Best of Bleeding Heartland's original reporting in 2022

As the new year begins, I want to highlight some of the investigative reporting, in-depth analysis, and accountability journalism published first or exclusively here.

Some newspapers and websites put their best original reporting behind a paywall for subscribers, or limit access to a few free articles a month. I'm committed to keeping all Bleeding Heartland content—which includes some 570 articles and commentaries from 2022 alone—available to all, regardless of ability to pay.

As always, I'm grateful for readers who value this kind of work on Iowa politics. Tips on stories that may be worth pursuing are always welcome.

To receive links to Bleeding Heartland articles and commentaries directly via email, subscribe to the free Evening Heartland newsletter. Subscribers to my Substack (which is also free) receive audio files and recaps for every episode of KHOI Radio's "Capitol Week," a 30-minute program on which Dennis Hart and I discuss recent Iowa political news.


Bleeding Heartland published several exclusive stories about happenings at the Public Employment Relations Board, which handles public employee labor relations. Documents revealed that Governor Kim Reynolds stacked the board (which is supposed to have partisan balance) with Republicans and played "musical chairs" with nominations to circumvent the Iowa Senate confirmation process. Salary records showed the governor paid her GOP appointees more than a Democrat doing the same work on the board. In September, the Public Employment Relations Board shifted some staff and many of its responsibilities to another state agency, raising several legal questions.

In March, Bleeding Heartland broke the news that Reynolds was comped the use of a state government building to deliver her nationally televised response to the president's State of the Union. A subsequent story based on public records requests revealed that the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board had determined that using that building would not violate state law prohibiting "the expenditure of public moneys for political purposes."

Also in March, I was first to report that Iowa Department of Natural Resources Director Kayla Lyon had been cited for hunting or fishing without a license, and that federal auditors were reviewing the use of federal COVID-19 relief funds to cover salaries for some of the governor's permanent staffers. (The U.S. Treasury Department has not yet announced its findings.)

John Morrissey spent months researching this July article about questions the Iowa Department of Public Safety refused to answer regarding the one-car accident that killed Iowa State Trooper Ted Benda in 2021. John had previously reported exclusively that when Benda went off the road, he was driving a vehicle rated by a national standards organization as having poor-performing headlights.

An article from October discussed the sharp drop in federal food assistance for Iowans, which stemmed from Reynolds ending the COVID-19 public health emergency early in the year.

This website's longstanding interest in government transparency continued during 2022. I was first to report on proposed new administrative rules regarding public records requests, and on an advisory opinion the Iowa Public Information Board issued after abandoning those rules.

I also comprehensively reviewed the governor's failure to hold regular press conferences, even after she was re-elected in November.


Since I don't have the capacity to write about every bill, I strive to find legislative stories not covered anywhere else, or provide a unique angle on stories that have been widely reported.

Although a severe ankle fracture in January kept me away from the state capitol building for most of the 2022 legislative session, I was able to follow many House and Senate debates and committee meetings online. I wrote in depth about a rare defeat for the majority party in an Iowa House floor vote, and high-profile bills that became law, such as the flat income tax, wide-ranging cuts to unemployment benefits, a ban on transgender girls playing school sports, a ban on COVID-19 vaccine mandates at schools and day cares, a new state program to support crisis pregnancy centers, more state support for the ethanol industry, the first changes to Iowa's bottle bill in decades.

I also covered some legislation that received less attention, such as a bill on garbage searches, which legislators wrote in response to a 2021 Iowa Supreme Court ruling.

The fate of a midwifery licensing bill illustrated a fact of life about legislative lobbying that mostly happens outside public view.

Other deep dives focused on controversial bills that failed to pass during 2022, but will be hot topics again this year: the governor's school voucher proposal, and a bill that would limit trucking companies' liability.

