How not to retire from the Iowa legislature

Most election years, at least one Iowa House or Senate incumbent reveals retirement plans shortly before the filing deadline. During the last midterm, three Iowa House incumbents gave their constituents only a day or two’s notice that they were not planning to run for re-election.

Qualifying for the ballot is relatively easy here; candidates can collect the 50 signatures needed for an Iowa House district or the 100 needed for a Senate district in a day. But deciding whether to run for the state legislature is not so simple. Common courtesy demands that incumbents give their constituents at least a few weeks, or preferably a few months, to talk things over with family and friends, weighing what would be involved in a campaign and part-time work as a lawmaker. Lots of politically active people might want to serve. Most would not challenge an incumbent in a primary, but the calculus is different for an open seat.

Longtime State Senator Dennis Black announced on March 10 that he would not run for re-election. Presumably some insiders had advance warning, but every other Democrat in Senate district 15 had at most three days to consider this race, plus one day to collect the signatures and drive petitions to Des Moines.

Longtime State Representative Roger Thomas officially announced his retirement in a press release that went out  at 4:50 pm on March 13, barely 24 hours before the filing deadline. He gave the scoop to local activists at the Winneshiek County Democratic convention on March 8, but that news would only reach a small circle of insiders. A wider audience didn’t learn of Thomas’ retirement until he informed the Decorah Newspapers on the morning of March 12. Democrats in House district 55 (covering parts of Winneshiek, Fayette, and Clayton counties) deserved more than five days to think about running for the legislature, collect signatures, and make the four-hour drive to Des Moines. Nothing against Rick Edwards of Decorah, who has stepped up to run, but others should have had more time to consider the opportunity Thomas created.

Note: Iowa House district 55 will likely be a very competitive race this November, and Senate district 15 may also be in play, but my feelings about last-minute retirements also apply to seats that are safe for one party.

Maintenance Notice - As of November 14, 2023 we are still seeing issues with replying to comments...Thanks for your patience, this will be restored.

  • ...or maybe it is how to retire, by wielding power

    One of the key weaknesses of liberals is the failure to grasp and use the power inherent in our political system. Just look at how Republicans have stifled the president’s agenda continuously since his inauguration, while they have been in the minority.

    Yes, situations like this stack the deck, and some may feel it is not fair when someone emerges to the nomination through an apparent cloak room deal. The idea that we should play nice has not been a part of the political spectrum in Iowa, or anywhere else.

    I haven’t been party to any of these deals, and have been frustrated by them. Nonetheless, we live in a free country, and an elected official can do what they want after public service, despite whatever scruples we try to lay down over their action.

    • hundreds or thousands

      of politically engaged people live in each Iowa House and Senate district. Lots of Iowa legislators have announced their retirements well in advance. I disagree that it is somehow a more effective use of political power to keep this kind of decision a secret until the last minute.

      • it worked well

        for Nate Willems when Ro Foege retired. The one candidate who filed in time to challenge Willems had obviously been thinking about it for a while, and could muster the signatures. His candidacy was sanded off in the woodshed of political power.

    • Obama stifled?

      Not as much as you may like to believe.  He shares a good deal of their agenda, from cutting social security, to covering up torture, to protecting Wall Street at our expense, to shipping even more jobs overseas with the TPP, to rattling the saber when the opportunity arises, to the Bush tax cuts, to the federal pay freeze, . . . the list is long.

      And to say elected officials are free to deceive their constituents is to tout a freedom we can do without.

  • Egomaniacs at work

    Thanks for writing about this but you weren’t nearly critical enough.  Just as it takes time to consider running for an unexpectedly open seat, so it took time to decide to retire.  By keeping everyone else in the dark, these egomaniacs show their disdain for democracy.

    I always suspect that some favored replacement candidate was warned and given time to get ready; that the retirees are trying to pick their own successor.  They lose all my respect when they act like this.  Good riddance to them.

  • I swear, this is

    …my last comment on this topic.

    We don’t have to agree, and I doubt many would be persuaded by the various arguments that have been advanced here and on other social media.

    I prefer to accept the reality of politics, that the whole story is rarely, if ever told, that political power exists, and people should use it.

    Maybe there is a scenario where people get a chance to thoughtfully consider a run for office. The difference between our views seems to be that you believe such a thing is possible, and I do not.

    Thanks for providing the platform for this discussion.

    • how is it not possible?

      Many Iowa lawmakers have announced their plans to retire months in advance.

      Tom Harkin gave people more than a year to think about running for his seat. You are basically saying he’s stupid and should have kept that decision secret from all but Bruce Braley until shortly before the filing deadline.