Five reasons Kraig Paulsen would struggle in an IA-01 GOP primary (updated)

Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen is thinking seriously about running for Congress in the open first district, covering 20 counties in northeast and central Iowa. He hasn’t given a timeline for making up his mind and has said he’s trying to figure out “what’s the best way to serve Iowans. What meets their needs?”

I would suggest that Paulsen consider this cold, hard reality: he is unlikely to serve Iowans as a member of Congress, because he would lose the GOP primary in IA-01.

UPDATE: Scroll to the end of this post for a sixth reason.

Paulsen represents some suburban areas in Linn County, the largest by population in IA-01. Here’s some personal background from his official bio.

Speaker Kraig Paulsen was first elected to the Iowa House in 2002 and serves House District 66, which includes:  Hiawatha, Robins and portions of both Marion and Cedar Rapids.

Kraig was born on September 9, 1964 in Monticello, Iowa.  His father, Dr. Kenneth Paulsen, is a veterinarian.  His mother, Marilyn Felker, is a retired hospital transcription manager.  Kraig has one brother and two sisters, all who live in Linn County.

Paulsen attended school in the Cedar Rapids School District where he graduated in 1983 from Cedar Rapids Kennedy High School.  He went on to attend Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa where he graduated in 1987.  Kraig received his MBA in 1994 from the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Minot, North Dakota.  He also received a Juris Doctorate from the University of Iowa in Iowa City in 2003.

Kraig married his high school sweetheart, Cathy, in 1985 in Cedar Rapids.  They have four children, a daughter and three sons.  The Paulsen family is members of the New Covenant Bible Church in Cedar Rapids.

Paulsen served his country in the United States Air Force where he served as an Operations Group Senior Weapons Instructor, Maintenance Flight Commander and Squadron Director of Operations.

Kraig was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster, the USAF Commendation Medal, and the USAF Achievement Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster.  He was twice recognized as the Best Operations Crew in the USAF in his assigned weapon system, USAF Space Command Maintenance Junior Officer Manager of the Year, and the Missile Wing Instructor of the Year.

Kraig is currently an attorney for CRST International, Inc. in Cedar Rapids.  Paulsen has also previously served as the House Judiciary Chair, the House Minority Whip, and the House Republican Leader.

No red flags there.

If Paulsen runs for Congress, here’s his case to Republican voters, excerpted from his closing marks on the final day of the Iowa legislature’s 2013 session.

At the start of the 2013 session, I outlined an action plan to promote a strong Iowa – one that encompasses a strong economy, strong budget leadership and strong schools and communities.  As we close the session, I believe we have fulfilled this commitment to Iowans.

Iowa has the third highest commercial property taxes and the 16th highest residential property taxes in the nation.  I pointed out at the beginning of session if nothing was done to address this problem, the hardworking taxpayers of Iowa were staring down the barrel of a $2.6 billion property tax increase over the next 10 years, with the majority of that falling to homeowners.  Homeowners have been and would continue to be shouldering much of the burden as the rollback turns into the roll up.

Iowans have been very clear that they want property tax reform and relief and we were able to deliver for them in a way that has never been done before.  For over a decade, the legislature has wrestled with this issue without success.

We passed bipartisan tax relief and reform that:

·        Includes property tax relief for all classifications of property.

·        Is meaningful, inclusive and reliable reform so taxpayers can count on relief from year to year.

·        Ensures residential taxpayers receive as much relief as commercial taxpayers.

·        Limits assessment growth from 4 percent to 3 percent on ag and residential taxpayers.

·        Includes a 10 percent rollback on taxable value for commercial and industrial property.

·        Is $560 million in property tax relief, once fully implemented.

·        Additionally, this bill enacts a permanent mechanism for the taxpayer trust fund tax credit, giving any overpayment back to taxpayers.

This absolutely will make a difference for every Iowan.

We also fulfilled our commitment to provide strong budget leadership.  Three years ago, Iowa faced a $900 million budget shortfall, behaving much like they do in Washington, D.C.  This was unacceptable and Iowans demanded a change.  In response, House Republicans outlined budgeting principles that have guided our decisions for the last three sessions.  They are:

·        Aligning ongoing spending with ongoing revenue.

·        Resisting spending one-time money on ongoing expenses.

·        Preventing the intentional underfunding of entitlement programs.

·        Returning unused tax dollars to Iowa taxpayers.

The bipartisan budget passed this session results in three percent growth over fiscal year 2013 and spends merely 88 percent of what the state is allowed to spend.  Culture change in large, entrenched institutions is extremely difficult to accomplish, yet it happened.  This is not something to be taken lightly.  We have charted a new course for future legislatures, one that puts hardworking Iowa taxpayers first, not the government.

