Claire Celsi announced on Monday that she is running against Republican State Representative Peter Cownie in Iowa House district 42, which covers most of West Des Moines in Polk County. A detailed district map is below, along with background on both candidates. Celsi’s campaign is on the web at Claire4Iowa.com and on Facebook here. Celsi is also on Twitter. Her key campaign promises are to “fight for strong public education, protecting our environment and for sensible economic development that includes the district’s small business owners in the mix.”
House district 42 is relatively balanced politically, with 6,242 active registered Democrats, 7,097 Republicans, and 6,676 no-party voters, according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. The HD-42 precincts voted slightly more Republican than Iowa did as a whole in the 2012 presidential election, giving Barack Obama 49.85 percent of the vote while Mitt Romney won 48.83 percent. On the other hand, Joni Ernst outpolled Bruce Braley here in the 2014 U.S. Senate race by a little less than her winning margin statewide: 51.55 percent to 45.51 percent.
Cownie outperformed the top of the Republican ticket in the last two general elections, winning 56.61 percent of the vote in 2012 and 60.17 percent of the vote last year. He comes from a well-connected family in Polk County, which helped him raise far more money than a typical Iowa House incumbent for his 2012 and 2014 re-election campaigns. Cownie spent very little of those funds on his own race, kicking most of the cash over to the Republican Party of Iowa and its Eisenhower Club for use in other statehouse contests.
First elected in 2008 to replace retiring Republican lawmaker Libby Jacobs, Cownie has chaired the House Commerce Committee since 2013 and led the State Government Committee for two years before that. He is not what you’d call a workhorse at the Capitol. He has co-sponsored various bills and resolutions, but I’m not aware of any particular legislative achievements or causes he has tried to advance. Although many moderate Republicans live in West Des Moines, I can’t think of a time Cownie voted independently from his caucus or stuck his neck out to advocate a less conservative stance on a high-profile issue. For instance, even though he represents an LGBT-friendly district and is of a generation that mostly supports marriage equality, Cownie voted just like everyone else in the GOP caucus for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in 2011. (He opted not to co-sponsor the marriage amendment in subsequent legislatures, but to my knowledge he has never spoken out for equal marriage rights.) Nor did Cownie criticize, let alone try to over-ride, Governor Terry Branstad’s education funding vetoes this summer, which blew a $1 million hole in the West Des Moines school district’s budget after the start of the current fiscal year.
Cownie was rumored to be interested in the House speaker’s chair in 2013, but when the position became available this summer, he did not put his name in as an alternative to Linda Upmeyer.
Iowa House Democratic leaders have not made this district a top target in the past. However, Celsi has been involved with enough Democratic campaigns to understand what successful candidates need to do. If she can raise enough money to run a credible effort, HD-42 could become a targeted race. At the very least, Cownie will need to spend more of his energy and money on his own turf. I consider Celsi a friend and will make time to volunteer for her campaign next year, when I’m not knocking doors for the Democratic nominee in my own House district. (Jennifer Konfrst and Jon Neiderbach are competing for the chance to take on House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow in HD-43.)