Bennett Smith weighing independent bid in Iowa House district 54

Iowa House district 54 shouldn’t be on the map of competitive 2020 state legislative races. Democrats haven’t fielded a candidate in the district outgoing House Speaker Linda Upmeyer is vacating in any of the last four elections.

However, Republicans are no longer guaranteed to keep this seat in the GOP column.

Clear Lake City Council member Bennett Smith announced on December 5 that he may run for the Iowa House as an independent. Although it’s been nearly a century since anyone with no party affiliation has won an Iowa legislative race, Smith would be a credible candidate.

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How Linda Upmeyer could use her unspent campaign funds

Iowa House Speaker Linda Upmeyer raised more than $1.5 million during the 2018 election cycle and donated most of the money to the Republican Party of Iowa, for use in competitive state legislative races. Upmeyer surely raised significant funds during the first nine months of this year, before she confirmed plans to step down as speaker. (We won’t know how much until Iowa lawmakers file their next campaign finance disclosures in January.)

What’s going to happen to the money in Upmeyer’s campaign account, given that the soon-to-be-former caucus leader won’t run for re-election in 2020?

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How not to retire from the Iowa legislature (revisited)

A few months ago, Bleeding Heartland criticized the practice of longtime Iowa legislators announcing their retirements within a day or two of the filing deadline for primary candidates. Too many incumbents in both parties have pulled that stunt over the years. Respect for one’s constituents demands giving people outside a small circle of party activists a few weeks, or ideally a few months, to consider running for the Iowa House or Senate.

Yesterday, State Representative Henry Rayhons demonstrated an even worse way to retire from the Iowa legislature. Just eleven days before the deadline for getting a candidate on the general election ballot, the nine-term Iowa House Republican announced that he would not seek re-election, citing “ongoing family and health matters.” Rae Yost reported for the Mason City Globe-Gazette that the Rayhons family “has been dealing with issues regarding appointment of a guardian and conservator” for the 78-year-old lawmaker’s wife.

Rayhons should have announced his retirement earlier this year, anticipating that he would be unable to serve another two-year term. Then other Republicans could have competed in a primary to represent Iowa House district 8, covering part of Kossuth County and all of Hancock and Wright counties. Now only a handful of GOP activists will have a say in choosing Rayhons’ successor. They need to convene a nominating convention in the middle of vacation season and the Iowa State Fair. The GOP nominee will face Democrat Nancy Huisinga in a district that strongly favors Republicans in voter registrations and presidential voting in 2012.

Arguably, Rayhons should have stepped aside gracefully three years ago, after Iowa’s new map of political boundaries threw him and two House GOP colleagues into House district 8. Instead, House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer moved to the Clear Lake area to run in House district 52. It made no sense for Upmeyer to defer to an eight-term backbencher like Rayhons when doing so meant bigfooting Gabe Haugland, the ambitious young Republican who was already planning to run in HD-52. Everyone could see that Rayhons didn’t have a long political career ahead of him and wasn’t a key member of the House GOP caucus. We haven’t seen the last of Haugland, who was elected to the Iowa GOP’s State Central Committee earlier this year. But he could be seeking a second term in a safe Iowa House seat by now if Rayhons had allowed Upmeyer to stay in HD-08.

I’m glad there is no mandatory retirement age for Iowa legislators, but sometimes our older incumbents are too reluctant to step aside for a younger generation.

UPDATE: I was sorry to hear that Donna Lou Young Rayhons passed away on August 8.

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