We also took charge in regards to the ending balance.  Our debt relief bill pays off $114 million in commitments earlier than required, fulfills our obligations in regards to pension funds, makes an investment on one-time infrastructure projects at the regents universities and in water quality.

We came together to make Iowa’s schools and communities stronger by moving education reform that offers flexibility for school districts, innovation for teachers, accountability for parents and protection for taxpayers.  Instead of continually throwing money at a less-than-perfect system, we met the challenge to bring about real reform that will provide measurable results.  We were also able to strengthen the role of Iowa parents, not the government.

And finally, House Republicans crafted a bipartisan health care plan that focuses on making Iowans healthier without bowing to federal pressure to expand Medicaid.  The federal government attempted to force Iowa and other states into expanding a broken and outdated system.  Instead of taking the easy way out, House Republicans, led by the Majority Leader and Rep. Rogers, knuckled-down and created an Iowa solution to our own health care needs.  This solution improves the quality of care, lowers costs and makes Iowans healthier.

This has been a remarkable session-we set very high expectations and the 150 of us, working together, met them all.    As I said in my opening day speech, we are not Washington, D.C.  We do not offer ultimatums, push things off until they are nearing a cliff, or wait for a crisis to react.  We’re Iowans and I believe once again this General Assembly has proved that we can come together on behalf of Iowans to accomplish serious and meaningful work. Our leaders in the federal government, Congress and the Administration, both Republicans and Democrats, should take notice of our process and results. If Washington operated more like Iowa, America would be much better off.

I would dispute Paulsen’s spin, particularly on the tax and budget issues. Iowa did not run deficits when the legislature was under Democratic control, and the last budget signed by Governor Chet Culver ended in a healthy surplus.

But that’s not why I think Paulsen would struggle in an IA-01 primary. Most of what he said in those closing remarks would have Republican voters nodding their heads.

Here’s why I think Paulsen will be walking into a buzzsaw if he runs for Congress.

1. On abortion, he doesn’t talk the talk.

Two years in a row, Speaker Paulsen’s speech to open the Iegislature’s annual session has said nothing about ending abortions (or other “family values” issues for that matter). He’s in his comfort zone when he’s talking about tax and budget issues, sprinkling in other GOP buzzwords like ” job-killing red tape” and “burdensome regulations.” Abortion isn’t the top priority for every Republican voter, but the activist base wants leaders who aren’t afraid to “defend life.”

The way Paulsen avoids talking about social issues might not be a problem if he were perceived to have accomplished anything on the pro-life agenda. However,

2. On ending abortions in Iowa, Paulsen hasn’t walked the walk.

Paulsen can point to two bills the Iowa House passed in 2011 to ban nearly all abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy. But Republicans want to see more, and Paulsen actively sought to block a House floor vote on “personhood” legislation during his first year as speaker.

During the 2013 legislative session, none of the anti-abortion bills survived the first “funnel” deadline in the GOP-controlled Iowa House. Paulsen’s rivals in a Congressional primary would make sure voters know about that.

Another potential problem:

3. On Medicaid funding for abortions, Paulsen doesn’t fight the fight.

Although Iowa is already one of the most restrictive states on Medicaid coverage of abortions, many House Republicans have fought passionately to end all “taxpayer funded abortion.” When they failed to get their preferred language into the health and human services budget, dozens of House Republicans signed a petition demanding emergency rulemaking by the Branstad administration to end all Medicaid coverage of abortions. Guess who didn’t sign that petition? Kraig Paulsen.

After his Department of Human Services director rejected the request for emergency rulemaking, Governor Terry Branstad said it was up to Iowa lawmakers to pass further limits on Medicaid abortion funding.

But Iowa House Republican leaders didn’t make that cause their priority. On the contrary, this open letter by State Senator Kent Sorenson asserts that House leaders have “done nothing” on this issue. Eleven House Republicans voted against the final version of the health and human services budget, probably because of this issue–those lawmakers are among the most vocal opponents of abortion rights in the Iowa House.

Look at how Paulsen talked about the final legislative language on Medicaid abortions during his Iowa Public Television appearance this weekend.

Henderson: Mr. Paulsen, on the last day of the session, both the House and the Senate approved policy language that gives the governor essentially veto authority over taxpayer funded abortions for Medicaid patients in cases of rape and incest, to save the life of the mother or in cases of fetal deformity. Do you expect the governor to veto the abortions?

