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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Did Iowa House Republicans commit to nonpartisan map in 2021?

As bad-faith political arguments go, it would be hard to top a headline from a recent Iowa House Republican newsletter, amplified on Twitter: “Congressional Democrats Plan to Overturn Nonpartisan Redistricting in Iowa.”

U.S. House Resolution 1 was designed to ban gerrymandering nationwide “by requiring independent commissions instead of state legislatures to draw congressional maps.” But in the Iowa GOP’s fun-house-mirror view, the federal bill would “inject politics into an already nonpartisan redistricting process.”

The good news is, this stunt puts House Republicans on record opposing any change to the system in use since the 1980s. “There’s no reason to change a process in Iowa that is respected throughout the country and is working well,” the newsletter argues.

The next step is getting top lawmakers and Governor Kim Reynolds to promise not to exploit a little-known provision in state law to enact a gerrymander in 2021.

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Policy vs impact and the fig leaf of semantics

Matt Chapman: Lobbyists tend to disassociate advocating for a bill from the impact of that legislation. I couldn’t disagree more. -promoted by Laura Belin

Spending over two years at the Iowa legislature, watching committee meetings and floor action, I’ve picked up on the theme of decorum. It is necessary when powerful people of different ideology need to come to a consensus. There are times when that divide is too great and the decorum deteriorates. That is usually centered around hot-button topics.

President Ronald Reagan and then House Speaker Tip O’Neill had the six-o-clock rule. It was a designed to put partisan politics aside at the end of the day. They were bitter enemies, yet kept decorum and treated each other as equals. After six o’ clock, policy discussion was ended. They recognized that allowing each other to voice their position was the bedrock of this democracy.

In more recent history, when the debates are over, the debaters tend to go to their own corners.

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On acknowledging victims as we reform felon voting restrictions

Matt Chapman reports from the first legislative hearing on a constitutional amendment to change Iowa’s felon disenfranchisement system. -promoted by Laura Belin

Despite record low temperatures outside, the room was packed for the January 31 Iowa House Judiciary subcommittee meeting to consider House Study Bill 68, a constitutional amendment proposed by Governor Kim Reynolds.

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