# 2015 Elections

Will wonders never cease: Windsor Heights moves toward more sidewalks

Fulfilling the hopes of residents who have been working toward this goal for many years, the Windsor Heights City Council voted 4-1 last night to approve a new sidewalks ordinance with a view to installing sidewalks soon on more city streets.

To the surprise of many who don’t live here, sidewalks have aroused passionate opposition in Windsor Heights, becoming a key issue in multiple local elections.

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Iowa House district 21 special election preview: Tom Moore vs. Tim Ennis

Voters will elect a new state representative tomorrow in Iowa House district 21, which covers all of Union and Adams counties, most of Cass County, and some rural areas in Pottawattamie County (see enclosed map). The winner will succeed longtime Iowa House Republican Jack Drake, who passed away in October.

Tom Moore is the GOP candidate here, having won a six-way contest at a special nominating convention easily on the first ballot. I have been unable to find a detailed bio on Moore, but Ian Richardson reported for the Creston News Advertiser that Moore lives in Griswold (Cass County) and is a “retired teacher and former assistant manager for Southwest Iowa Ag in Massena.”

Moore will face Democrat Tim Ennis, a longtime resident of Corning (Adams County) who has held various jobs in the agriculture sector, particularly grain marketing. More background on Ennis is below. He was the 2014 Democratic challenger to Drake.

Although anything can happen in a low-turnout special election, Moore should hold Drake’s seat with little trouble. House district 21 contains more than twice as many registered Republicans as Democrats, according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. Mitt Romney outpolled Barack Obama here by 53.64 percent to 45.01 percent in 2012; Joni Ernst crushed Bruce Braley here by a 2:1 margin in the 2014 U.S. Senate race. Also last November, Drake defeated Ennis in the Iowa House race by more than 3,000 votes.

I enclose below a district map and more background on Ennis. UPDATE: Added more information about Moore.

SECOND UPDATE: Moore won the election by 1,409 votes to 853 according to unofficial results. I had to laugh at the comment from Republican State Leadership Committee President Matt Walter: “His victory allows House Republicans to strengthen their majority—proving yet again that Republicans win by running qualified and experienced candidates who connect with voters, even in states twice carried by President Obama.” No, Moore’s victory allows the GOP to maintain the same Iowa House majority (57 to 43 seats), and he won because this is a strongly Republican district.

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Iowa local election results discussion thread

What election results were you watching tonight, Bleeding Heartland readers? I was excited to see the “Core 4” progressive slate sweep the Iowa City council elections, despite a well-financed campaign for the rival group, representing Chamber of Commerce types who have long dominated local government. John Deeth described what was at stake in those races, and Tom Carsner put it succinctly in a letter to the Iowa City Press-Citizen:

The “growth at any price to grow the tax base” philosophy of the present council majority puts Iowa City at financial risk when one TIF-financed Big Bang project turns south. A series of smaller investor-financed mixed use — business and residential — projects can energize multiple neighborhoods and build a more reliable and sustainable tax base.

[…] I urge Iowa City to welcome the just, equal, affordable, inclusive and sustainable growth vision presented by John Thomas, Rockne Cole, Pauline Taylor and Jim Throgmorton. Vote for them to shake loose the scared establishment of the present City Council.

UPDATE: In his analysis of the Iowa City results, Deeth sees outgoing Mayor Matt Hayek’s “ham-handed editorial” in the Iowa City Press-Citizen on October 14 as “a turning point in the campaign.” Bleeding Heartland user corncam points to another factor that may have helped the “Core 4.”

Davenport voters resoundingly elected Frank Klipsch mayor, ousting incumbent Bill Gluba by more than a 2: 1 margin. It’s the end of a long political career for Gluba, who won his first election (to the Iowa legislature) 45 years ago. Gluba was an activist even before running for office, participating in the 1963 march on Washington for civil rights. His handling of some local controversies this year, including his role in forcing out Davenport’s city manager, prompted the Quad-City Times to endorse Klipsch, a former CEO of the local YMCA who has a “reputation for bringing diverse groups together” and a “more collaborative style.”

