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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Why Rita Hart is favored to win the IA-02 Democratic primary

Former State Senator Rita Hart will run for Congress in Iowa’s second district, she announced this morning. Her campaign is online at RitaHart.com and on Twitter @RitaHartIA.

Other Democrats including Scott County Supervisor Ken Croken are looking at this race, but Hart will be the prohibitive favorite in the June 2020 Democratic primary for the seat where seven-term U.S. Representative Dave Loebsack is retiring.

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Thomas Kedley is first Republican candidate in IA-02 (updated)

Osceola Mayor Thomas Kedley is the first declared Republican candidate in Iowa’s second Congressional district, Zachary Oren Smith was first to report for the Iowa City Press-Citizen on May 6. Kedley filed a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission on May 3. At this writing I haven’t found a Congressional campaign website. The candidate is on Twitter @tjkedley and has a Facebook page for his mayoral campaign.

Kedley has been mayor of the Clarke County seat since 2015. He told Oren Smith his top priorities would be education, agriculture and a balanced budget.

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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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Why Dave Loebsack's retirement makes IA-02 a toss-up race

All four Iowa Congressional districts will likely be competitive in 2020. Republicans were already targeting the first and third districts, where Representatives Abby Finkenauer and Cindy Axne defeated GOP incumbents last November. Democrats could make a play for IA-04, if Representative Steve King wins the GOP nomination again (as I expect).

Representative Dave Loebsack announced on April 12 that he will retire from Congress after completing his seventh term, rather than running for re-election in the second district. Both Sabato’s Crystal Ball and the Cook Political Report immediately changed their ratings on IA-02 from “likely Democrat” to “toss-up.”

A close look at Loebsack’s last two elections shows why that’s the right call.

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Political bandwidth

Paul Deaton: “It’s easy to say we should balance our politics and policy. I’m not sure about that. A better approach is to recognize there is political bandwidth and tune in.” -promoted by Laura Belin

The 2020 general election will be challenging for a lot of reasons, not the least of which for me is deciding whether policy or politics is the most important part of it.

Politics is the art of what’s possible. I’m over the naive notion that policy matters more than politics, although the art of what’s possible has produced some problems.

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