Iowa Senate district 49 preview: Patti Robinson vs. Chris Cournoyer

When Fred Hubbell selected State Senator Rita Hart as his running mate, Democrats had to scramble to find a new candidate in Iowa Senate district 49. Patti Robinson announced her candidacy on July 3. She will face Republican Chris Cournoyer, who has been campaigning here since last November.

Hart was favored for re-election, having won by nearly 900 votes in 2014 despite the statewide GOP landslide. However, an open seat should be highly competitive. Both parties may devote hundreds of thousands of dollars to this race, based on spending totals from the battleground Iowa Senate districts during the 2016 cycle.

Democrats are looking at a difficult state Senate map this year and can’t afford to lose any ground to maintain a realistic chance of regaining the majority in 2020. Republicans currently hold 29 of the 50 Senate seats and will pick up Senate district 1, where Iowa’s only independent lawmaker David Johnson is retiring.

Senate district 49 covers Clinton County and parts of northern and eastern Scott County:

The latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office show that the precincts in Senate district 49 contain 11,668 active registered Democrats, 11,000 Republicans, and 17,281 no-party voters. Both parties had a little jump in affiliations as independents switched in order to cast ballots in the recent primary election. But the proportion was little changed from the beginning of June, when Senate district 49 had 11,468 active Democrats, 10,707 Republicans, and 17,696 no-party voters.

Much of eastern Iowa swung dramatically to Republicans in 2016. Even before then, Democrats saw some erosion in mid-size, largely working class counties like Clinton. This Daily Kos Elections spreadsheet shows voters in Senate district 49 favored Barack Obama over Mitt Romney by 57.4 percent to 41.3 in 2012. Two years later, U.S. Senate candidate Joni Ernst carried the district by 50.1 percent to 45.7 percent for Democrat Bruce Braley. In the last general election, Donald Trump outpolled Hillary Clinton here by 51.7 percent to 42.0 percent.

On the other hand, Democratic voters appear to be more highly engaged this year than in the last two midterms, thanks to Republicans pursuing extreme policies at the federal and state levels. Robinson’s campaign announcement said she wants to “change the priorities in the legislature and get the focus back on solving problems for real people.” Her work background indicates Medicaid will be a major issue. Excerpts from the July 3 news release:

“It’s time for our state leaders to focus more time and energy on helping improve Iowans’ everyday lives and giving them more opportunities to get ahead,” Robinson said. “This means focusing on better paying jobs, a great education, and making health care affordable for all Iowans.”

“I have seen the impact on real families of the Medicaid privatization debacle that came from Des Moines. It’s time to change the culture in the Legislature,” she added. “I can no longer sit on the sidelines while the people I have spent my career working for are suffering. Iowans need leaders who care and who will focus on improving people’s lives.”

An Iowa native, Robinson grew up on a family farm with her parents and two sisters and one brother. Her parents still live on the family farm.

She received an Associate’s Degree from Ellsworth Community College in Human Services. After working as a live-in supervisor in a group home for persons with intellectual disabilities, as a middle school and high school special education associate, and as an associate working with K-1 special education students in the Clinton School District, she returned to school to earn her Bachelor’s degree from Augustana College in Speech Therapy.

She was a Medicaid Case Manager for Clinton County before being promoted to be Director of the program in 1998. The program was closed in 2017 because of the unilateral decision by the Governor to privatize the Medicaid program in Iowa.

Robinson currently works at the local Salvation Army, building its Pathway of Hope case management program, which helps people who are struggling to make ends meet, get back on their feet or make improvements in their lives.

Robinson is a member of the YWCA Board of Directors in Clinton, and she has been active in efforts to improve services for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.

Robinson’s husband, Dr. Jack Robinson III, is Executive Director at Skyline Center in Clinton, which provides services to individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities so they can live and work in the community. They have been married for 33 years. Patti has one son with Jack and she has two stepchildren along with six grandchildren.

You can follow Robinson’s campaign on Facebook. I haven’t seen a website or Twitter account yet. Her news release welcomed voters to contact her by phone at (563) 503-6463 or e-mail pattirobinsonforiowa AT gmail.com. UPDATE: She’s on Twitter at Robinson4Iowa.

Robinson won’t officially be the Democratic candidate until next week. Although State Representative Mary Wolfe confirmed on July 3 she will seek re-election to the Iowa House, other candidates may seek the nomination for Hart’s Senate seat at the special district convention set for July 9. That said, it would be an extreme long-shot for anyone to beat the party recruit. The only time I remember that happening was in December 2012, when Todd Prichard convinced locals to nominate him instead of outgoing State Representative Brian Quirk’s preferred candidate in House district 52. UPDATE: The convention nominated Robinson on July 9.

As mentioned above, Cournoyer has been running for the legislature since late last year. She’s won multiple school board races and raised quite a bit of money for a first-time state Senate candidate: $20,497.50 in 2017 (all from individuals), $20,020.60 from January through mid-May (again, all from individuals), and another $1,035.00 from donors between May 15 and 29. Her campaign has a website as well as a Facebook page and Twitter account.

Excerpts from Cournoyer’s official bio:

Family:

Chris is married to Kurt Cournoyer. They have four children: Bennett, Sydney, and twins Tanner and Chase.

Education:

Chris has a Bachelor of Arts in Computer Science from the University of Texas (1992).

Job History:

Chris served as Senior Consultant in the Technology Division at Andersen Consulting, serving in the Ecommerce Community of Practice. Currently, Chris is a self-employed website designer and developer.

Volunteer Experience:

Current President of the Pleasant Valley School Board
Reserve Deputy, Scott County Sheriff’s Department, 2016 – Present
Junior League of the Quad Cities, Advocacy Committee and Social Media Chair
Appointed by Governor Terry Branstad to the Southeast Iowa STEM Advisory Board to promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Math in our region and across the state, 2014 – Present
Member, North Scott Rotary Club, Group Study Exchange Participant to Bavaria, Germany in 1996
Cub Scout Pack 88 Den Leader; Executive Board Member 2004-2006
President, Quad City Engineering & Science Council 2016-Present, Executive Board, Communications Chair 2014-Present
LeClaire Community Library President: Friends of the LeClaire Community Library 2011-Present and Board Member/Secretary: 2004-2006
Mentor for Iowa Girls Code, a team of PVHS girls interested in Computer Science, 2016-17; facilitated “Hour of Code” for over 500 elementary students to learn about computer programming
Helped organize the PV Trapshooting team in 2014
Coach for the First Lego League (FLL) Robotics, 2010-2012
Pleasant Valley Junior High School: PTA President 2012-2014
LeClaire Chamber of Commerce Board Member, Secretary, Membership Chairperson, Newsletter Committee, Outstanding Volunteer Award – 2005; Outstanding Recruitment Award – 2004 and 2005; Webmaster through 2013
Volunteer Basketball, baseball and soccer coach

Final note: Senate district 49 is among four state Senate races where both Democrats and Republicans will have a woman on the ballot in November. The others are:

• Senate district 25 (Democrat Tracy Freese is challenging GOP incumbent Annette Sweeney)
• Senate district 27 (Republican Shannon Latham is challenging Senate Minority Whip Amanda Ragan)
• Senate district 41 (an open seat where Democrat Mary Stewart faces Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks)

Top image: Patti Robinson (left) and Chris Cournoyer.

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