In my own corner of the world, I was pleasantly surprised that challengers Threase Harms and Zac Bales-Henry defeated the two Windsor Heights City Council incumbents on the ballot. CORRECTION: Only Harms won her seat outright. Bales-Henry will have to face Charlene Butz in a December 8 runoff election. Butz and Dave Burgess were frequent “no” votes on any kind of change or progress, and Butz was a particularly dedicated opponent of new sidewalks on streets where they are badly needed. Bales-Henry promised to work to “Create a more efficient and walkable neighborhood […] and ensure that each citizen can walk, run or bike to any location within city limits safely and easily,” as well as trying to improve the local trails system. Harms also expressed support for new sidewalks on key city streets. You never know what could become a hot-button issue in local politics, and the sidewalks question has been one of the most divisive issues in Windsor Heights over the past decade. UPDATE: The anti-sidewalks voters may come out in force for the December 8 runoff, but even if Butz is re-elected, there might be enough votes for change, because two of the incumbents who were not on the ballot this year (Steve Peterson and Tony Timm) have expressed support for new sidewalks in the past.

My son and I stopped at Harms’ home while trick-or-treating on Friday. When I mentioned that I’d seen lots of her yard signs around town, she responded, “Yard signs don’t vote.” Right answer! Clearly she knows how to GOTV, because she finished way ahead of the rest of the field in our at-large elections. That’s a rare accomplishment for a first-time candidate running against incumbents.

UPDATE: I was sorry to see that Cedar Rapids residents rejected a levy to fund public libraries. Todd Dorman covered the campaign for library funding over the weekend.

Voters in Des Moines re-elected Mayor Frank Cownie and the city councillors who were on the ballot. I didn’t realize that Cownie is now the longest-serving Des Moines mayor. In the most hotly-contested race, the open seat in Ward 2 on the east side of Des Moines, turnout was down and Linda Westergaard, backed by business interests including a realtors’ lobbying group, defeated Marty Mauk.

photo credit: Mark Carlson

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Special election in Iowa House district 21 will be on December 8

Iowa Capitol photo Fotolia_24694213_XS_zpsbnpz4jnl.jpg

Today Governor Terry Branstad scheduled a special election in Iowa House district 21 for Tuesday, December 8. Voters will elect a successor to longtime State Representative Jack Drake, who passed away last weekend.

Iowa House district 21 covers all of Union and Adams counties, most of Cass County, and some rural areas of Pottawattamie County. A detailed map is after the jump. Like most of southwest Iowa, it leans heavily Republican. The latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office indicate that House district 21 contains 3,720 active registered Democrats, 8,256 Republicans, and 7,401 no-party voters. Mitt Romney carried 53.64 percent of the vote here in the 2012 presidential election, and Joni Ernst (who is from nearby Montgomery County) won 63.75 percent of the votes in House district 21 in last year’s U.S. Senate race.

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Charles Holz set to replace Chuck Soderberg in Iowa House district 5

Charles Holz won a special nominating convention last night in Iowa House district 5, where former House Appropriations Committee Chair Chuck Soderberg resigned his seat last month. Two Republicans sought the nomination for the November 3 special election. Holz is retired after a long career as a large animal veterinarian in Le Mars; he has also published work in his field. Citing a press release from the Plymouth County GOP, the Sioux City Journal reported earlier this month that Holz “served on the Le Mars school board for 18 years, including two years as board president.” UPDATE: Added below a Republican Party of Iowa statement containing more biographical information.

According to The Iowa Statesman blog, Holz “defeated rural Woodbury County small business owner and homeschool parent Brad Hopp on the first ballot” at the nominating convention.

