Governor Kim Reynolds, the state legislature, and Iowa Supreme Court rulings inspired the majority of Bleeding Heartland’s most-read posts from this year.
This list draws from Google Analytics data about total views for 570 posts published from January 1 through December 29. I wrote 212 of those articles and commentaries; other authors wrote 358. I left out the site’s front page and the “about” page, where many people landed following online searches.
In general, Bleeding Heartland’s traffic was higher this year than in 2021, though not quite as high as during the pandemic-fueled surge of 2020. So about three dozen posts that would have ranked among last year’s most-viewed didn’t make the cut for this post. Some honorable mentions from that group:
- Iowa Supreme Court takes swipe at Finkenauer for bashing judge (missed by only a few dozen views)
- Unlike Whitver, Miller-Meeks put herself in legal jeopardy
- Iowa governor not even close to keeping one 2018 campaign promise
- GOP senator admits vouchers could pay for wealthy Iowans’ college
- Five things not to do when running for office (my take on the controversy involving Mike Franken and his former campaign manager)
- GOP senator admits vouchers could pay for wealthy Iowans’ college
- Iowa governor not even close to keeping one 2018 campaign promise
- Unlike Whitver, Miller-Meeks put herself in legal jeopardy
Moving on to the countdown…
I watched all of the televised hearings of the House Select Committee on January 6, but I didn’t write about them unless I felt I had a good Iowa angle.
In June, a few weeks after Reynolds eagerly received Trump’s formal endorsement for her re-election bid, former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson provided explosive new details about what Trump’s inner circle knew about the potential for violence on January 6. Some reporters asked the governor whether she’d been following the hearings.
Reynolds replied, “That’s all speculation. I’m not paying any attention to that.” She added that Iowans should be concerned about inflation, gas prices, a baby formula shortage, and President Joe Biden’s immigration policies.
I couldn’t let that pass without comment—especially since Reynolds had tried to finesse this issue in January 2021 by condemning the violent attack while giving Trump a pass.
LGBTQ marriage equality has been one of the most exciting stories I’ve covered since I started writing about Iowa politics in the late 2000s. So when the U.S. Senate approved the Respect for Marriage Act in November, I wanted to do more than a quick hit about how the Iowans voted.
I didn’t expect Senator Joni Ernst to support the bill, which isn’t perfect but will serve as a backstop against future efforts to ban same-sex marriage in red states. Ernst wasn’t one of the GOP negotiators on the compromise language, and she’s hardly an LGBTQ ally. On the contrary: as a member of the Iowa Senate in 2013, Ernst co-sponsored a state constitutional amendment that would have declared, “Marriage between one man and one woman shall be the only legal union valid or recognized” in Iowa.
I would guess political calculations played a part in the senator’s change of heart. She will be up for re-election in 2026 and could potentially seek several more terms in office. Opposing the Respect for Marriage Act could be embarrassing years from now, as public opinion solidifies in favor of marriage rights.
A separate post about the same bill, Grassley rewrites history on marriage equality stance, was among my website’s 40 most-viewed posts of the year.
I had planned to follow the governor’s race closely this year. But I severely fractured my ankle in January, right after publishing a deep dive on campaign finance reports filed by Kim Reynolds and the presumptive Democratic nominee, Deidre DeJear. Although I tried to stay on top of major developments over the spring and summer, I didn’t manage to cover this race the way I reported on the last three Iowa gubernatorial campaigns.
So I felt I owed it to my readers to write something substantial about the only Reynolds/DeJear debate. (The governor agreed to just one debate this year, rather than the traditional three.)
Many posts get traffic for a few days, then largely drop off the map. But this piece steadily picked up views through election day.
One unfortunate fact: unlike what happened in 2018, no one on the debate panel asked Reynolds whether she would commit to regular press conferences if re-elected. And at this writing, she still hasn’t held a press conference since July.
I rarely write up internal polls, but I made an exception in July, because there had been so little public polling on Iowa’s most important elections. Mike Franken’s campaign released partial results from a survey by Change Research, which showed Senator Chuck Grassley ahead by single digits, with a re-elect number below 50 percent. Grassley’s campaign hadn’t released any internal numbers.