Paulsen: That’s something he has to work through. It’s not vetoing the abortions as you say. It’s about whether or not the state will pay for those, you know, abortions. So basically it has to do with taxpayer funded abortions and that’s something that, you know, the governors have to work through.

That’s the wrong answer for social conservatives who dominate the GOP base. Other candidates seeking the IA-01 nomination will promise to work passionately to prevent any taxpayer dollars from being used for abortions.

Two more problems for Paulsen:

4. His long legislative record gives opponents plenty of ammunition.

Paulsen can point to some achievements as House speaker, but he has voted for lots of bills primary rivals might question. For instance, he was a state representative when the Iowa House unanimously passed a bill to provide in-state tuition to undocumented immigrant children in 2004. That bill never became law, because it died in the Iowa Senate, but having voted for it caused big problems for Bill Dix in the 2006 GOP primary to represent IA-01. During the 2010 campaign, GOP candidates for governor fell all over themselves pandering to voters about getting tough on illegal immigrants. Paulsen can claim that he has tried to reduce state spending on illegal immigrants, but that’s all smoke and mirrors.

This year the GOP-controlled Iowa House didn’t even pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. That’s embarrassing for Paulsen.

The House version of education reform included some provisions conservatives loved (like ending reporting and assessment requirements for homeschoolers) but also increased funding for public schools and kept the state tied to the Iowa Core Curriculum and national “Common Core” standards, which are dirty words to some conservatives.

Paulsen can talk about holding the line on state spending, but his opponents will still accuse him of supporting “wasteful” budget line items. He can brag about property tax relief, but GOP critics can point to the earned income tax credit expansion, which House Republicans approved as part of tax compromises twice in 2011 as well as in this year’s final deal on tax reform. (Branstad vetoed both attempts to increase the earned income tax credit in 2011.)

Finally,

5. Paulsen has no base of support to carry him through the primary.

The House speaker can raise a lot of money from big Republican donors, but he has no obvious source of grassroots support. Steve Rathje may not be the world’s greatest candidate, but he has some support in the Cedar Rapids area. If former State Senator and Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate runs for Congress, as some Republican insiders predict, that will be even more competition for Paulsen in Linn County.

Rod Blum has already campaigned across IA-01 in the 2012 primary and has the support of some activists on the GOP’s Ron Paul wing.

On yesterday’s edition of “The Insiders” program, WHO-TV’s Dave Price asked Paulsen whether having many young children would factor into his decision about running for Congress. Paulsen indicated that he is thinking seriously about that angle, adding that his wife has been supportive as he’s considered a run for higher office. If Paulsen gives up his Iowa House seat to go for IA-01, I expect he’ll have lots more time to spend with family after June 2014.

Please share your thoughts about the IA-01 race in this thread.

P.S.- Given the Democratic voter registration advantage in this Congressional district, any GOP nominee would arguable go into the general election as the underdog. However, Republicans sometimes turn out at higher rates than Democrats in midterm election years.

JUNE 13 UPDATE: Conservative radio host Michael Devine, who is based in Fort Dodge, posted this devastating open letter to Paulsen on his Facebook page.

Open letter to Speaker of the House Kraig Paulsen.

Dear Mr. Paulsen,

Nearly three years ago in Pomeroy, Iowa, an 83 year old sex-offender in a care center at state expense was caught by an 8-year old girl molesting an old, helpless woman. The administrator of the facility, according to the attached report by the Des Moines Register, told staff to conceal the fact sex-offenders were on premises. Since then, despite efforts by Rep. Helen Miller of Ft.Dodge, the House of Representatives has been unwilling to require care facilities to notify residents and their families a registered sex-offender is housed at there. Rep. Clel Baudler is on record as opposing resident/family notification as causing financial hardship to small town care centers.

Respectfully Sir, I would ask if Rep. Baudler and others who are like-minded, opposition to notification is the reason we can’t have something so basic, so obviously needed as a requirement to notify. The bottom line of a care center is not to be dismissed but no decent human being would allow rape as a cost of doing business. Since the Pomeroy out-rage, other violent and sickening incidents have occurred in our state.

I’ve been to every legislative forum asking for resident notification since this horror. Nothing. Rep. Miller has tried but no real support has materialized.

Why Speaker Paulsen, can’t a simple protection to our most vulnerable citizens, our mothers and fathers make it through the House? Respect and care for our elders is part of our heritage and culture in Iowa I’m proud to say. As I write this, someone can entrust the care of an elderly relative to a facility never knowing a dangerous predator lives there at tax-payer expense. This is wrong. Again respectfully, I’d like to ask why.

I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Mike Devine

How will Paulsen explain that away in a Republican debate?

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