Iowa Senate district 15 wasn’t on my top tier of Iowa Senate races to watch or among the competitive seats recently mentioned by Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal. However, I am revising my view amid new signs that Republicans will make a strong push against five-term Democratic incumbent Dennis Black.
After the jump I’ve posted background on Black and the three Republicans who plan to challenge him, along with a district map and the latest voter registration totals.
Senate district 15 covers most of Jasper County, including Newton, Baxter, Colfax, Prairie City, and Mingo, as well as eastern Polk County, including Altoona, Bondurant, Mitchellville, and Elkhart.
As of January 2014, Senate district 15 contained 15,222 registered Democrats, 13,156 Republicans, and 14,925 no-party voters.
I have considered Black strongly favored to hold this seat for a few reasons. In a state where voters generally like to re-elect their incumbents, he served six terms in the Iowa House before being elected five times to the Iowa Senate. His district didn’t change much under Iowa’s new map of political boundaries, adopted in 2011. He defeated challenger Joe Pirillo by more than 1,000 votes in the Republican landslide of 2010, despite economic upheaval in the Newton area related to the Maytag plant closure in 2007. Any Democrat who survived 2010 should be well-positioned going into 2014, especially in a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly 2,000. Black is in his mid-70s, but plenty of Iowa lawmakers have continued serve past that age.
Black chairs the Iowa Senate budget subcommittee covering agriculture and natural resources. He is also vice chair of the Natural Resources and Environment committee and serves on Agriculture, Ways and Means and Veterans Affairs. Here’s more information from his official bio:
Senator Black is an advocate for Iowa’s environment. He has helped clean up Iowa’s air and water and helped improve our quality of life by increasing recreational opportunities.
Senator Black has extensive professional experience including work as a natural resource analyst and consultant, service as the director of the Jasper County Conservation Board from 1970 to 2005, and the author of numerous natural resource management publications.
Senator Black’s civic involvement includes service on the Newton Community Schools Board of Education, Jasper County Soil and Water District Commission, Des Moines River Greenbelt Commission, the Iowa Capitol Planning Commission, Jasper Community Foundation, and Terrace Hill Commission. He has also chaired the Jasper County Economic Development Commission.
Senator Black has received numerous legislative awards and recognitions, including a lifetime honorary membership in the Iowa Association of Soil & Water Conservation District Commissioners, an Outstanding Legislator Award from ABATE of Iowa, an Award of Merit from the Iowa Chapter of the Wildlife Society of America, and was selected by the National Rifle Association for their prestigious Defender of Freedom Award. He also authored several books, including the recent 476 page historical hard-cover “Profiles of Valor. Iowa’s Medal of Honor Recipients of the Civil War.”
Black has already indicated that he will seek a sixth term in the Iowa Senate. If he were to retire unexpectedly, Democrats have a strong bench in State Representatives Dan Kelley (Iowa House district 29, covering the eastern half of Senate district 15) and Joe Riding (Iowa House district 30, covering the western half).
Patrick Payton is a life long Iowan and father of six daughters. Patrick grew up in a working-class family on the East side of Des Moines. He worked his way through Drake University. He had part time and summer jobs which included truck driver, steel worker, and carry-out clerk. After graduation from Drake, he taught American government and history in the Des Moines schools, mainly at Des Moines Technical High School. After teaching, he went to Drake Law School. With little money and a young family, he set up his law practice on the east side of Des Moines, where it remained until 2009 when the city of Des Moines purchased the office building. His law office is now located on Merle Hay Road in Des Moines.
In 1993, Patrick Payton moved to Newton Iowa with his wife Della Logue. Believing in lifelong learning, Patrick earned a Ph.D. in Education from Iowa State University. He has taught at several Universities, including St. Cloud University in Minnesota.
Patrick Payton served 20 years on the Board of Directors of the bipartisan Governor’s Safety Conference. He was Pleasant Hill’s city attorney for four years and has served as a mediator for a number of years. Last year, he served as chairman of the Republican Jasper County Central Committee. He is a member and frequently attends the Westside Conservative Club.
Patrick now wants to serve in the Iowa State Senate to protect the liberties that gave him the opportunity, as a young man from a working-class family, to work for his goals. Patrick believes that the people know best how to create their own success; not government. Patrick’s primary goals are to return education to the local level, cut unnecessary regulations, and hold the line on new taxes.
A lot of Iowa lawmakers have a background similar to Payton’s, but he didn’t strike me as a particularly strong candidate against an entrenched incumbent in a Democratic-leaning district.
I would say the same thing about Crystal Bruntz, who announced her candidacy in Senate district 15 last Thursday. Bruntz lives in Baxter and is a human resources executive with Kum & Go, a large convenience store chain. She’s running as a “proponent for responsible budgeting principles” who believes “Education directives should be in the hands of the parents” and opposes “additional hardships for taxpayers.”
The game-changer in my mind was David Fischer’s announcement on January 16 that he is resigning as the Republican Party of Iowa’s co-chair in order to run for Senate district 15. “Get ready for a fun, aggressive campaign!” he tweeted. Fischer has long been a leader of the Iowa GOP’s “Liberty” faction, having co-chaired Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign in this state. He strongly considered running for the open U.S. Senate seat before taking himself out of that race last month.
Fischer’s campaign is on Facebook here. (At this writing, his campaign web address takes you straight to a donation page with no other content). Announcing his candidacy, he asserted, “I believe Iowans are conservative by nature and I can energize people to work together to advance our conservative ideas.” Fischer then touted the following accomplishments as an Iowa GOP leader:
*We took bold stances in rejecting tax hikes – even those advanced by members of our own party.
*We rose in strong defense of our second amendment rights, speaking out as an Iowa legislator called for government confiscation of basic firearms from law-abiding Iowans.
*We stood for our fourth amendment rights, calling out the government’s incessant invasion of our privacy as they watch us and monitor our phone calls, emails, and text messages.
*For the first time ever, the Iowa GOP hosted a special day-long event with Governor Mike Huckabee dedicated to defending Life – the first-ever such event for a state Republican party.
*We hosted three exciting new members of the U.S. Senate: Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas, and Mike Lee of Utah.
*We even organized a broad coalition of Iowa conservatives to rise up in opposition to President Obama’s half-baked plans to send our troops into the middle of a civil war in Syria.
Fischer raised $5,000 on the first day of his Iowa Senate campaign. The network of Ron Paul loyalists in Polk and Jasper Counties should provide him with enough votes and volunteer labor to carry him through the GOP primary in June. Although Fischer has stepped down from the state party leadership, his allies in high places will surely focus resources on this race during the general election campaign.
My hunch is that voters will send Dennis Black back to the Iowa Senate a sixth time. Fischer may be too conservative for this district; even among Republicans, the “Liberty” agenda has detractors. On the other hand, he will surely run a more vigorous and better-funded campaign than Black has seen in many years.
Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.