A few days after I wrote this piece, the Des Moines Register published a new Iowa Poll by Selzer & Co, showing Grassley leading Franken by 47 percent to 39 percent. The senator ended up winning by about 12 points.
Every year, at least one surprise is lurking for me in this compilation. Here it is for 2022.
At a low point following my ankle fracture, I’d missed the news in February that a U.S. Department of Interior task force had suggested possible new names for hundreds of geographic features using the word “squaw.” So when I saw in early September that the federal government had finalized new names for six Iowa creeks, I thought it was worth flagging for my readers.
I don’t have a good hypothesis for why this short post took off. It may be because few (if any) other Iowa news organizations covered the story.
Quite a few Iowa House Republicans opted to retire during the 2016, 2018, and 2020 election cycles. Many long-serving Democratic lawmakers hung on, since there seemed to be a realistic hope the party would win the majority in 2018 or 2020.
By early 2022, any hope of a Democratic-controlled state House was gone. Not only did Republicans have a 60-40 majority, the redistricting plan created fewer than ten strong pickup opportunities for Democrats.
When I wrote this post in February, about 40 percent of the House Democratic caucus had already confirmed they would not seek re-election to the chamber. This piece reviewed the political landscape in the districts where Democrats were retiring. Most were solid blue, but a few were competitive or likely to flip.
Democrats lost more ground in the state House last month. When the legislature reconvenes in January, Republicans will hold 64 of the 100 seats.
Bleeding Heartland readers consistently value good commentaries about threats to public education in Iowa. One recent example was this piece by Randy Evans. He has given me permission to publish any of the weekly columns he distributes to various Iowa newspapers. This one came out in April, when the governor was making a big push to get House Republicans on board with her school voucher plan. Randy delivered a call to action:
Taxpayers need to make it clear to House lawmakers that state tax money should be used only for our public schools, not for private schools — especially since private schools are not subject to the same citizen accountability and oversight requirements that public-school districts must live with. […]
We would howl in protest if the legislature proposed handing state tax money to a private group to build a swimming pool or a golf course that only the group’s members could use. Likewise, we would rise in opposition if a lawmaker proposed that certain people could divert a portion of their state income taxes or local property taxes to pay for a private security service to provide protection at their home.
The push to get vouchers through the Iowa House promises to be one of the most fascinating storylines of the 2023 legislative session.
In my “past life” covering Russian elections, I often analyzed the scripts and images of political commercials. Ten or twelve years ago, I used to write more posts like that for Bleeding Heartland. I’ve moved away from election coverage centered on a single campaign ad, but every once in a while, I see a spot that demands my attention. So it was with the second Kim Reynolds television commercial, which went up in late September.
Many others noticed the racist tropes as well, but I believe I was the first to publish a full-length column with that frame. A week later, I wrote a separate piece on this racist commercial after noticing yet another angle I’d failed to see initially.
My commentary on the last Reynolds ad to air before the election, Not all Iowans welcome in Kim Reynolds’ field of dreams, was among the 40 most-viewed Bleeding Heartland posts of the year.
Four days before the November election, I was doing triage, trying to figure out which campaign-related posts I had some prayer of finishing by Tuesday. But I set them all aside after getting a tip late Friday afternoon. Supposedly the Des Moines Register’s plant was printing a series of political mailings styled as newspapers, which had been flooding Illinois voters’ mailboxes.
The Register’s executive editor Carol Hunter replied promptly to my inquiry. Journalist and media critic Dan Froomkin was also quick to respond when I sought his reaction: “The image of real news and fake news coming off literally the same presses—presses owned by a legitimate news organization—is horrifying.”
I was anxious to get this story out as soon as possible, so I published on a Saturday afternoon. Twitter isn’t normally my largest source of traffic, but it was for this piece, thanks to hundreds of re-tweets from people in the journalism community who found it through my feed or Froomkin’s.
I love legislative intrigue and was thrilled when a rare bit of drama played out on the Iowa House floor on my birthday in March.
Legislative leaders typically don’t bring any bill up for debate unless they know ahead of time they have the votes to pass it. But House Speaker Pat Grassley either counted wrong or overestimated his ability to persuade reluctant members of his caucus. So a priority bill went down to defeat on the House floor.
