Lazy Beltway journalism: Pat Grassley, Matt Schultz among "40 under 40"

I wouldn’t pretend to know who the rising political stars are in all 50 states, but the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake published a 40 Under 40 feature this week, purporting to identify “people who have made names for themselves in politics outside of Washington, D.C. – state-level politicians, mayors, local officials and operatives – but could soon be known to all of us.”

I strongly disagree with whoever influenced Blake’s Iowa selections (State Representative Pat Grassley and Secretary of State Matt Schultz). After the jump I explain why, as well as which Iowans would make the cut for a more accurate “40 Under 40” list.

Pat Grassley hardly “made a name for himself.” I think we all know he would not have been elected to the legislature in his early 20s if not for sharing a surname with his grandfather, U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley. Still, he is finishing up his fourth term in the Iowa House and currently chairs the Agriculture Committee, having previously led the Economic Growth Committee. It’s an impressive resume for a young guy. Also, Grassley won a tough 2012 Republican primary against the hard-working and well-connected previous chair of the Iowa House Agriculture Committee, Annette Sweeney.

In the “40 Under 40” feature, Blake says Grassley “is seen by many as a potential successor to his popular grandpa.” That is presumably his ambition, and most Iowa politics-watchers would expect him to run for U.S. Senate if Chuck Grassley retired. In fact, a popular rumor last year was that Grassley urged Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey to run for Tom Harkin’s Senate seat in order to clear a path for Pat Grassley to move up to statewide office, ahead of a Senate bid sometime in the future.

But the younger Grassley is in no way a guy who could clear the GOP field in a Senate primary. He’s not even the most upwardly-mobile Iowa House Republican under age 40. Matt Windschitl, first elected to the legislature the same year as Grassley, and at roughly the same age, became an assistant majority leader way back in 2011 and just moved up to Speaker Pro-Tem. Jarad Klein, first elected to the Iowa House in 2010, is only in his early 30s and already an assistant majority leader. I would also have included House Majority Whip Chris Hagenow, but it turns out he has already celebrated his 40th birthday.

Another young Iowa House Republican who may go far someday is three-term State Representative Peter Cownie. Like Grassley, he got a boost in politics from a well-known (in central Iowa, anyway) surname. Since Republicans regained the Iowa House majority, Cownie has chaired the State Government Committee and the Commerce Committee. During the time in 2013 when many expected Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen to run for Congress in the open first district, Cownie’s name was circulated as an alternative to Linda Upmeyer as the next speaker.

As for Secretary of State Schultz, Blake inexplicably writes,

Schultz, who is both an Eagle Scout and a Mormon, faces a crowded primary field [in IA-03] and must win a swing district in the general election, so there are no guarantees. But he is ambitious. He has climbed the political ladder rather quickly to begin his career, and there should be opportunities to continue that climb in the years ahead.

Schultz is ambitious, I’ll give him that. Pushing a false narrative about voter fraud as a big problem in Iowa, he won his first statewide primary by a convincing margin before narrowly defeating an incumbent in the 2010 landslide. It’s notable that many Republican county auditors, including the one in Schultz’s home county, endorsed Democratic Secretary of State Michael Mauro in that race.

Schultz may have “climbed the political ladder rather quickly,” but I don’t see these so-called “opportunities to continue that climb in the years ahead.” I think we are witnessing the twilight of his political career. The Republican base may believe, in the absence of evidence, that voter fraud is a big problem in Iowa. They may even overlook the possible misuse of federal funds designed to facilitate voting. But I doubt they will tolerate Schultz letting political appointees collect salaries for months while doing no work for the state. Assuming the third Congressional district nomination is decided at a special convention, I believe others in the six-man field will be more appealing to delegates than Schultz. Especially since Governor Terry Branstad loyalists reportedly are well-represented at the district convention level. The worst-kept secret in Iowa politics is that Branstad and Schultz do not have high regard for one another.

Even if Schultz were to become the Republican nominee in IA-03, he would be a relatively weak opponent for Staci Appel in the general.

In fairness to Blake, it’s not always easy to distinguish rising stars. A year ago most Iowa politics-watchers would have put Tyler Olson on a “40 Under 40” list.

If I had to choose a handful of Iowa politicians who could someday be known to a much wider audience, the top Republican contenders would probably be State Representative Windschitl, State Senator Amy Sinclair, and Governor Branstad’s legal counsel Brenna Findley. I’m sure we haven’t heard the last from Findley, a former chief of staff to Representative Steve King who raised quite a bit of money for her 2010 attorney general campaign, and got lots of support from the GOP establishment. Findley has influenced state policy in her current position too and would probably run for attorney general in 2018 if Tom Miller retires. UPDATE: Should also have mentioned that Findley was recently elected to the Republican Party of Iowa’s State Central Committee. I would have included Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson, but he’s a little past 40.

My Iowa Democratic contenders for a “40 Under 40” list would include State Representatives Chris Hall, Kirsten Running-Marquardt, and Dan Lundby. I would have added Anesa Kajtazovic, but I think she left the Iowa House to run for Congress too soon and has a slim chance in the five-way IA-01 primary.

UPDATE: I did not include Brad Anderson, who ran Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign in Iowa and is now the Democratic candidate for secretary of state, because for some reason I thought he was already 40 years old. But he just squeaks in under the wire at 39. Anderson definitely should be on this list.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

SECOND UPDATE: Bleeding Heartland reader Scott Saunders commented that Pat Grassley and Matt Schultz may have been included not because of “the power or positions they hold,” but because of “connections to Washington, or the vast pool of money coming from Washington.” That’s a good point. A lot of Washington money flowed to Grassley’s 2012 GOP primary campaign against Annette Sweeney, and Schultz has the backing of some DC-based groups like Freedom Works and the Senate Conservatives Fund.

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