To my knowledge, no Democrat has announced plans to run for House district 5, which covers all of Plymouth County and some rural areas of Woodbury County. Click here to view a district map. Ideally, Democrats would compete for every state legislative district, but House district 5 is one of the safest for Republicans. Mitt Romney carried 65.9 percent of the presidential vote here in 2012, and Joni Ernst won 71.2 percent of the 2014 votes for U.S. Senate. The district contains 3,819 active registered Democrats, 9,015 Republicans, and 6,697 no-party voters, according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office.

Five-term State Representative Pat Grassley is set to replace Soderberg as chair of the Iowa House Appropriations Committee for the 2016 legislative session. Although that’s a plum committee assignment, working out a deal with Iowa Senate Democrats on the state budget will likely be more difficult than usual next year, because of the fallout from Governor Terry Branstad’s latest line-item vetoes. The key Republicans involved in this year’s budget deal-making quit their jobs this summer.

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Iowa House district 5 special election coming on November 3

Governor Terry Branstad has set the special election to replace Chuck Soderberg in Iowa House district 5 for November 3, Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate told KTIV news today. Last month, Soderberg announced plans to resign in order to become general manager for the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives in Des Moines.

A map of House district 5 is after the jump. Even in a low-turnout special election, Democrats don’t have a realistic chance of winning this seat, where Mitt Romney carried 65.9 percent of the vote in 2012 and Joni Ernst won 71.2 percent of vote in last year’s U.S. Senate race. The latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office show that House district 5 contains 3,819 active registered Democrats, 9,015 Republicans, and 6,697 no-party voters.

The special election in House district 5 will still be important, though. Whoever wins the Republican district nominating convention could be set up for a long legislative career. UPDATE: The GOP special nominating convention will take place on the evening of September 28 at the Farm Bureau Building in Le Mars.

Soderberg’s retirement will allow newly-selected Iowa House Speaker Linda Upmeyer to choose someone new to chair the House Appropriations Committee. I expect the 2016 Iowa legislative session to be largely unproductive, not only because it’s an election year but also because Branstad’s funding vetoes this summer destroyed any incentive toward bipartisan cooperation. That said, lawmakers cannot adjourn without passing a budget for the next fiscal year, so the Appropriations Committee chair will be an important player at the Capitol next year.

Notably, four key Republicans who were involved in this year’s budget negotiations (including Soderberg) have quit their jobs since Branstad exercised his veto power. The governor’s communications director Jimmy Centers announced last week that he too will soon leave the administration for an unspecified private-sector job.

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Weekend open thread: Numbers games

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

Congratulations to Hawkeyes and commiserations to Cyclones over the outcome of yesterday’s big game. Not being a football fan, I can’t remember how many years it’s been since I watched Iowa play Iowa State. The last time I focused on the Cy-Hawk game was in 2013, when Iowa running back Mark Weisman’s decision to play on Yom Kippur (the most important Jewish holiday) was a big topic of conversation for central Iowa Jews.

The hoopla surrounding yesterday’s game reminded me of a good commentary by “Civic Skinny” in the Des Moines-based weekly Cityview last month. Skinny called attention to how rapidly athletic budgets have grown at Iowa and Iowa State in recent years, and how the athletic departments “continue to find ways to spend” the extra money, “without shipping any to the libraries or the English departments or any other academic endeavors at the two big universities.” I would bet few Iowans know that for many years, Iowa and Iowa State “regularly subsidized the athletic departments with money from the general fund.” I recommend clicking through for all the data in the original piece; excerpts are after the jump.

