Ethics board investigating pro-Republican law-breaking in Iowa House race

A pro-Republican mailing to thousands of Warren County households last month was not only sleazy, but also unlawful.

The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board will investigate who paid to send a letter attacking Democratic State Representative Scott Ourth “to every mailbox in Iowa House district 26” and “what campaign finance laws were violated in the process.”

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Lessons of 2018: If at first you don't succeed, try, try again

Third in a series interpreting the results of Iowa’s 2018 state and federal elections.

At least three and possibly four newly-elected members of the Iowa House had campaigned unsuccessfully for the same seats in past election cycles. Three newly-elected members of the Iowa Senate lost elections for other offices in recent years.

They join a long list of Iowa politicians–including Tom Harkin and Kim Reynolds–who did not win the first time they sought a legislative office.

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A close look at Republican message-testing in key Iowa House races

Republicans are testing potentially damaging messages about Iowa House Democratic candidates, along with statements that might increase support for GOP candidates in battleground legislative districts. After listening to several recordings of these telephone polls and hearing accounts from other respondents, I have three big takeaways:

• Republicans are seeking ways to insulate themselves from voter anger over inadequate education funding and the Branstad administration’s botched Medicaid privatization;
• The time-honored GOP strategy of distorting obscure legislative votes is alive and well;
• The Iowa Democratic Party’s platform plank on legalizing all drugs may be used against candidates across the state.

Read on for much more about these surveys.

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Ten Iowa legislative incumbents who raised surprisingly little for their re-election campaigns

Since the latest deadline for state legislative candidates to report to the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board passed on May 19, I’ve been going through the forms filed by incumbents or challengers in potentially competitive races.

Some of the contribution totals were much lower than I expected to see.

Follow me after the jump for ten Iowa House or Senate incumbents who haven’t been focused on fundraising, even though they could face tough re-election campaigns.

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20 Iowa House races to watch tonight

Thanks to Iowa’s non-partisan redistricting process, we have an unusually large number of competitive state legislative districts. In any given general election, depending on candidate recruitment, between one dozen and two dozen of the 100 Iowa House districts could be up for grabs. Democrats and Republicans spend big money on a much smaller number of districts; this year, only seven Iowa House races involved a large amount of television advertising. But the parties and candidates invest in direct mail and/or radio commercials in many more places than that.

Republicans go into election day favored to hold their Iowa House majority, which now stands at 53 seats to 47. Carolyn Fiddler has pegged seven “districts to watch” at her Statehouse Action blog, and in September, the Des Moines Register’s Jason Noble discussed five districts he viewed as “key to Iowa House chamber control.” I see the playing field as much larger.

Follow me after the jump to review 20 Iowa House seats that will determine control of the chamber for the next two years.

Caveat: most years, there’s at least one shocking result in an Iowa House district neither party had their eye on. I’m thinking about Tami Weincek defeating a longtime Democratic incumbent in Waterloo in 2006, Kent Sorenson defeating a Democratic incumbent in Warren County in 2008, three Democratic state representatives who had run unopposed in 2008 losing in 2010, and Democrat Daniel Lundby taking out the seemingly safe Republican Nick Wagner in the Linn County suburbs in 2012. Wagner had run unopposed in the previous election.

So, while I don’t expect any of the “favored” seats discussed below to change hands, I would not rule out a surprise or two. That would be excellent news for the stealth challenger’s party.

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Iowa House Republican candidate James Butler has history of abuse, misconduct

Yesterday the Iowa Democratic Party published online several disturbing documents about James Butler, the Republican nominee in Iowa House district 26. Butler narrowly won a GOP primary and faces first-term Democratic State Representative Scott Ourth. The seat covers most of Warren County, including the cities of Indianola and Carlisle (a detailed map is after the jump). House district 26 is one of central Iowa’s most politically balanced state legislative districts. As of October 2014, it contained 6,421 active registered Democrats, 6,802 Republicans, and 7,046 no-party voters.

Before the primary, I didn’t hear much about Butler beyond the information in his official bio, which highlighted his career with the Des Moines Police Department. This summer, the Republican Butler defeated in the primary, Eric Durbin, flirted with running for House district 26 as an independent, and I saw some grumbling on social media about Butler’s past. I dismissed that chatter as likely to be sour grapes coming from Durbin’s supporters.

The official documents uploaded yesterday by the Iowa Democratic Party shocked me. First, a court order of protection that Butler’s ex-girlfriend received in 2005 details physical abuse and threats by the police officer. Second, a lawsuit filed by apparently the same woman against Butler, which details further abuse, harassment, and threats, including violation of the no-contact order. Butler allegedly told the woman there was no point in calling law enforcement because he was a police officer. Third, Civil Service Commission and Polk County District Court documents related to Butler’s brief suspension from the Des Moines police over an incident in 1997, when he was working as an off-duty police officer at a convenience store. The Civil Service Commission and later the district court judge validated Butler’s suspension over severe misconduct.

As far as I’m concerned, that kind of record should be disqualifying in a candidate for political office. How is it possible the public is only now hearing about Butler’s background, two weeks before the election and nearly a month after early voting began? The Des Moines Register ran a brief story about Butler’s candidacy in March, based on his press release. Just this week, the paper ran a short profile of Butler as part of its “meet the candidate” series, again using information supplied by the candidate. Maybe I’m naive, but I would have thought the Register would be checking court records and public documents for mentions of state legislative candidates. I also would have expected Butler’s GOP primary opponent to have brought some of this information to light.

UPDATE: I forgot to raise another question: why was Butler able to remain a police officer with this kind of record?

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