Panel clears Tony Bisignano to run in Iowa Senate district 17; court may have final say

Attorney General Tom Miller, Secretary of State Matt Schultz, and State Auditor Mary Mosiman decided unanimously that Tony Bisignano may run in the Democratic primary to represent Iowa Senate district 17 despite a recent drunk driving charge. Democratic rival Ned Chiodo had challenged Bisignano's candidacy, saying a second-offense OWI is an aggravated misdemeanor punishable by a prison sentence. Therefore, "long-established case law from the Iowa Supreme Court" place this charge among the "infamous crimes" that render citizens ineligible to vote or hold office under the Iowa Constitution. You can read the full text of Chiodo's challenge here (pdf).

Attorneys representing both sides presented their case to the three-member panel on Wednesday. Tipping his hand, Miller shared concerns expressed by Bisignano's lawyer that thousands of Iowans could lose their voting rights if Chiodo's challenge were upheld. In fact, Miller estimated that 35,000 to 50,000 people could become ineligible to vote under that standard.

Today Chiodo's attorney confirmed plans to appeal in Polk County District Court. The case may eventually reach the Iowa Supreme Court, as language in the state constitution and a 1994 law are in conflict. I don't see how the matter could be resolved before the June 3 primary, let alone before the Polk County Auditor's office will have to print primary ballots.

After the jump I've posted statements from Bisignano's campaign. The winner of the Democratic primary is virtually guaranteed to succeed Jack Hatch in Iowa Senate district 17. Republicans do not even have a candidate running in this heavily Democratic area of Des Moines.

I'm disappointed that Ned Chiodo is willing to sacrifice the voting rights of thousands of people in order to advance his political career. By the same token, I would prefer not to elect a repeat drunk driver to the legislature. Whether or not Bisignano's offense meets the legal definition of an "infamous crime," his behavior posed a danger to himself and others. If I lived in Senate district 17 I would vote for new blood in the Democratic caucus: Nathan Blake. The official announcement of his candidacy is at the end of this post.

Bisignano campaign statement from March 21:

Bisignano Eligibility Confirmed, Tens of Thousands of Iowans Retain Their Voting Rights

Tony is pleased by the decision of the three-person panel and looks forward to returning this campaign to one that focuses on the real issues affecting the hard-working families of Des Moines. The voters of Senate District 17 are much more interested in what Iowa can do to raise the minimum wage, expand quality education access to our children, and protect seniors living on fixed incomes.

Still, the potential consequences of Mr. Chiodo's actions must not be ignored. Mr. Chiodo put the voting rights of upwards of 50,000 Iowans at risk just to get a leg up in the race. His attorney even referred to the many voters who could lose their rights as "collateral damage." It should be clear by now that Mr. Chiodo cares more about his win-at-all costs strategy than actually standing up for the voters of the district or discussing the issues.

If Mr. Chiodo continues to pursue this course of legal action, that is his choice. But voters must be aware of the real consequences. If we are challenging anything in this race, we should be challenging Mr. Chiodo's right to call himself a Democrat, considering the massive voter suppression tactic he is pursuing.

Bisignano campaign statement from March 13, after Chiodo filed challenge:

"Two days ago Tony Bisignano filed to be a Democratic candidate on the ballot for Senate District 17. Tony is excited for the opportunity to once again represent the people of Des Moines in the State Senate. Our campaign was notified today of a challenge to Tony's eligibility by Ned Chiodo's campaign.

We spoke with the Attorney General's office some time ago about this issue. From that conversation, the Attorney General's office's view is that Tony is both an eligible voter and an eligible candidate. We believe this challenge is fully without merit and expect it to be dismissed.

Tony is running a campaign focused on improving the lives of the working people of Senate District 17. We are focused on talking directly to the voters about issues like raising the minimum wage, protecting seniors, and helping reduce student loan debt. If other campaigns want to run a race in a Democratic primary that focuses on questioning voters' eligibility to vote, that is their choice."

Iowa Senate Democrats press release, March 21 (don't know why it came out today--he filed before the March 14 deadline):

Latino attorney Nathan Blake launches historic campaign for Senate District 17

DES MOINES - Des Moines attorney Nathan Blake has filed paperwork with the Iowa Secretary of State to run for the State Senate in District 17, which includes most of the South Side, downtown, Easter Lake, and Sherman Hill neighborhoods in Des Moines.

"I'm running as a Democratic candidate for the Iowa State Senate because I believe that Iowa is the best place in the country to live, work, and raise a family," said Blake. "I want my kids to grow up in a state that continues to offer great education, promising job opportunities, and an unrivaled quality of life. More than that, I want to see every child in Iowa enjoy that same future."

Blake would be the first Latino to serve in the Iowa legislature. Nearly six percent of Iowa's population is Latino. The Latino community is the largest and fastest-growing minority group in the state.

Nathan serves on the Polk County Democratic Central Committee, the board of Al Éxito, and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Local 307. He was also a member of the Iowa Commission on Latino Affairs from 2005 to 2008, where he helped establish state standards for foreign language interpretation.

Blake is as an Assistant Iowa Attorney General in the Consumer Protection Division. Before working for the Iowa Department of Justice, Nathan served under Secretary Tom Vilsack at the United States Department of Agriculture in the Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services agency.

The son of two teachers, Nathan graduated from Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, before earning a law degree and a Masters in Ethics from Yale University. Nathan is married to his high school sweetheart, Andrea, who is a nurse practitioner in hospice care. They have a three-year-old daughter, a one-year-old son, and an energetic golden retriever.

"We need fresh progressive voices in Iowa politics," Blake concluded. "We need more clear-sighted and courageous people engaged in the process. This campaign is about all of us coming together, investing in our future, and making sure our government works for us-not special interests. I invite anyone with an idea, a concern, or a question to contact me anytime at or (515) 344-4442.

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