For two days, the Des Moines Register reported the Des Moines School Board District 1 race as “too close to call,” but Shane Schulte finally conceded to Heather Anderson on Friday. Schulte had earlier indicated plans to seek a recount, but truthfully, the race was never too close to call. When all the precincts reported on election night, Anderson led by 36 votes out of a little more than 2,500 ballots cast. The next day, her lead in unofficial returns grew to 46 votes. That’s a close election, but not close enough for a recount to have a realistic prospect of changing the outcome. Recounts of two Iowa Senate races in 2010 did not overturn Mark Chelgren’s twelve-vote lead out of more than 19,000 ballots cast or Tod Bowman’s 70-vote lead out of nearly 20,000 ballots cast. Two years later, Republican leads of fewer than two dozen votes in Chris Hagenow’s Iowa House race and Mike Breitbach’s Iowa Senate race both held up after recounts of roughly 17,500 ballots and 30,000 ballots, respectively.

Ever since the Affordable Care Act became law in 2010, conservative pundits and Republican politicians have predicted that “Obamacare” would force many businesses to drop health insurance coverage for their employees. This week, the Des Moines Register’s Tony Leys covered the latest data on employer-provided insurance in Iowa. The Clive-based David P. Lind Benchmark research firm surveyed 1,001 employers and found that only 1 percent (mostly “companies with fewer than 10 employees”) stopped offering health insurance coverage this year. The cost of insuring employees in 2015 increased by an average of 7.7 percent, up from the 6.8 percent increase in 2014 but “significantly lower” than typical price hikes “Iowa employers faced a decade or more ago.” Michael Ralston, who leads the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, told Leys “he heard more complaints about insurance costs years ago, when employers’ health insurance prices were rising at more than double the current clip. He still hears grumbling about the complex requirements of the Affordable Care Act, but not as often as in the years after it passed in 2010.” Scroll to the end of this post for more excerpts from Leys’s report.  

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Iowa school board elections discussion thread

Iowans elected school board members yesterday. Turnout remained depressingly low, considering the importance of public school governance. The Des Moines Register’s editors were right to call for moving school board elections to another time of year either coinciding with city elections in November or in the spring.

Nevertheless, thousands of highly engaged Iowa voters–including many Bleeding Heartland readers–got involved in their local school board races or followed them closely. This thread is for any comments about any election that attracted your attention.

I was thrilled to see Heather Anderson 36 votes ahead, according to unofficial results for the Des Moines School Board District 1 seat. On Monday, I heard longtime Des Moines School Board incumbent Dick Murphy had endorsed the other candidate, which strengthened my belief that Anderson can help change the culture of that board. Incidentally, her hard-working campaign manager was Finn Andersen, a former student in her classroom who is now in high school.

The returns from the Des Moines races pointed to the wisdom of shifting that school board to a combination of wards and at-large seats. More than 2,500 people cast ballots in the District 1 race (covering the west side), compared to fewer than 1,200 voters in District 2 (north side) and fewer than 600 voters in District 3 (east side). For many years, all the Des Moines School Board seats were elected at-large, and west-siders dominated the governing body. I share the widespread opinion that the phenomenon perpetuated inequities in Des Moines public schools.

John Deeth posted a detailed write-up of the Iowa City school board results. Turnout was a bit down from 2013 but still the second-highest recorded. The planned closure of Hoover Elementary has been a divisive issue for the community, reopening some wounds from the losing battle to save Roosevelt Elementary.

Congratulations to Drake University undergraduate Josh Hughes, who won the at-large seat on the I-35 school board. He must be one of the youngest Iowans elected to a school board in recent memory, and I hope others will be inspired by his example. Those who have recently experienced any district’s schools as a student will bring a different perspective to the table, compared to the parents who dominate most school boards.

Heather Anderson for Des Moines School Board District 1

I always vote in school board elections, even non-contested ones, to prevent any stealth write-in candidate from winning. But until this year, I had never knocked on doors for a school board candidate. Nor have I endorsed a school board candidate at Bleeding Heartland before now.

Heather Anderson would be an exceptional voice on the Des Moines School Board. She is a creative thinker, hard worker, and good listener.

Anderson was one of five finalists for the Iowa Department of Education’s Iowa Teacher of the Year. She won the Iowa Division of the Izaak Walton League’s Teacher of the Year award. She won the Iowa State Education Association’s Excellence in Education Award too. None of those honors surprised anyone who had seen her in action.

