Iowa House district 39 preview: Jake Highfill vs. Maridith Morris

Iowa House district 39, covering much of northwest Polk County, is represented by the youngest current member of the state legislature. Republican Jake Highfill pulled off a shocking upset in his 2012 primary against then House Majority Whip Erik Helland. He was the only successful one of a dozen primary challengers to sitting Iowa House Republicans that year. Highfill benefited from some blunders by Helland and some help from fellow supporters of Ron Paul’s presidential bid as well as former State Representative Walt Tomenga, whom Helland had beaten in the 2008 GOP primary. Highfill beat Democrat Kelsey Clark in the 2012 general election and Tom Leffler in 2014, but underperformed the top of his party’s ticket both years.

A new Democratic challenger to Highfill emerged last week. Maridith Morris is a nurse at Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines. She is also a personal friend (not through Democratic Party politics), and I can vouch for her commitment to helping others, in volunteer capacities as well as through her vocation.

I enclose below a district map and background on Highfill and Morris. House district 39 leans Republican, with 5,863 active registered Democrats, 9,291 Republicans, and 8,206 no-party voters according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. (Those numbers do not include voters who changed party affiliation on February 1 to participate in the Iowa caucuses.) Mitt Romney outpolled President Barack Obama among voters in this district by 55.76 percent to 43.02 percent in 2012, and Joni Ernst had nearly a 20-point margin over Bruce Braley here in the 2014 U.S. Senate race.

While the district is a long-shot for a Democrat, Highfill is weaker than the average GOP statehouse incumbent. He chairs the relatively insignificant International Relations Committee, which has met only once this session and does not appear to have any legislation pending. Quite a few House Republicans from the 2012 cohort and even a few colleagues serving their first terms have better committee assignments than Highfill.

Last year, when then House Speaker Kraig Paulsen needed to yank one opponent of raising the gasoline tax off the Ways and Means committee, he picked Highfill. This year, Highfill was assigned to the Appropriations, Education, State Government, Local Government, and Government Oversight committees as well as International Relations. He has not floor-managed any significant bills, to my knowledge.

In a sense, Highfill is fortunate to remain in the legislature. He drew two primary challengers in 2014, which allowed him to win the GOP nomination despite gaining less than 50 percent of the vote. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Republican with more stature run here this year, though at this writing I am not aware of any rival GOP candidate in House district 39.

Highfill’s campaign raised $16,990 last year, about half from individuals and the rest from political action committees that give to numerous legislative incumbents. His campaign spent $12,670.17, mostly on a $10,000 contribution to the state party. He entered the election year with $13,283.48 cash on hand and $6,100 in outstanding loans–not a lot to fend off a primary challenge, if one materializes. Assuming Highfill wins the GOP nomination again, House leaders could chip in more funds if they felt he were in trouble during the general election campaign.

Any comments related to the House district 39 race or either candidate are welcome in this thread. I found it strange that a 2012 Ron Paul supporter Highfill endorsed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie before this year’s Iowa caucuses. But some big movers and shakers in Iowa Republican politics were supporting Christie, including Gary Kirke, one of Highfill’s larger individual donors.

House district 39 covers Grimes, Johnston, and some other areas in northwest Polk County:

Iowa House district 39 photo IowaHD39_zpszqvo7rjm.jpg

Excerpt from Highfill’s official bio on the Iowa House Republicans website:

Jake is a 2008 graduate of Johnston High School where he was known for his outstanding service to the school and community. While balancing work and athletics, Jake worked at Hy-Vee since he was 14 in various roles, including management. He has also worked at Acceleration Iowa as a sports performance coach for children and young adults. Jake attended the University of Iowa where he majored in Business and minored in Exercise Science.

Jake is the son of Brent, president of a Hy-Vee subsidiary and Assistant Vice President of Hy-Vee, and Renee, a certified pharmaceutical technician. He has one sister, Kara, a Johnston High graduate who attends the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Chris Christie for president press release, December 22:

Representative Jake Highfill joins Speaker of the House Kraig Paulsen and Representatives Baltimore, Carlson, Deyoe, and Mommsen on Christie’s Iowa Leadership Team

MORRISTOWN, NJ – Today, Iowa State Representative Jake Highfill joined Christie’s growing Iowa Leadership. Representative Highfill praised Governor Christie’s willingness to answer the tough questions and his strong leadership in uncertain times.

“As we prepare to cross into 2016, Iowans are in a unique position to choose who in the field of Republican candidates for President is the most experienced, the most tested, and the most ready to lead on day one. Like most Iowans, I have met with many of the Republican candidates that are vying to become our Commander-in-Chief,” said Representative Highfill. “Governor Christie has proven to me, and the Iowans that he has met along the way that he is willing to answer the tough questions and take on the difficult decisions that lay ahead. It is clear to me that Governor Chris Christie’s integrity and deep love for our country make him the best candidate to steer our country through these tumultuous times. Governor Christie’s executive experience and proven track record of conservative reforms prove that he is up for the challenge to lead our party and our nation in 2016. I am caucusing for Governor Christie because I believe that he shares the values that Iowans hold so dearly and I urge all Iowans to join me in supporting him in 2016.”

Representative Highfill represents House District 39 in north west Polk County, which includes Johnston, Grimes, and parts of Urbandale. He is in his second term in the Iowa House of Representatives and serves on the Education, Government Oversight, Local Government and State Government Committees.

Highfill is a graduate of the University of Iowa and currently works in commercial real estate in Johnston.

View Christie’s full Iowa leadership team here.

Iowa House Democrats press release, February 12:

Maridith Morris, Johnston Nurse Announces Run for State Representative

Johnston, IA – Today, local nurse Maridith Morris announced that she will run for State Representative in House District 39, which includes parts of Johnston and Grimes.

“I’m running for the Iowa House of Representatives to be a champion for children, working families, and women,” said Maridith Morris. “Our current lawmakers refuse to challenge the party line and jeopardize Iowa schools by delaying the release of budgets and underfunding schools.”

Maridith Morris was raised in central Iowa, and has defined her life by the Iowa values of hard work, education and service to others. She’s been working since she was 15, starting at a small town nursing home. After having her first child at 19, she kept pursuing higher education to expand her career opportunities and strengthen her potential to contribute to the world.

“I’m not a politician, I’m just a regular Iowan. Iowans deserve to have their voice heard in the capitol building,” said Maridith. “The legislature should be a place where Iowans come together to work on the issues impacting our state like educating our children for the jobs of the 21st century economy, providing mental health services to the vulnerable, and creating a business climate that allows both small business owners and employees to thrive. Not a place where a party line divides.”

Residing in Johnston with her husband Jeff, a hospital physician at Mercy Medical Center, and her three children. Maridith works at Mercy Medical Center as a Registered Nurse in the role of International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. She also works under contract for the Polk County Sexual Assault Response Team as an adult and pediatric Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE).

  • Personality Politics

    Having spent a limited amount of time working around the House, there’s little more I want in 2016 than to keep Jake Highfill out of the majority, and even better, out of the legislature. Not to devolve to name calling, but anyone that works with him will tell you he’s abrasive, rude, and generally a jerk. Replacing him with someone that literally has dedicated her life to taking care of others would be a very nice change. It’s a tough district, but after having met Maridith (albeit very briefly) I hope that residents of Johnston will be more amenable to her, as I’m already sold.

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