Who's who in the Iowa House for 2020

The Iowa House opened its 2020 session on January 13 with 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats, a change from last year’s 54-46 split due to State Representative Andy McKean’s party switch shortly before lawmakers adjourned last year.

The House members include 67 men and 33 women (23 Democrats and ten Republicans). Although 34 women were elected to the chamber in 2018 (a record number), State Representative Lisa Heddens stepped down last summer, and Ross Wilburn won the special election to serve out her term in House district 46.

Five African Americans (Democrats Ako Abdul-Samad, Ruth Ann Gaines, Ras Smith, Phyllis Thede, and Wilburn) will serve in the legislature’s lower chamber; the other 95 lawmakers are white. No Latino has ever been elected to the Iowa House, and there has not been an Asian-American member since Swati Dandekar moved up to the state Senate following the 2008 election. Democratic State Representative Liz Bennett is the only out LGBTQ member of the lower chamber. To my knowledge, Abdul-Samad (who is Muslim) is the only lawmaker in either chamber to practice a religion other than Christianity.

After the jump I’ve posted details 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 significant changes since last year.

Some non-political trivia: the Iowa House includes two Smiths (both Democrats), while the other 98 members have different surnames. As for popular first names, there are six Davids (four go by Dave), four Marys (one goes by Mary Ann), three Roberts (a Rob, a Bob, and a Bobby), three men named Thomas (two go by Tom), three Johns and two Jons, and three men each named Gary and Brian. There are also two Elizabeths (a Beth and a Liz) and two men each named Bruce, Chris, Jeff, Michael (one goes by Mike), Ross, and Charles (a Chuck and a Charlie).

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Reynolds, GOP killed way to reduce racial, economic disparities in Iowa courts

Governor Kim Reynolds made headlines last week with two vetoes: blocking language targeting the attorney general, and rejecting a medical cannabis bill that had strong bipartisan support in both chambers.

A provision she didn’t veto drew little attention. For the foreseeable future, it will prevent Iowa courts from using a tool designed to make the criminal justice system more fair to defendants of all races and income levels.

Reynolds should appreciate the value of the Public Safety Assessment (PSA), since she works closely with two former State Public Defenders: Lieutenant Governor Adam Gregg and the governor’s senior legal counsel Sam Langholz. But last year she ordered a premature end to a pilot program introducing the tool in four counties. The governor’s staff did not reply to repeated inquiries about the reasoning behind Reynolds’ stance on this policy.

Notably, the owner of Iowa’s largest bail bonding company substantially increased his giving to GOP candidates during the last election cycle, donating $10,100 to the governor’s campaign and $28,050 to Republicans serving in the state legislature.

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Reynolds/Miller deal could encourage future Republican power grabs

Governor Kim Reynolds issued her first item veto of the year this week, rejecting part of a budget bill that sought to limit Attorney General Tom Miller’s authority to sign on to multi-state lawsuits. However, she did so only after Miller agreed not to join any such litigation without her permission, ensuring that he “will not be suing the Trump administration” anymore. In addition, the governor’s veto letter praised the “Legislature’s leadership on this issue.”

While not the worst-case scenario, the resolution of this conflict could invite more Republican bills encroaching on the authority of statewide elected Democrats. The governor and her staff could then pressure those officials to cede some of their power in exchange for a veto.

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"This is political": House Republicans vote to limit Iowa AG's powers

North Carolina Republican lawmakers started the trend after losing the governor’s race in 2016. GOP legislative majorities in Michigan and Wisconsin followed suit late last year, seeking to hamstring newly-elected governors and the Michigan attorney general. Kansas Republicans are now trying to limit the appointment power of that state’s Democratic governor.

Iowa House Republicans took their own step toward “banana-republic style governance” on April 23, voting for unprecedented restrictions on Attorney General Tom Miller’s ability to make legal decisions.

The bill’s floor manager, State Representative Gary Worthan, admitted his proposal stemmed from political disagreements with Miller, whom Iowans elected to a tenth term last November.

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Where things stand with Republican bills targeting Iowa workers

Republican attacks on working Iowans have received less attention this year than in 2017, when new laws shredded public employee collective bargaining rights, blocked local governments from raising the minimum wage, and reduced workers’ compensation benefits, especially for those who hurt their shoulder on the job.

But below the radar, GOP lawmakers have moved several bills lately that would make life harder for working people, including some facing the difficult circumstances of unemployment or workplace injury.

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The 2007 votes that made 2019 a historic year for transgender Iowans

Only three months in, 2019 is already the most significant year for transgender equality in Iowa since 2007, when state lawmakers and Governor Chet Culver added sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes in the Iowa Civil Rights Act. That 1965 law hadn’t been significantly amended in decades.

The crucial Iowa House and Senate votes on the civil rights law happened during the first year since the 1960s that Democrats controlled both legislative chambers and the governor’s office. Support for LGBTQ equality is often taken for granted now in Democratic circles, but the issue was seen as more politically volatile twelve years ago. The bill amending the civil rights act came late in the 2007 legislative session and could not have passed without some Republican votes.

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