on petitions from two other counties – Davis and Van Buren – that the Secretary of State’s threw out prior to McAndrew’s complaint.
The errors made on those petitions were to minor to warrant rejecting, the panel found, and should be included in Seng’s total for signatures gathered. With those counties included, Seng met the qualifications for inclusion on the ballot whether the Wayne, Scott and Wapello county signatures were included or not, effectively mooting McAndrew’s complaint
“We can assume that for this analysis that Wayne and Wapello and Scott are not counted toward 12” counties a candidate must garner signatures from, Miller, a Democrat, said during Wednesday’s meeting. “The 12 was reached independent of them.”
When Seng submitted his nominating petitions, the Secretary of State’s Office rejected the Davis and Van Buren pages “because the top portion – listing Seng’s name, where he was from and what office he was seeking – hadn’t been completely filled out.” Schultz told reporters later that while “Senator Seng probably should have been more organized, […] in his case it was a close call.” Miller pointed to precedent for such panels giving Iowa candidates the benefit of the doubt: “That model has the value of respecting the democratic process and being somewhat favorable, deferential to someone having access to the ballot.”
Loebsack’s campaign tried to keep its distance during this process:
Brian Fritsch, Loebsack’s political director, said Democratic activists concerned about Seng’s petition contacted the campaign. He said the campaign did not initiate the challenge but thinks the review is necessary to ensure the rules were followed.
Now that a primary is assured, I expect to hear more from the Loebsack camp about the “sizable contributions” that Koch Industries (the corporation owned by the notorious Koch brothers) allegedly made to Seng in the past.
Loebsack is fortunate that there is a competitive primary on the Republican side in IA-02 between Dan Dolan and John Archer. Otherwise I would expect an organized effort by the Iowa GOP to get out the vote for Seng on June 5.