# Bruce Hunter



Iowa Democrats won't speak truth to ethanol power

The biofuels industry got a big win in the Iowa legislature this week, as the state House and Senate approved a bill requiring most gas stations in the state to dispense a higher ethanol blend known as E15 from at least half of their pumps.

All but a handful of Democratic legislators voted for the bill, and no Democrat spoke against the proposal during Senate or House floor debate.

It was the latest example of how Iowa Democratic politicians have embraced biofuels industry talking points and avoided challenging any policies seen as supporting ethanol.

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Iowa Republicans close to deal on cutting unemployment benefits

The Iowa House and Senate approved similar bills on March 23 that would substantially cut unemployment benefits for jobless Iowans. The legislation, a priority for Governor Kim Reynolds, had been stalled for weeks, raising questions about whether Republican leaders could find the votes to pass it in the House.

Both versions of the legislation include the centerpiece of the proposal Reynolds highlighted during her Condition of the State address in January: reduce the maximum unemployment benefits in one year from 26 weeks to sixteen weeks. Currently, most states provide up to 26 weeks of unemployment benefits per year, while only a handful of states provide a maximum of sixteen weeks or fewer.

The revised bill, House File 2355, also includes provisions that would force Iowans to accept new jobs for lower pay sooner, and would make it easier for Iowans to be denied benefits entirely.

A House amendment offered by State Representative Mike Bousselot removed language that would have denied Iowans benefits the first week they were unemployed. Senate Republicans put the one-week waiting period back in the bill before approving it.

All House and Senate Democrats voted against the bills, as did two Republicans in each chamber: State Representatives Martin Graber and Charlie McClintock, and State Senators Zach Nunn and Jeff Reichman.

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Iowa House Democrats head for the exits

UPDATE: Charlie McConkey became the sixteenth House Democrat to confirm he won’t seek another term. Original post follows.

Nearly 40 percent of the Democrats who now serve in the Iowa House have confirmed they won’t seek re-election this year, and several long-serving incumbents have yet to clarify their plans.

The exodus involves not only lawmakers of retirement age, like State Representatives Marti Anderson and Bruce Hunter, but also some who have decades left in their working lives, like State Representatives Ras Smith, Chris Hall, and Kirsten Running-Marquardt, the latest to announce she won’t continue serving in the legislature.

The unusually high turnover may reflect some pent-up demand; older lawmakers who might have retired a few years ago hung on in light of realistic hope that their party could regain control of the chamber in the 2018 or 2020 elections. That prospect seems remote now, with Republicans enjoying a 60-40 majority and the new political map creating fewer than ten strong pickup opportunities for House Democrats.

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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2022

The Iowa House opened its 2022 session on January 10 with 60 Republicans and 40 Democrats, a one-seat gain for the GOP compared to last year, thanks to a special election last fall.

The House members include 69 men and 31 women (21 Democrats and ten Republicans), down from a record 34 women in 2019 and 33 women in 2020.

Six African Americans (Democrats Ako Abdul-Samad, Ruth Ann Gaines, Ras Smith, Phyllis Thede, and Ross Wilburn, and Republican Eddie Andrews) serve in the legislature’s lower chamber. Republican Mark Cisneros is the first Latino elected to the Iowa legislature, and Republican Henry Stone is only the second Asian American to serve in the House. The other 92 state representatives are white.

Democrat Liz Bennett is the only out LGBTQ member of the Iowa House. To my knowledge, Abdul-Samad (who is Muslim) is the only lawmaker in either chamber to practice a religion other than Christianity.

I’ve posted details below on the Iowa House majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing House committees. Where relevant, I’ve noted changes since last year’s session. The most significant: Republican Mike Bousselot won a September special election following the death of Republican John Landon, and Republican Jon Dunwell won an October special election after Democrat Wes Breckenridge left the legislature for another job.

Some non-political trivia: the Iowa House has two members with the surname Meyer (a Democrat and a Republican). As for popular first names, there are six Davids (three go by Dave), three Roberts (a Rob, a Bob, and a Bobby), three men named Tom or Thomas, three named Steve or Steven, three named Charles (a Chuck and two Charlies), three Brians, three men named Michael (two go by Mike), three Jons and two Johns, and two men each named Gary, Dennis, and Ross. There are also two Elizabeths (a Beth and a Liz), two Shannons, an Ann and an Anne, and two women named Mary (down from four in 2020).

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Srinivas, Bagniewski running for Iowa House seats in Des Moines

The Iowa House Democratic caucus is poised to have more turnover than usual after the 2022 election, as the new legislative map created open seats in some solid blue areas, and several sitting lawmakers have confirmed they won’t seek re-election.

In Des Moines, Megan Srinivas and Sean Bagniewski are the first Democrats to begin campaigning in two House districts where the winner of the June primary is virtually guaranteed to be elected next November.

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Why did so many Democrats vote for Iowa's COVID-19 vaccine law?

Governor Kim Reynolds was “proud” to sign a bill designed to make it easier for Iowans to get around COVID-19 vaccination mandates in the workplace. State Representative Henry Stone, who floor managed the bill in the House, said Republicans worked on this legislation for months, seeking ways to lessen the impact of the Biden administration’s expected rules requiring large employers to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations or frequent testing of employees.

Democrats had no input on the proposal and did not see the bill text until hours before lawmakers debated House File 902 on October 28. Nevertheless, both chambers approved the bill by surprisingly large margins: 68 votes to 27 in the House and 45 votes to 4 in the Senate.

Why did so many Democrats vote for a bill that one supporter described as “a joke” during debate?

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