A mash-up of two or more controversial proposals is sometimes called a “Frankenstein bill,” hence the title of my post.
Before adjourning in May, the House and Senate approved a version of one part of the Frankenstein bill, banning schools, universities, or day cares from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations. The other part of the package, which would limit trucking companies’ liability and cap damages for crash victims, did not pass during the 2022 session. I expect the governor and legislative leaders to make a big push for “tort reform” (covering medical malpractice as well as the trucking industry) in 2023.
August tends to be a slow month for website traffic, but that wasn’t the case for this piece by Randy Evans. His commentary focused on two Iowans who received six-figure settlements from local authorities after being wrongly jailed. (Trish Mehaffey of the Cedar Rapids Gazette and Kelby Wingert of the Fort Dodge Messenger reported on those cases in more detail.)
Randy commented, “No one suggests officers should not have thoroughly investigated the allegations against [Anthony] Watson and [Jennifer] Pritchard. But two people with jobs were locked up for weeks, depriving them of their freedom—while officers tried to assemble evidence to prove the suspicions and allegations. That verification should occur before people are jailed.”
I’m always happy when a first-time author’s work catches fire.
Sandy Peterson sent me a couple of letters to the editor about the governor. They were very short, which is often a good tactic for getting a letter published in a newspaper. But I don’t have the same word limits as most newspapers. In fact, I prefer to publish material that’s at least a few hundred words long. So I combined the separate points Sandy made into one piece. This one seemed to particularly resonate with users of the NewsBreak App.
Readers were deeply moved by another writer’s Bleeding Heartland debut. Zach Elias grew up in Bettendorf but lives nearly a thousand miles away from Iowa now. In part that’s because of what he witnessed at a Donald Trump rally in Dubuque shortly before the 2020 election. The crowd’s reaction was even more troubling than what Trump said.
It was beyond our disagreement about taxes, abortion, health care, or any other policy disagreement you could imagine. They did not want me in my state. They didn’t want me around. I thought we were disagreeing about ideas, not about my existence.
Zach urged Iowans to help restore “the pluralism that once defined our great state.”
For months, I’d been meaning to follow up on a post I wrote in March about looming cuts to Iowans’ food assistance, after Governor Reynolds ended the disaster emergency proclamation related to COVID-19. Although I had way too much campaign news to cover, I was determined to make time for this story after the Iowa Hunger Coalition released new numbers in October.
The numbers were jaw-dropping: Iowans who qualify for federal food assistance received $141 million less in benefits from April through August. And by late August, Iowa’s SNAP enrollment had reached its lowest level “in nearly 14 years.”
Why did Reynolds do this? There was no cost savings for the state, The federal government entirely funds the SNAP program, so the state of Iowa saved no money by depriving food-insecure Iowans of extra benefits.
I wrote this piece in one sitting, a few hours after an Iowa Poll by Selzer & Co for the Des Moines Register and Mediacom indicated that as of early March, Reynolds was leading her Democratic challenger Deidre DeJear by just 51 percent to 43 percent.
I was stunned the governor didn’t have a larger lead, given DeJear’s low name ID. The Des Moines Register write-up by Brianne Pfannenstiel addressed that very issue.
DeJear’s lack of name identification isn’t hurting her in a potential head-to-head matchup with Reynolds, according to the poll. Among those who say they would vote for DeJear, 61% say they do not know enough about her to form an opinion.
My take was that the poll reflected a downside of Reynolds’ polarizing governing style. Unfortunately, as the campaign unfolded, DeJear was never able to make herself widely known, while Reynolds blanketed the state with messaging designed to push the right buttons with Iowa voters.
This was by far the most popular of the 23 posts Herb Strentz wrote for Bleeding Heartland during 2022. His frame was that “Iowa is now governed by a disgraceful cult, masquerading as the once respected Republican Party.”
Herb noted that the governor invoked the “Iowa nice” concept during her nationally televised response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on March 1. Recent happenings in the Iowa legislature, including the signing of a cruel bill discriminating against transgender girls and young women, inspired this response. “For the legislature and governor, only straight white conservatives seem to deserve the ‘Iowa nice’ treatment.”
February was a tough month for me, as I was still in severe pain from my ankle injury. But I tried to keep up with the biggest stories coming out of the statehouse, and it doesn’t get much bigger than the package of tax cuts that will likely break Iowa’s budget over the next few years.