Before either of my sons was assigned to Anderson’s classroom, I was aware of her efforts to enrich the learning environment at their elementary school. During the years she taught my sons, I continually saw her go above and beyond for her students and colleagues.

Watching her interact with children and adults in the classroom, on field trips, or at other school events, I saw how well Anderson relates to people with different temperaments and personality types. I think she possesses a rare combination of traditional intelligence (the “ability to learn, understand, and apply information and skills”) and interpersonal relationship skills (often called “EQ”).

Over the past decade, the Des Moines School Board has been too willing to go along with the recommendations of the superintendent, whoever he or she may be. I believe Anderson would provide a counterweight to what appears to be a “business as usual” board culture.

You can read more about Anderson’s background and comments from other supporters on her campaign website. The Des Moines Education Association, South Central Iowa Federation of Labor, and Central Iowa Building & Construction Trades Council have endorsed her candidacy.

If you live on the northwest side of Des Moines or in the Windsor Heights neighborhoods that are part of the Des Moines School District, I hope you will give Anderson your serious consideration for the District 1 seat. After the jump I’ve enclosed a map showing the district boundaries. Polls are open on Tuesday, September 8, from 7:00 am to 8:00 pm.

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Chuck Soderberg's retirement creates opportunities for upwardly-mobile Republicans

Bret Hayworth reported for the Sioux City Journal today that State Representative Chuck Soderberg will soon resign in order to become general manager for the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives in Des Moines. He has worked for the Northwest Iowa Power Cooperative in Le Mars for more than 35 years.

First elected to the statehouse in 2004, Soderberg chaired the House Commerce Committee for two years beginning in 2011 and has led the powerful Appropriations Committee since January 2013. No doubt quite a few members of the Iowa House GOP caucus would love to take on that role next year. Given the atmosphere of distrust that Governor Terry Branstad exacerbated by blowing apart this year’s spending compromises, I expect little constructive work to happen during the 2016 legislative session. But passing a budget is one thing lawmakers can’t leave town without doing, so the next person to do Soderberg’s job will exert considerable influence.

Surely Speaker Linda Upmeyer will give the Appropriations chair to someone with more experience than current vice chair Ken Rizer, who is in the middle of his first legislative term.

Soderberg’s retirement also opens up Iowa House district 5, covering all of Plymouth County and some rural areas of Woodbury County. I enclose a detailed map after the jump. This seat isn’t realistically within reach for Democrats; Mitt Romney carried 65.9 percent of the presidential vote here in 2012, and Joni Ernst won 71.2 percent of the 2014 votes for U.S. Senate. The latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office show that House district 5 contains 3,820 active registered Democrats, 8,988 Republicans, and 6,659 no-party voters.

A safe legislative seat will be tempting for many ambitious Republicans in Plymouth or Woodbury County. The GOP district nominating convention, likely to happen sometime in September, should be highly competitive.

This thread is for any speculation about Soderberg’s successor on the House Appropriations Committee or as the lawmaker representing House district 5.

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David Sieck will represent Iowa House district 23

Republican David Sieck won yesterday’s special election to represent Iowa House district 23. The seat became vacant after State Representative Mark Costello won the special election to replace Joni Ernst in Iowa Senate district 12. Unofficial results from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office indicate that Sieck won 1082 votes to 404 for Democrat Steve Adams. House district 23 is one of the most GOP-leaning Iowa House seats, containing more than twice as many registered Republicans as Democrats. The southwestern Iowa district covers Mills and Fremont counties, plus most of Montgomery County. I’ve enclosed a map after the jump.

Sieck had unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination to replace Ernst, and Adams was the Democratic nominee in the Senate district 12 special election. The Omaha World-Herald published this background on Sieck:

“I’m running because I’m fed up with big government pushing down on us all the time,” Sieck said.

