Liz Bennett, Breanna Oxley face off in open Iowa Senate primary (updated)

Catching up on some news from before the holiday weekend: a competitive Democratic primary is shaping up for an open Iowa Senate seat covering part of Cedar Rapids. Four-term State Representative Liz Bennett confirmed on June 30 that she will run for the district that State Senator Rob Hogg has represented since 2007. Hogg won’t seek re-election in 2022, he announced last month. Iowa has yet to adopt a new political map, but this district will cover some part of the city of Cedar Rapids.

Bennett is the ranking Democrat on the Iowa House Economic Growth Committee and a member of the Human Resources, Natural Resources, and Information Technology committees, as well as the Transportation, Infrastructure and Capitals Appropriations subcommittee. Having won four previous state legislative races, she will be the early favorite in the Iowa Senate primary.

Bennett is also the first out LGBTQ woman elected to the Iowa legislature and the only out LGBTQ person now serving at the statehouse. Only one out LGBTQ person has ever served in the Iowa Senate: Matt McCoy, who did not seek re-election in 2018.

Breanna Oxley, a public school teacher and education activist, was first to declare her candidacy for the Cedar Rapids Senate district on June 15. She told Bleeding Heartland last week she is staying in that race. Her endorsers include former U.S. Representative Dave Loebsack, former State Senator Swati Dandekar, and former Linn County Supervisor Linda Langston.

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Axne, Feenstra vote to repeal Iraq war authorization

Democratic Representative Cindy Axne (IA-03) and Republican Representative Randy Feenstra (IA-04) voted on June 17 to repeal the 2002 authorization for the use of military force against Iraq. House members approved the legislation by 268 votes to 161, with 49 Republicans joining all but one Democrat to support the repeal.

Representatives Ashley Hinson (IA-01) and Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02) were among the 160 Republicans to vote no.

None of Iowa’s representatives released a statement about this vote or mentioned it on their social media feeds. Bleeding Heartland sought comment from staff for all four members on the morning of June 18, but none replied. I will update this post as needed if anyone explains their reasons for voting yes or no on this effort to “rein in presidential war-making powers for the first time in a generation.” Jennifer Steinhauer reported for the New York Times,

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Iowa delegation tries again to address military suicides (updated)

UPDATE: The U.S. Senate passed the Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans Mental Health Act of 2021 by unanimous consent on June 24, and President Joe Biden signed it into law on June 30. Original post follows.

From the earliest Memorial Day observances organized by freed slaves following the Civil War, this holiday has focused on remembering military service members who died in wars. More than 26,700 Iowans have died in wartime service, with the Civil War accounting for nearly half of the fatalities.

Far too many Americans with military backgrounds die by their own hands. Hundreds of active-duty troops and more than 6,000 veterans take their own lives every year. That death toll exceeds the total U.S. military fatalities in Iraq from 2003 to 2020.

Iowa’s members of Congress have tried again this spring to improve mental health services for veterans. Unlike in previous years, legislation named after Sergeant Brandon Ketchum made it through the U.S. House and now awaits action in the Senate.

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Scott County Democrats face huge organizing challenge

Scott County’s three Republican supervisors voted on May 25 to appoint Kerri Tompkins as the county’s new auditor, having considered no other candidates for the position, and giving members of the public no opportunity to comment.

The vacancy arose when Democratic Auditor Roxanna Moritz resigned just a few months into a four-year term. The three Republicans on the five-member board did not solicit applications for the vacancy or interview candidates. Rather, they decided to appoint Tompkins in a backroom deal, possibly violating Iowa’s open records law in the process.

The two Democrats on the Board of Supervisors wanted to hold a special election to determine Moritz’s replacement, but they didn’t have the votes to make it happen.

Local Democrats are trying to petition for a special election. But a law Republicans enacted earlier this year will make that task much more difficult.

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Steve King has skipped almost every U.S. House vote since the election

U.S. House members took two important votes on December 28. First, 231 Democrats and 44 Republicans approved a motion to increase direct COVID-19 relief payments for millions of Americans from $600 to $2,000, as President Donald Trump had demanded last week. About an hour later, 322 representatives voted to override Trump’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act. Iowa’s three Democratic representatives (Abby Finkenauer, Dave Loebsack, and Cindy Axne) were part of both majority votes.

Outgoing U.S. Representative Steve King was not present for either vote. Since the November election, he has missed most of the House floor action.

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Most Iowans in Congress supported latest COVID-19 package

The U.S. House and Senate on December 21 approved a $2.3 trillion package to fund the federal government through September 30, 2021 and provide approximately $900 billion in economic stimulus or relief connected to the coronavirus pandemic.

No one in either chamber had time to read the legislation, which was nearly 5,600 pages long, before voting on it. Statements released by Iowans in Congress, which I’ve enclosed below, highlight many of its key provisions. The unemployment and direct payments to families are clearly insufficient to meet the needs of millions of struggling Americans. Senate Republicans blocked aid to state and local governments, many of which are facing budget shortfalls. President-elect Joe Biden has vowed to push for a much larger economic stimulus package early next year.

The legislation headed to President Donald Trump’s desk includes some long overdue changes, such as new limits on “surprise billing” by health care providers for emergency care and some out-of-network care.

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