Normally, Iowa House and Senate Republicans spend months haggling over the details of a tax cut bill. But Reynolds wanted to get this bill signed before she delivered the GOP response to the State of the Union.
I organized this post in three parts, explaining the structure of the new Iowa tax cuts and the fallout from similar policies in Kansas and Louisiana. “Before commentators hail [Reynolds] as the next GOP rising star, they should ask themselves what Sam Brownback and Bobby Jindal have been up to lately.”
When writing about the governor’s Condition of the State address, I usually pick one angle to highlight. Lots of other news coverage had already focused on the governor’s flat tax proposal, her desire to reduce unemployment benefits, and her latest pitch for school vouchers.
So I decided to write about what Reynolds didn’t say during her televised address. Although COVID-19 hospitalizations had surged in January 2022 to levels not seen for more than a year, and the virus was claiming more than 100 Iowa lives every week, the governor did not make even a token effort to encourage her prime-time audience to slow the spread.
One of my regrets from this year is mostly dropping the ball on COVID-19 coverage after breaking my ankle. I just didn’t have the bandwidth to keep up with a lot of the stories I would normally cover.
No one knows more about the legal landscape for cannabis in Iowa than Carl Olsen, the founder of Iowans for Medical Marijuana. Carl writes frequently for his own website and occasionally cross-posts at Bleeding Heartland about important developments.
The topic at hand here was the Iowa Supreme Court’s 4-3 majority opinion in State v. Middlekauff, published in late May. Carl’s analysis began with some simple advice: “If you have travel plans this summer, you might want to consider a route that avoids Iowa. Last week, the Iowa Supreme Court denied protection for an out-of-state medical marijuana patient.” He delved into key facts of the case and relevant points of law.
The tip came in at 9:15 pm on a Friday. Someone had noticed a citation for Kayla Lyon on Iowa Courts Online. It looked like she had been hunting or fishing without a license in Jackson County.
I emailed the Iowa Department of Natural Resources director to find out what happened, thinking she or someone on her staff might get back to me on Monday morning. To my surprise, she replied within fifteen minutes to explain that her hunting and fishing license was set to auto renew, but she forgot to update the system after being issued a new credit card. While paddlefishing on the Mississippi, she was informed that she didn’t have a valid license. “It was an honest mistake but the laws apply to me just like anyone else. I have since gone online and renewed my combination license.”
Worried that another reporter might be tipped and beat me to the story, I wrote a short piece (fewer than 300 words, a rarity for me) and published in less than an hour. I framed the story as a cautionary tale because this kind of thing could happen to anyone who has an important payment sent to renew automatically.
Late Friday night isn’t usually an auspicious time to publish, but this post was shared widely, not only on Facebook and Twitter but on lots of sites used by the “hook and bullet” crowd.
In 2020, my commentary about the Iowa Supreme Court justices who were up for retention ended up being my fourth most-viewed post of the year. Lots of people landed on the piece after googling the justices’ names while filling out their ballots.
So as the early voting window approached in October, I put a lot of thought into how to approach the retention vote. I decided to write a more thorough analysis of how the two justices on the ballot had approached important cases in six large areas of the law. It was a lot more work, but I think the piece was more useful for readers. I intend to cover the topic the same way in 2024, when Governor Reynolds’ latest high court appointee David May will be on the ballot.
This post got quite a few shares right after I published, then picked up steam as more people voted, peaking on November 8.
Of the 89 posts Bruce Lear has written for this website, none has gotten more traction than this piece, published a few days after the Iowa legislature convened for its 2022 session.
Bruce began with a story about the Lemming Race, a popular campus ritual when he attended Central College in Pella during the 1970s. “I was again reminded of that Central tradition when I watched a self-satisfied Governor Kim Reynolds deliver her Condition of the State speech to a chamber packed with legislative lemmings willing to take Iowa off that cliff.”
Thank you so much to all who read or shared Bleeding Heartland’s work this year. Your support helped the site reach more than 650,000 unique users and 1.3 million page views without a marketing budget or staff dedicated to promotions. And special thanks to the guest authors and tipsters, without whom some of these posts could never have been published.