Democratic State Senator Dennis Black announced this morning that he is retiring from politics after 32 years in the Iowa legislature, including five terms in the Iowa Senate. His retirement opens up Senate district 15, covering most of Jasper County and parts of eastern Polk County. As of March 2014, this district contained 15,238 registered Democrats, 13,184 Republicans, and 15,064 no-party voters. After the jump I’ve posted a district map and Black’s open letter to colleagues and the media.
In late January, it appeared that three Republicans would compete for the chance to run against Black this year. But the highest-profile candidate, former Iowa GOP Co-Chair David Fischer, opted against running last month. Meanwhile, the first Republican candidate to declare against Black, Patrick Payton, decided to run for Iowa House district 29 instead. That leaves Crystal Bruntz, a human resources executive for the convenience store chain Kum & Go, as the likely GOP nominee in Senate district 15. So far she is the only Republican who has filed nominating papers in the district.
Democrats have until this Friday to find a new candidate for the seat Black is vacating. I am seeking comment from two-term State Representative Dan Kelley of Newton. He currently represents Iowa House district 29 but has not filed for re-election yet. First-term Democrat Joe Riding has already filed for re-election in House district 30, the western half of Senate district 15. UPDATE: Riding confirmed by telephone that he is committed to continuing to represent residents of House district 30.
Although Black’s district wasn’t initially on my radar or Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal’s radar as one of the most competitive 2014 Senate races, opposing parties typically have a better chance of winning open seats than defeating state legislative incumbents. Senate district 15 will surely be a race to watch this year.
PROCESS GEEK UPDATE: Although it’s not relevant in this instance, since Riding will stick with the House race, a candidate who had already filed papers to run for an Iowa House district could file for a newly open Senate district. Scroll to the end of this post for the explanation.
Iowa Senate press release of March 10:
Senator Dennis Black to retire from legislature
Colleagues and staff, Iowa Senate and House; Capitol media; Members of the Third House.
This is my 32nd annual session of the General Assembly and it shall be my last. Following ample consideration and pondering my professional responsibilities and commitments to family and friends, something had to give.
I am fortunate to have an active, eventful, productive and busy life. I thoroughly enjoy service to the citizens of the state, and yet I suddenly realized I am 74 years of age! Knowing we have no lease on life, and every day is God’s gift, should I have been re-elected to a new and final term in the Senate, I would be 79 years by the finish! I owe those years, God willing they come, to me and my family. Thus, I shall not be seeking a return to the capitol experience I have so dearly enjoyed.
I have three books to finish, all of which are well underway. In addition, Senator Bill Dotzler and I are co-authoring a book, primarily pictorial, of Iowa’s Meskwaki. Writing is my passion, and I hope to be able to take these responsibilities to completion. Add to this my Asian travels, spending time with family and friends, restoring unique furniture and a substantial amount of volunteerism towards natural resource protection and enhancement, and I shall still not be “retired.” Frankly, I fail to understand the meaning of that word, for there is too much to do.
It has been an honor beyond description to be a voice of the people in state government. I thank the citizens of Jasper and Polk counties for having faith in my ability to serve in what has been a joyful and humbling experience. I have always worked hard, taken the responsibilities very seriously and above all, done my best.
Senator Dennis Black
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.
UPDATE: Before I heard back from State Representative Joe Riding about his plans to seek re-election in the Iowa House, I sought comment on this scenario from Chance McElhaney, communications director for the Iowa Secretary of State’s office.
McElhaney clarified that candidates who have filed papers to appear on the primary ballot have until March 19 to withdraw from the race. So, someone who has filed to run for one office could file new papers to run for a different office, as long as that person submitted all new signatures on the petitions (specifying the new office to be sought) in time for the March 14 deadline and withdrew from the previous race by March 19.