Five thoughts about Linda Upmeyer's tenure as Iowa House speaker

Iowa House Republicans meet in Des Moines this morning to elect new leaders for the 2020 legislative session. Linda Upmeyer announced on September 30 that she will step down as House speaker when the legislature reconvenes in January and will not seek re-election next November. She said in a written statement that she wants to spend more time with her husband, children, and grandchildren.

Speaking to WHO Radio’s Jeff Angelo on October 1, Upmeyer said she was also influenced by her predecessor Kraig Paulsen’s decision to leave the post long before an election. A new speaker is “well-served” by having a session under their belt, which helps them with fundraising and recruiting candidates, she explained. “I wanted to make sure that whoever was going to be leading the caucus in the future had those tools at their disposal going into this next election.”

Sources close to the legislature indicate that current House Appropriations Committee chair Pat Grassley is likely to become the next speaker, with Matt Windschitl moving up from House speaker pro-tem to majority leader. Current Majority Leader Chris Hagenow may not be part of the new leadership team, for reasons that remain unclear. UPDATE: The caucus selected Grassley as speaker, Windschitl as majority leader, and State Representative John Wills as speaker pro tem.

I’ve been thinking about Upmeyer’s legacy and how she influenced the chamber.

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Chief justice sheds new light on Iowa Supreme Court lobbying for judicial bill

Multiple Iowa Supreme Court justices spoke with Iowa House Republicans shortly before GOP lawmakers approved a bill that gave the governor more influence over the judicial selection process and shortened the chief justice’s term.

But only Chief Justice Mark Cady disqualified himself from considering the legal challenge to that law’s validity, and only Cady has been transparent about his communications on the issue with legislators and staff for Governor Kim Reynolds.

Justice Thomas Waterman and Justice Edward Mansfield appear to have pushed for the bill’s passage and stand to benefit from electing a new chief justice in 2021. Yet neither recused himself from hearing the case. Nor have they revealed their contacts with Republican legislators or the governor’s legal counsel Sam Langholz, despite a judicial rule calling for disclosure of information relevant to a recusal motion.

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Iowa House district 58 preview: Andy McKean vs. Steve Bradley

Republicans have recruited a strong candidate for what should be one of the top-targeted Iowa House races in 2020.

Before State Representative Andy McKean switched parties in April, he had served in the Iowa legislature for 27 sessions as a Republican. Now House district 58 is the reddest Iowa House seat currently represented by a Democrat.

GOP officials hope Dr. Steve Bradley, a dentist in the area, will prevail among Iowans who heavily favored Donald Trump and Governor Kim Reynolds in the last two elections. Next year’s race in House district 58 will be a fascinating test of whether voters’ growing affinity to Republicans matters more than their longtime support for McKean.

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Some bad laws for Iowa's environment take effect today

Continuing Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of the Iowa legislature’s work during the 2019 session.

Iowa’s environmental community had something to celebrate when state lawmakers adjourned for the year without passing legislation that would crush small-scale solar development. An unusual coalition including solar installers, environmental groups, and livestock farmers helped keep the bill bottled up in the Iowa House despite intense lobbying by MidAmerican Energy and its allies, along with massive spending by undisclosed donors.

Unfortunately, lawmakers approved and Governor Kim Reynolds signed several other measures that will be detrimental for Iowa’s natural resources and take our state’s energy policy in the wrong direction. The new laws take effect today, as the 2020 fiscal year begins.

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2019 Iowa legislative recap: Constitutional amendments

Bleeding Heartland continues to catch up on the legislature’s significant actions during the session that ended on April 27. Previous posts related to the work of the Iowa House or Senate can be found here.

Republicans showed little interest in amending the Iowa Constitution during the 2019 session. Only one amendment passed both chambers. If and when that proposal appears on a statewide ballot, it will spark a costly and divisive campaign about gun rights and regulations.

The Senate and House debate over the pro-gun amendment is the focus of the first half of this post. Arguments raised on both sides will surely return in future television commercials and mass mailings.

The rest of the post reviews this year’s unsuccessful attempts to change the constitution. One amendment (backed by Governor Kim Reynolds) made it through the Iowa House, and four others advanced from a House or Senate committee but did not come up for a floor vote. The rest did not get through a committee, even though some of the same ideas went further last year.

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First look at the Iowa House landscape for 2020

Republicans used their control over state government to inflict tremendous damage on Iowa during the 2019 legislative session: underfunding education, blocking steps that would improve Medicaid services, dismantling effective sex education programs, further undermining workers’ rights, targeting health care for transgender Iowans, and giving Governor Kim Reynolds the ability to pack our highest courts with conservative ideologues.

The disastrous outcomes underscored the urgent need for Democrats to break the Republican trifecta in 2020. The Iowa House is the only realistic path for doing so, since Reynolds won’t be up for re-election next year, and the 32-18 GOP majority in the Iowa Senate will take several cycles to undo. State Representative Andy McKean’s recent party switch improved Democratic prospects, shrinking the Republican majority in the chamber from 54-46 to 53-47. Nevertheless, a net gain of four House seats will be no easy task for Democrats.

The Daily Kos Elections team calculated the 2018 election results for governor and state auditor in every Iowa House district. Jeff Singer discussed their key findings in a May 2 post: Reynolds carried 60 state House districts, Democratic nominee Fred Hubbell just 39. The “median seat backed Reynolds 51.0-46.3, a margin of 4.7 points. That’s about 2 points to the right of her statewide margin of 2.8 points.” Eight Democrats represent districts Reynolds carried, and one (Dave Williams) represents a district where Reynolds and Hubbell tied, while “only one Republican is in a Hubbell district.”

I’d encourage all Iowa politics watchers to bookmark the DK Elections number-crunching, as well as the team’s spreadsheet on 2016 presidential results by House district.

The Daily Kos team also looked at the 2018 voting for state auditor, seeking clues on which House seats might be within reach for Democrats. I don’t find that angle as useful. Previous State Auditor Mary Mosiman ran a terrible campaign. Not only did Rob Sand outwork Mosiman on the trail, he ran unanswered television commercials for six weeks, allowing him to go into election day with higher name ID than the incumbent, which is almost unheard of. Sad to say, Democrats won’t be outspending incompetent, little-known GOP candidates in the 2020 state legislative races.

Here’s my first take on both parties’ best pickup opportunities. What appear to be competitive state House seats may shift over the coming year, depending on candidate recruitment and incumbent retirements, so Bleeding Heartland will periodically return to this topic.

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