Interview: Christina Bohannan on running for Congress in IA-02

State Representative Christina Bohannan confirmed on August 24 that she’s running for Congress in Iowa’s second district. She’s the first declared Democratic candidate for the seat, where Republican U.S. Representative Miller-Meeks was certified the winner in 2020 by six votes out of nearly 400,000 cast.

Last year’s campaign in IA-02 was Iowa’s most expensive U.S. House race, with the candidates spending nearly $6 million and outside groups putting in more than $15.5 million over the cycle. Both parties are expected to target the district next year, and Miller-Meeks’ campaign had more than $1.1 million cash on hand as of June 30.

Speaking by phone a few hours after her campaign became official, Bohannan told Bleeding Heartland, “I’m having way more fun than I think you’re supposed to when you’re running for Congress.” She said she’s enjoyed the conversations she’s had today and is feeling “really good” about her early fundraising.

I had more questions for the new candidate.

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Poorly-drafted law opened door to Iowa City mask order

Republican lawmakers intended to prohibit schools, cities, and counties from requiring masks when they amended an education bill on the final day of the legislature’s 2021 session. But House File 847, which Governor Kim Reynolds rushed to sign within hours of its passage, was not well crafted to accomplish that goal.

An apparent drafting error opened the door for the mask order Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague announced on August 19, with the full support of the city council.

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Iowa's new qualified immunity law may not hold up in court

“Iowa’s law enforcement will always have my respect, and I will always have their back,” Governor Kim Reynolds declared while signing Senate File 342 on June 17. Sections 12 through 16 of the wide-ranging policing bill establish a “qualified immunity” standard for Iowa. Effective immediately upon the governor’s signature, state employees or law enforcement officers who violate individuals’ constitutional rights can be sued only if their conduct violated “clearly established” law, such that “every reasonable employee would have understood” the act was illegal.

The provisions were crafted to match decades-old federal qualified immunity standards, and to override an Iowa Supreme Court ruling that was more favorable to Iowans whose rights have been violated by police.

The new law will almost certainly be challenged. And while the conservative majority on the Iowa Supreme Court often defers to other branches of government, the justices may find that Senate File 342’s language on qualified immunity is incompatible with the Iowa Constitution.

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Will poll-tested language sway Iowa voters on abortion amendment?

During the closing days of the Iowa legislature’s 2021 session, Republicans accomplished one task that eluded them in 2020: getting a constitutional amendment on abortion halfway toward appearing on a statewide ballot. I expected the House and Senate to approve the measure quickly, emboldened by a larger majority in the lower chamber, where the proposal stalled last year.

Instead, Republicans spent months haggling over how the amendment would be phrased, hoping to make this effort more palatable to Iowans who currently oppose it.

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Governor rushes to ban local, school mask mandates

Governor Kim Reynolds has 30 days to consider any bills sent to her during the final days of a legislative session, but she could hardly wait 30 seconds to sign one of the bills approved hours before the Iowa House and Senate adjourned for the year.

The governor’s office announced at 12:36 am that Reynolds had signed House File 847, an education bill amended on May 19 to prohibit school districts and local governments from following best practices for slowing the spread of COVID-19.

Moments earlier, Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley had brought the bill to the governor’s desk.

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Prospects for overturning Iowa's voter suppression law

Less than 24 hours after Governor Kim Reynolds signed into law new limits on every way to vote in Iowa, attorneys representing the League of United Latin American Citizens in Iowa (LULAC) filed the first lawsuit challenging Senate File 413. Plaintiffs argue the law is “fatally unconstitutional” because it imposes many new burdens on voting, with no justification and no “unifying theme other than making both absentee and election day voting more difficult for lawful Iowa voters.” The named defendants are Secretary of State Paul Pate (the state elections commissioner) and Attorney General Tom Miller (who supervises the county attorneys who would prosecute violations of the law).

The suit filed on March 9 won’t be the only litigation to test Senate File 413. The Libertarian Party of Iowa intends to challenge the much higher signature thresholds for third-party and independent candidates, state party chair Mike Conner Jr. confirmed to Bleeding Heartland. I briefly discuss those potential claims near the end of this post.

But restrictions on voting, especially early voting, are the centerpiece of the new law and the focus of LULAC’s lawsuit. Lead attorney Marc Elias summed up the case on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show on March 9, saying, “Iowa had good, clean elections this November, as they have in the past, and without any reason other than to make voting harder, Iowa made voting harder.”

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