Iowa lawmakers drop lawsuit over governor's illegal fund transfer

Catching up on news overshadowed by the biggest Iowa politics story of the week: on May 23 a group of Iowa House Democrats dropped their legal challenge to Governor Kim Reynolds’ use of emergency funds without legislative approval last September. Reynolds transferred $13 million from the Iowa Economic Emergency Fund to cover a shortfall in the fiscal 2017 budget, despite a warning from State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald that Iowa law did not permit that action.

State Representative Chris Hall, the ranking Democrat on the Iowa House Appropriations Committee, filed suit in January, charging that Reynolds and Department of Management Director David Roederer “conspired together to unlawfully appropriate and misuse state funds.” The lawsuit alleged that the governor acted unilaterally in order to avoid the political fallout from calling the legislature back for a special session. House Democrats Marti Anderson, Liz Bennett, Bruce Hunter, Jerry Kearns, Monica Kurth, and Amy Nielsen joined the legal action a few weeks later.

Republican legislators tacitly acknowledged that Reynolds broke the law. They added language to a bill cutting current-year spending that retroactively legalized the governor’s action and appropriated $13 million from the emergency fund to the general fund for fiscal year 2017. (See page 8 of Senate File 2117, which both chambers passed along party lines in March.)

“Our legal challenge held Governor Reynolds and Republicans accountable, and it did so without costing taxpayers a single dime,” Hall said in a news release enclosed in full below. “We have seen too many cover ups and not enough leadership from the Reynolds administration. This is a victory for taxpayers and ensures that our tax dollars will be spent according to the law.”

UPDATE: I should have mentioned that there would be little to gain by following through with this lawsuit. Once the legislature passed and Reynolds signed Senate File 2117, a court would almost certainly have dismissed the case as moot.

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Kim Reynolds misleads three times in one sound bite on GOP tax bill

“Republicans led on tax reform in 2018,” Governor Kim Reynolds asserted in a news release after lawmakers adjourned for the year on May 5. “As a result, hardworking, middle class Iowa families, farmers, small business owners and workers get meaningful relief, all while Iowa’s budget priorities in future years are protected.”

None of those claims withstand scrutiny.

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Dems contesting far more Iowa House, Senate seats than in 2010 or 2014

Democrats are fielding a nearly full slate of Iowa House and Senate candidates this year, leaving far fewer GOP-held seats unchallenged than in the last two midterm elections.

The improvement is particularly noticeable in the Iowa House, where Republicans have an unusually large number of open seats to defend. Twelve of the 59 GOP state representatives are retiring, and a thirteenth seat (House district 43) is open due to Majority Leader Chris Hagenow’s move to safer Republican territory in Dallas County.

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Incumbents retiring in two battleground GOP-held Iowa Senate districts

During the last week before the filing deadline, Republican State Senators Mark Chelgren and Rick Bertrand announced that they will not seek re-election in 2018. Iowa Senate districts 41 and 7 were already the best Democratic pickup opportunities on a difficult midterm election map. Of the 29 Republicans now serving in the upper chamber, only four–Chelgren, Bertrand, Dan Dawson, and Tom Greene–hold seats where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans (barely in Dawson’s district). Dawson and Greene won’t be up for re-election until 2020.

Winning an open seat is usually easier than defeating a legislative incumbent, and Bertrand’s retirement clearly improves Democratic chances in Senate district 7.

But Republicans have likely increased their odds of holding Senate district 41 by swapping out Chelgren for Mariannette Miller-Meeks.

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