Some newsworthy events at the statehouse aren't connected to any vote on legislation. In February, the Iowa Supreme Court withdrew proposed rules on criminal procedure that were three years in the making, after some state legislators objected to parts of the package. Bleeding Heartland was first to report in April on a Senate floor speech in which a Democratic lawmaker revealed that Iowa's human resources agency will not release certain statistics on pending sexual harassment or hostile workplace complaints involving state government employees.


Early in the year, Bleeding Heartland covered statewide candidates' campaign finance disclosures, a Koch-funded group's intervention in some Republican legislative primaries, and the wave of retirements among Iowa House Democrats.

High drama followed the March filing deadline for Democratic and Republican candidates for state offices. I published several takes on the challenges to prominent candidates' nominating petitions, and the resulting litigation over whether Abby Finkenauer would appear on the Democratic primary ballot for U.S. Senate.

As the June primary approached, Bleeding Heartland previewed some hard-fought Democratic legislative primaries.

After the primary, I analyzed the big drop in turnout compared to 2020. I reached out to all 99 county auditors for data that informed this piece on how Iowa's new absentee ballot rules had disenfranchised hundreds of voters. I also considered the factors that fueled Republicans' growing advantage in voter registrations, and the increasingly urban character of the Democratic primary electorate.

Some articles illuminated Iowa's campaign regulations, such as a state board's determination about mandatory attribution statements for some political text messages.

Continuing a longstanding interest in third-party activity and performance, I published analysis in March indicating that new barriers to third-party and independent candidates reduced Iowa voters' choices in 2020 and 2022. Later, I covered the federal court ruling that struck down one of those barriers (an early filing deadline), giving groups other than major parties extra time to nominate candidates. In August, I discussed the impact of the Libertarian Party's decision not to field candidates in many races they had contested in 2018.

During the general election campaign, this website provided daily updates on Iowa absentee ballot numbers, in more readable tables than those published by the Iowa Secretary of State's office. One post analyzed how Republican and Democratic candidates talked about abortion in advertising and televised debates. Other articles focused on heavy tv ad spending and the political landscape in battleground legislative races.

While many news organizations alerted readers that two Iowa Supreme Court justices would be up for retention in November, only Bleeding Heartland provided a close look at how Justices Dana Oxley and Matthew McDermott had decided important cases in six areas of the law.

Dan Guild wrote an outstanding series about the generic ballot and polls of battleground U.S. Senate races. In September, he examined the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. Dan was right on the money in October, when he identified the big story that national media were largely ignoring: "Democrats are competitive despite relatively high inflation and an unpopular president." Days before the November election, he highlighted the different picture emerging from nonpartisan polls of key U.S. Senate races, compared to numbers from Republican-aligned pollsters.

After the November election, I examined signs of Democratic turnout problems and the party's continued erosion of support in mid-sized cities that were once blue strongholds. Separate posts featured the newly-elected legislators who will enhance diversity in the Iowa House and Senate, and the record number of women elected to the upper chamber (fewer will serve in the state House).

In December, Bleeding Heartland discussed the troubling discrepancies in Scott County's absentee ballot count, which changed the outcome of one very close Iowa House race.

And when the Democratic National Committee moved toward changing the presidential nominating calendar, I highlighted the Iowa Democratic Party's many missed opportunities to reform the caucus process to address concerns about representation.

More post-election analysis is in the works; I plan to publish later this month, after final turnout numbers by age cohort and party affiliation become available.


An April article covered the high court's ruling on the first employment discrimination lawsuit brought by a transgender Iowan. This year, justices will consider a challenge to a law targeting transgender Iowans on Medicaid; a lower court ruled that law unconstitutional in 2021.

When the Iowa Supreme Court determined in April that Finkenauer's name should appear on the Democratic primary ballot, Bleeding Heartland provided a detailed analysis of the ruling and its implications, and a separate post on a striking paragraph in the majority opinion. The passage signaled the justices weren't pleased by how Finkenauer criticized the District Court judge who had ruled against her.

