A three-way Democratic primary is shaping up in what should be one of next year's most competitive Iowa Senate races.
Kevin Warth announced his candidacy on September 4, joining a field that also includes Tom Courtney and Rex Troute.
Bleeding Heartland previously covered the political landscape and recent voting history of Senate district 44. I enclose below a map of this southeast Iowa district.
Warth is a first-time candidate who grew up in rural Mediapolis (Des Moines County) and farms with his brother on the family's land. He studied at the University of Iowa and received a bachelor's degree in political science from Arizona State University.
Having represented the Burlington area in the state Senate for twelve years, Courtney starts the race with a big advantage in name ID and campaign experience. But Warth said in his news release, “I’m running for the Iowa Senate because it’s time to turn the page. We need new leadership that is solution oriented and turns away from the partisanship that has come to dominate our political discourse."
Warth's priorities would be:
Increasing the state’s investment in public K-12 schools, especially in small towns and rural areas. Empowering Iowa’s teachers in both the classroom and at the bargaining table. Maintaining affordability and fostering greater access at trade schools and two-year institutions like Southeastern Community College and Muscatine Community College so workers can get the training and apprenticeships they need for today’s jobs. Access to affordable health care for all Iowans, including mental health services and women’s health services.
“I’m running because I believe unbridled partisanship has become corrosive to our state, because bumper sticker politics are a poor substitute for honest dialogue, because respectful disagreement and meaningful conversation allow for compromise, and with it progress, instead of paralysis and gridlock,” Warth said. “When my dad taught me how to drive, he taught me to look to the horizon. Iowans have traditionally looked toward the horizon and left our state better for the next generation. We need legislators who are committed to working together for all Iowans, who are committed to looking toward the horizon, and to leaving Iowa better for future generations. To that end we must set aside yesterday’s hurts and grievances and with clear eyes focus on today’s challenges. It is what our fathers and grandfathers expect of us; it is what our children and grandchildren deserve from us.”
Warth is encouraging Iowans with concerns or ideas to contact him at email@example.com. He answered Bleeding Heartland's follow-up questions via e-mail on September 5.
What would be his pitch to Democrats for nominating him instead of Courtney?
I’ve known Tom for about three years and my wife Sara—who used to work with Tom when she was a nurse at the Case plant in Burlington—has known much Tom longer. I know Tom, Tom’s a good guy, and both Sara and I like Tom. While Tom’s experience is certainly not a minus, I don’t see it as a game changing plus either. Change is inevitable and the Iowa Senate that Tom was a part of no longer exists; senators have come and gone and leadership has changed.
There are two hundred and seventy-one days until the primary. Between here and there I plan on meeting as many people in this district as I can, genuinely listening to their concerns, and making my best pitch. The Democratic Party needs to grow instead of following the example being set by the current Republican leadership, which is to rally and excite an ever-narrowing base holding an ever-narrowing political dogma. Our frustration as Democrats—no matter how great it may be—should never cloud our judgment, or worse, become an excuse to build a wall between ourselves and fellow Iowans we may happen to disagree with. I’m comfortable making that argument and believe that I’m well positioned to claw back some votes in lost in this district in 2016.
If I win the primary, I have every confidence that Tom will knock doors and work his tail off for me and I’m pretty sure that he knows I will do the same for him if he wins. This race isn’t about either of us, it’s about the people of southeast Iowa and they get to decide who will best represent them in Des Moines.
How would Warth approach the job differently from his Democratic competitors? "It's not my place to predict how Tom or Rex either one would approach the job, they will make their case and their campaigns will unfold just as I will make my case and my campaign will unfold."
Warth added that if elected, one of his first tasks would be "to forge relationships" with other lawmakers, regardless of party affiliation.
I have friends whose beliefs are all over the political spectrum yet they are my friends and I don’t need to sit in judgment on them, it’s not my place. Abstaining from passing judgment on my friends and fellow Iowans doesn’t mean that I have to compromise my principles or soften my positions and stated goals. As Dr. King said, “we don’t have to be disagreeable to disagree.” I believe that.
Warth confirmed that he supports restoring state funding to Planned Parenthood. That organization closed its clinics in Burlington and Keokuk (located in Iowa Senate district 42) in 2017, shortly after Republicans cut off state funding for family planning, STD testing, well-woman care, and other non-abortion services. "The negative effects of those cuts are already becoming apparent in the increased occurrence of STDs in southeast Iowa," Warth told me.
How else does he envision improving access to health care in the area?
Firstly, while we may disagree on the best way to get there, ensuring access to affordable health care, including mental health and women's health services should be everyone’s goal and not a point of partisan bickering. Beyond that—and to be honest—it's one thing to have a good compass, it is another to have a good road map. I believe these goals are achievable, though I’m under no illusion as to how difficult that will be.
As I noted earlier, this campaign is evolving and will continue to unfold. Part of the process of this evolving campaign will involve hearing from health care providers and administrators. There may be a little more I could say here but, respectfully, 271 days is a ways out and there will be a long arc to this campaign.
Though the Burlington area voted strongly Democratic for decades, the winner of next June's primary will have to battle to regain Senate district 44, where voters favored Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by a ten-point margin. On the plus side, Fred Hubbell received more votes for governor in this district last year than Kim Reynolds did, which wasn't true for most Iowa legislative districts Trump carried.
Republican State Senator Thomas Greene, who defeated Courtney in the biggest Iowa legislative upset of 2016, has not yet clarified whether he will seek a second term in 2020.