Dems contesting far more Iowa House, Senate seats than in 2010 or 2014

Democrats are fielding a nearly full slate of Iowa House and Senate candidates this year, leaving far fewer GOP-held seats unchallenged than in the last two midterm elections.

The improvement is particularly noticeable in the Iowa House, where Republicans have an unusually large number of open seats to defend. Twelve of the 59 GOP state representatives are retiring, and a thirteenth seat (House district 43) is open due to Majority Leader Chris Hagenow’s move to safer Republican territory in Dallas County.

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Monica Kurth wins special election in Iowa House district 89

Democrat Monica Kurth easily won the January 31 special election to represent Iowa House district 89. The seat covering parts of Davenport (map enclosed below) became vacant after Jim Lykam won the recent special election to represent Iowa Senate disrict 45. Kurth defeated Republican Mike Gonzales by 2081 votes to 784 (72.4 percent to 27.3 percent). In effect, she won before polls opened yesterday. Absentee ballots broke 1,092 to 86 in her favor, Ed Tibbetts reported.

Kurth has been a community activist for many years and was a longtime instructor and counselor at Scott Community College. During the campaign, she promised to advocate for higher wages, good education, and retirement security, and to “keep focused on working families, not special interests.”

The total number of ballots cast in House district 89 was close to what special election guru David Beaudoin projected, based on his analysis of the district and Lykam’s results against Gonzales in December. However, Kurth’s winning margin exceeded Beaudoin’s prediction. Republicans put little effort into winning this district, which contains 7,403 active registered Democrats, 4,730 Republicans, and 8,416 no-party voters, according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. Gonzales raised less than $3,000, of which about $1,000 came from GOP county committees. He reported no in-kind expenditures by the Iowa GOP.

In contrast, Kurth raised about $24,000 for this race, of which $15,000 came from Democratic or labor organizations. The Iowa Democratic Party also spent nearly $30,000 on direct mail and advertising.

Former (and presumably future) presidential candidate Martin O’Malley came to Davenport last weekend to help Kurth’s campaign. He showed up for Lykam before the December Senate election as well.

Once Kurth has been sworn in, the Iowa House will have 59 Republicans and 41 Democrats. She will bring the number of women in the chamber to 28: nineteen Democrats and nine Republicans.

P.S.- Nine people went to the trouble of casting a ballot in this January election for a write-in candidate. I’m always fascinated by such behavior.

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Weekend open thread: Terrible predictions edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

In the real world as well as on social media, many Iowa Democratic activists have been talking about Rich Leopold this week. Since announcing his candidacy for governor on Wednesday, Leopold has reached out to county chairs and other local leaders in a bunch of towns. I hope his early, aggressive campaign will drive other Democrats thinking about this race to start pounding the pavement sooner rather than later. I’m all for a spirited, competitive 2018 primary.

Longtime Johnson County elections office worker John Deeth wrote a must-read “deep dig” about the real-world implications of “the proposed voter ID legislation, with the Orwellian name ‘Voter Integrity,’ launched by Secretary of State Paul Pate on Thursday.” Key point: county auditors of both parties are not fans of voter ID, “because they’ve been on the front lines of dealing with the public and they know that it doesn’t solve anything and that it will make it harder for the public.” Bleeding Heartland’s take on Pate’s solution in search of a problem is here.

Des Moines Register statehouse reporter Brianne Pfannenstiel published a heartbreaking account of her mother’s terminal illness during the presidential campaign, a “sudden and devastating” ordeal that still “hurts like hell every day.”

Along with most Iowa politics watchers, I’m gearing up for the 2017 Iowa legislative session, which begins on Monday. First, let’s take care of some unfinished business from 2016. Like many political writers and a fair number of Bleeding Heartland readers, I had a horrendous year for predictions.

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We need new candidates in House districts 90 and 21

A special election will be held in Iowa House district 90 to replace State Representative John Whitaker, who is becoming Iowa State Executive Director for the Farm Service Agency at the USDA. In theory, Democrats shouldn’t have trouble holding this district, where Whitaker won re-election last year with more than 80 percent of the vote. (His only opponent was from the “4th of July Party.”)

However, John Deeth noted last month that this district has been competitive in the recent past. I want to hear from Democrats familiar with Jefferson and Van Buren counties: who should run for Whitaker’s seat? Anyone know who might run on the Republican side? (UPDATE: According to IowaPolitics.com, “community activist and educator Curt Hanson of Fairfield,” a retired teacher and Democrat, has already announced that he’s running for this seat. His campaign website is here, and he’s already on Twitter and Facebook.)

In unhappier news, State Representative Kerry Burt appears to have lied about where his children lived to avoid paying tuition fees:

The University of Northern Iowa’s Malcolm Price Laboratory School failed to collect more than $250,000 in tuition from a dozen families, including a state representative and the school’s former executive director, the state auditor said Thursday.[…]

– Burt had children enrolled in the school since 2001. He listed a home owned by Marguerite Pircer, who said Burt is her daughter’s paternal uncle, as his childrens’ address. Pircer said Burt’s children never lived in her home. Burt told state auditors that “Mr. Smith and several other staff knew my niece lived at the 1815 Franklin Street and no one questioned it.” He also said David Smith knew he had a Waterloo address.

The unpaid registration fees for Burt’s children were $37,139.

Burt declined comment Thursday, saying all questions had to be directed to his attorneys.

In an unrelated matter, the first-term lawmaker has also pleaded innocent to a drunken driving charge filed against him earlier this spring.

For once I agree with Republican Party of Iowa chairman Matt Strawn, who called for Burt to resign and repay the tuition fees his family evaded. I don’t want this guy on the ballot as a Democrat next year. I don’t want other Democrats publicly defending him. I don’t want the Iowa House Ethics Committee to settle this matter. Whatever they do to discipline Burt, they’ll be accused of going too easy on him.

It’s a real shame. Burt’s victory over Republican incumbent Tami Wiencek was a pleasant surprise last November. Iowa Democrats hadn’t targeted House district 21, but Burt won by about 200 votes. I want to hear from Democrats familiar with Black Hawk County: who should run for this seat if Burt steps down?

Districts 90 and 21 are more important holds than, say, Larry Marek’s seat in House district 89, because Whitaker and Burt weren’t part of the “six-pack” that kept us from getting 51 votes for some important bills.

P.S.- When will Strawn call for the resignation of Republican State Senator James Seymour, who pled guilty to a prostitution charge in 2002?

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