The biggest Iowa judicial story of 2022 was the June decision reversing the state's abortion rights precedent, which came down a week before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. In addition to dissecting the majority, concurring, and dissenting opinions from the Iowa case, Bleeding Heartland extensively covered the fallout from that ruling, as Reynolds attempted to reinstate a 2018 abortion ban. (A lower court rejected the state's request in December; the governor is appealing the decision.)

In August, I flagged an odd passage in the Supreme Court's majority opinion on abortion rights, which touched on what a "strict scrutiny" standard might mean for future cases challenging Iowa gun regulations.


It's been more than a decade since any Iowa-based news outlet has had a full-time reporter in Washington covering our state's members of Congress. Since I don't have the bandwidth to write about every major U.S. House or Senate vote, I look for stories where I can add value beyond simply reporting whether the Iowans supported final passage of a bill.

Sometimes that involves covering how Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst approached important amendments to a bill, or some broader context. When the Senate considered legislation to codify LGBTQ marriage rights in November, I discussed the political factors that may have influenced Ernst's vote for the bill, and the revisionist history embedded in Grassley's explanation for opposing the measure.

I'm always on the lookout for stories where words don't match actions, such as Representative Ashley Hinson taking credit for federal infrastructure spending she voted against, or Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks designating colleagues to vote on her behalf after she had repeatedly called for an end to proxy voting.

Bleeding Heartland provided the most in-depth coverage of Iowa earmarks included in the omnibus budget bills for fiscal years 2022 and 2023, and the impact of Representative Randy Feenstra's refusal to request funding for any specific projects in his district.

As with the Iowa legislature, some newsworthy stories are not related to floor votes. To my knowledge, no other media delved into Miller-Meeks' remarks at the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, commonly known as COP27.

My reviews of Congressional and Federal Communications Commission filings informed an exclusive report on Miller-Meeks' use of official (taxpayer) funds for radio commercials that echoed Republican campaign themes, just before the end of the legal window for such advertising.

In December, I analyzed Miller-Meeks' possible criminal exposure after she changed her residence for voting purposes to a friend's Scott County home.


Bleeding Heartland is committed to ongoing coverage of efforts to build carbon dioxide pipelines across Iowa. Jessica Wiskus linked to internal reports from corporations casting doubt on carbon capture and sequestration as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Emma Schmit shared photos showing how oil pipeline construction had damaged farmland by compacting soil.

Silvia Secchi exposed how reports commissioned by companies seeking to build pipelines exaggerate the economic benefits of the projects. Carolyn Raffensperger and Sheri Deal-Tyne discussed the regulatory gaps that raise safety concerns about the CO2 pipelines.

During the normally slow week between Christmas and New Year's, I wrote about a formal objection to the CO2 pipelines, recently filed by a county GOP group in a deep-red county.

Bleeding Heartland published some noteworthy stories about the media during 2022. In November, I broke the news that Gannett was printing fake newspapers at the Des Moines Register's plant.

Over the summer, I explained how mainstream news coverage might have misled readers about where U.S. Representatives Hinson and Miller-Meeks stood on contraception access. Retired journalist and journalism professor Herb Strentz discussed the decline of copy editing and the hidden costs of newspapers moving to paid obituaries, rather than treating obituaries as news.

Final note: As mentioned at the top, keeping Bleeding Heartland's articles and commentaries available to all is a core value for me. So there will never be subscriber-only content here. However, I do accept contributions to cover reporting costs and the website's operating expenses, which have increased in the past year.

To avoid real or perceived conflicts of interest, I don’t accept funds from Iowa elected officials, candidates, or paid staff and consultants on Iowa campaigns. If you don't fall into any of those groups and are able to support this work financially, you can contribute directly with a credit card here, or through PayPal, Patreon, Venmo, or Substack, or by mailing a check made out to Bleeding Heartland, LLC (contact me for the address). Donations to Bleeding Heartland are not tax-deductible.

Thanks again to all who have read or shared articles from this website. I wish you all a happy, healthy, and productive 2023.

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