Sieck is a lifelong resident of Iowa and a founding member of Responsible River Management, which works to find solutions to river management issues on the Missouri River, among other duties. He was vice chairman of the Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee and a recipient of the Grassroots Award in 2014 with the Iowa and National Corn Growers Associations.

Do you think Sieck views farm subsidies, crop insurance subsidies, and flood relief funds as the federal government “pushing down” on farmers in his area?

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John Kooiker wins special election to represent Iowa House district 4

Republican John Kooiker easily won today’s special election in Iowa House district 4, which covers most of Sioux County in northwest Iowa (scroll down this page for a map). Unofficial results published on the Sioux County website indicate that Kooiker received 2,064 votes to 456 for Democrat John Buntsma. I was surprised to see that Dennis Wright, a Republican former county supervisor, managed 840 votes (about a quarter of all votes cast) as a write-in candidate. That’s a huge number of votes for a write-in, especially in a low-turnout special election. Wright should seriously consider challenging Kooiker in the 2016 GOP primary to represent House district 4.

Kooiker will succeed longtime conservative stalwart Dwayne Alons, who passed away in November shortly after being re-elected to a ninth term in the Iowa House.

House district 4 is the safest legislative district in the state for the GOP, with roughly nine times as many registered Republicans as Democrats. I admire Buntsma for making sure voters would have a choice, even in a hopeless district for a Democrat.  

Iowa House district 4: John Kooiker vs. John Buntsma

In what might be described as a Christmas miracle, a Democrat has stepped up to run in the January 6 special election to represent Iowa House district 4. The vacancy arose when State Representative Dwayne Alons passed away last month.

John Buntsma is the first Democrat since 2008 to contest the Iowa House district covering most of Sioux County (scroll down for a detailed map). Of the 100 Iowa House districts, this is the most Republican, with only 1,498 active registered Democrats, 13,279 Republicans, and 3,555 no-party voters according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. GOP presidential candidates routinely top 80 percent in Sioux County, and Governor Terry Branstad got about 91 percent of the votes there this year. In a statement I’ve enclosed below, Buntsma said he is running because “It is important for all of us to have choices. I felt that the voters should have more than one choice.” Good for him. I would love to see Democratic candidates compete in every Iowa House and Senate district, no matter how hopeless the race may appear.

I haven’t seen any detailed background on John Kooiker, the “military veteran, family farmer and retired postal service worker” who won a Republican nominating convention in House district 4. A short press release noted that Kooiker “heavily emphasized his social conservative beliefs,” which helped him secure the GOP nomination on the third ballot. That probably makes him a pretty good fit for the district. Alons was one of the most outspoken social conservatives in the Iowa House Republican caucus.

After the jump I’ve enclosed two press releases containing background on Buntsma. Note the difference between the version circulated by the candidate himself and the shorter release from the Iowa Democratic Party. I’ve often heard Democratic candidates complain that party types warn them against speaking their minds on potentially controversial issues. In a race like this, what difference could it make to downplay Buntsma’s beliefs on immigration, the minimum wage, or the exemption casinos received from Iowa’s public smoking ban?

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Iowa House district 4 special election coming on January 6

Governor Terry Branstad has set the special election in Iowa House district 4 for January 6, 2015. The vacancy arose when State Representative Dwayne Alons passed away last weekend. Of the 100 Iowa House districts, this is the most Republican, with only 1,498 active registered Democrats, 13,279 Republicans, and 3,555 no-party voters according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. Democrats have not nominated a candidate in this district since James Van Bruggen won less than 20 percent of the vote against Alons in 2008.

Although the Republican special nominating convention will likely determine Alons’ successor, a competitive special election is still possible. It only takes 50 signatures on a nominating petition to file as an independent or third-party candidate, and the filing period is open until December 23. Anything can happen in a low-turnout special election, so I wouldn’t be too surprised to see some other conservative file papers here, perhaps running as an independent or a Libertarian.