Can Josh Byrnes escape a GOP primary challenge in Iowa House district 51?

Since last summer, many Iowa politics watchers have had Republican State Representative Josh Byrnes on retirement watch. However, he announced this week that he will seek a third term in Iowa House district 51. After the jump I’ve posted a district map and Byrnes’ re-election statement.

Democratic candidate Laura Hubka has been actively campaigning for months. She’s facing a relatively strong incumbent in this district, which covers Howard, Mitchell, Worth, and part of Winneshiek Counties along Iowa’s northern border. Byrnes was comfortably re-elected in 2012 even as President Barack Obama won more than 55 percent of the vote in House district 51. The latest totals from the Secretary of State’s office indicate that the district contains 5,765 registered Democrats, 6,470 Republicans, and 8,643 no-party voters.

Although I have not heard of any Republican planning to challenge Byrnes, three factors make me suspect he will not get a free pass in the GOP primary.

1. Byrnes is the leading Iowa House proponent of raising the gasoline tax, a popular view among some rural constituencies but not in the Republican base. He even taunted the advocacy group Iowans for Tax Relief after this year’s subcommittee hearing, where the gas tax bill advanced.

2. While many Iowa House Republicans are quietly satisfied to see a constitutional amendment on marriage die in the funnel for two years running, to my knowledge Byrnes is still the only person in his caucus who openly supports same-sex marriage rights.

3. Last year Byrnes was one of just two GOP legislators to support the Democratic position on expanding Medicaid in Iowa. (The other one, Brian Moore, represents the most Democratic-leaning Iowa House district Republicans now control.)

It will be a St. Patrick’s Day miracle if no anti-tax zealot, social conservative, or “Liberty” activist steps up to challenge Byrnes by the March 14 filing deadline.  

UPDATE: Amazingly, no other Republican filed papers to seek the GOP nomination in House district 51.

Josh Byrnes Facebook status update, March 3:

So I have had many folks ask if I am running for another term. I have been all over the board on this decision and have decided to run again. I have great family support, which is first and foremost.

Secondly, I have too many items to finish in Des Moines. I am on a Career and Technical Education task force, have an interest in seeing broadband expanded, want to be part of school funding formula conversation, need to finish my quest for road funding, member of STEM Advisory Council, and have to defend community colleges against the continued attacks.

I also have to think I am doing a good job representing the district as I continue to be attacked by the far left and the far right! At the end of the day the majority of my district consists of registered Independents and I like to think I am one of the most bipartisan legislators in Des Moines. That bipartisanship gets a lot more done for my constituents than being a polarizing legislator. I welcome your continued support an would be honored to represent you for a third term.

Iowa House district 51 photo IowaHD51_zps9ef51ca1.jpg

  • Byrnes

    Good for him.  Legislators have to run and hide from their party leadership far too often.  All 100 members of the Iowa House should be treated equally.  They were all elected by taxpayers and people that have to survive day to day.

    I know Iowa isn’t as polarized as other legislatures around the country and that fact may make it harder to get major change done, but I think the fact that there are still voices like Byrnes, Joe Riding, Daniel Lundby, Chip Baltimore and other sane voices out there keeps our business climate fairly competitive.  

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