Early reaction to Branstad's choice of Kim Reynolds

A string of prominent Iowa Republicans spoke out today praising Terry Branstad’s choice of State Senator Kim Reynolds for lieutenant governor. IowaPolitics.com posted the Branstad campaign’s press releases with encouraging words from Iowa GOP Chairman Matt Strawn, Iowa Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley, Iowa House Minority Leader Kraig Paulsen, former Congressional candidate and tea party favorite Dave Funk, former gubernatorial candidate Christian Fong, and Iowa’s representatives on the Republican National Committee, Steve Scheffler and Kim Lehman. Scheffler heads the Iowa Christian Alliance, and Lehman is a past president of Iowa Right to Life.

The Branstad campaign is anxious to avoid an embarrassing display of support for Bob Vander Plaats at this Saturday’s Republican state convention. Today they hit convention delegates with an e-mail blast and robocalls stressing Reynolds’ “conservative credentials.” The strong words from Scheffler and Lehman in support of the ticket may prevent any media narrative from developing about religious conservatives rejecting Branstad. The Iowa Family Policy Center (viewed by many as a rival to the Iowa Christian Alliance) backed Bob Vander Plaats in the Republican primary and vowed not to endorse Branstad against Democratic Governor Chet Culver. That group recently affirmed that Branstad would need to undergo a “fundamental transformation” to win their support in the general election campaign.

Lehman wrote at the Caffeinated Thoughts blog today that Reynolds’ “record speaks for itself.” Lehman’s long list of conservative bills co-sponsored by Reynolds in the Iowa Senate impressed Caffeinated Thoughts blogmaster Shane Vander Hart. He supported Rod Roberts for governor and was a leader of the petition drive lobbying Branstad to choose Roberts as his running mate.

To my mind, Reynolds’ record in the Iowa Senate says only that she sticks with the consensus in the Republican caucus. She has not taken any unusual positions or been outspoken on any major issues under consideration. An acquaintance I spoke with today, who spends a lot of time at the capitol every year during the legislative session, had not even heard of Reynolds before this week. That’s how low her profile has been during her two years at the statehouse. Reynolds may be a reliable back-bencher for conservatives, but I don’t see her as a strong advocate for the religious right. She doesn’t have the stature to drive the agenda if Branstad is elected. Like Todd Dorman wrote yesterday, the lieutenant governor gets to do “whatever the governor lets you do. And in a Branstad administration, if the past is an indicator, his mate will be the special director of the Department of Not Much.”

Nor is there any indication that Reynolds would urge Branstad to make social issues a priority. I think this pick indicates the business wing of the Iowa GOP is fully in charge–or at least one faction in that wing. Others in the business community appear to have been pushing for Jeff Lamberti or Jim Gibbons to be selected as Branstad’s running mate.

Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge spoke about Reynolds today on behalf of the Culver campaign. She suggested that Reynolds may not help Branstad with the social conservatives who supported other candidates for governor, because she “comes out of the same camp as Terry and Doug Gross rather than out of the camp of Bob Vander Plaats or Mr. Roberts.” In a press release and news conference, Judge also emphasized that we don’t know much about Reynolds’ views on key issues, and that her learning curve will be steep, because she has relatively little experience at the statewide level: “It will take a lot of study on Kim’s part. […] If [Branstad] keeps her in the basement in a small office as he did [former Lieutenant Governor] Joy Corning, then she’s not going to have much of an opportunity to know what’s going on.” Say what you will about Patty Judge (I’m not a fan), but she did have a strong legislative record and eight years of holding statewide office going into the 2006 campaign. She has had real influence on policy in the Culver administration.

Being a blank slate may have its advantages, however. Iowa State University Professor Steffen Schmidt thinks Reynolds was a good choice because she is so unknown that she won’t turn voters off or take attention away from Branstad.

Share any thoughts about the Branstad/Reynolds ticket in this thread.

UPDATE: Jason Hancock pointed out at Iowa Independent:

Kim Lehman, another member of the Republican National Committee and formerly president of Iowa Right to Life, praised Reynolds’ selection and her legislative record, ticking through each of the bills she has sponsored since entering the state Senate in 2008 and concluding, “Reynolds went into office and took the bull by the horns and got busy.”

However, a closer look at the bills Reynolds signed on to reveals she only sponsored one piece of legislation on her own – a requirement that the Department of Natural Resources develop depredation plans to fill harvest quotas of antlerless deer in each county that have not been met at the end of the last established deer hunting season each year.

Other than that, she nearly always joins with all or a large majority of the state Senate’s 18 Republicans to push bills.

FRIDAY UPDATE: Reynolds gave an interview to Kathie Obradovich and spoke about being a recovering alcoholic. This is not going to be an issue.

The Branstad campaign is trying to counter opposition to Reynolds over her support for a recreational lake project that angered some property rights advocates. Today the campaign released an endorsement from State Representative Jeff Kaufmann, who tried to intervene in that dispute on the side of property owners.

“I remain dedicated to the fight for private property rights in this state,” said Kaufmann. “The last four years of Democratic control of the Legislature has yielded no strengthening of these rights.  The Democratic majority has not allowed debate of a single property rights bill despite overwhelming support for the 2006 landmark legislation.”

“Our attempts to protect property rights will be thwarted, as usual, by Governor Culver and Democratic leadership without Republican control of the Legislature,” added Kaufmann. “To me, all other property rights discussions are secondary to that goal.  I look forward to working with Kim Reynolds in the future to protect property owners in the future.”

The Branstad campaign also sent conservative blogger Shane Vander Hart a statement from Reynolds about eminent domain:

I fully support the 2006 legislation that curtailed the use of eminent domain to take private property. I do not support eminent domain for commercial development purposes. I support eminent domain only for essential public services.

That answer satisfied Vander Hart. However, one issue with these recreational lake projects (like ones proposed for Page County, Clarke County and Madison County in recent years) is that the advocates will claim the land grab serves an essential public service, like providing more drinking water. However, analysts dispute whether the lake is really needed as a drinking water source, or whether that’s a ruse to obscure the real goal behind the project. A few people stand to make a lot of money if the farmland they own can be developed as lakeshore property. So the question is whether the state would allow other people’s farmland to be condemned in order to create a lake that’s basically a private commercial development.

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Ralph Reed planning GOTV operation in Iowa

Republican operative Ralph Reed, who once headed the Christian Coalition, is building an Iowa branch for his latest venture, the Faith and Freedom Coalition. Reed spoke at an Iowa Christian Alliance event on Tuesday and promised the crowd that the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition will get “people who share our values” elected “from governor all the way down to the statehouse and school boards all across the state of Iowa.” He said he needed to raise half a million dollars to execute the GOTV plans, reminding the audience that they could donate an unlimited amount, because “we’re not a PAC and we’re not a candidate.”

Reed announced yesterday that he is passing on a chance to run for Congress in order to focus on his new organization:

I believe I can best advance conservative principles by continuing to serve as CEO of Century Strategies, LLC, and founding chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. Century’s voter contact subsidiary and grassroots team will be involved in a number of races in 2010. FFC is growing rapidly, with over 150,000 members and supporters already, currently adding one new state chapter a week and 1,000 new members a day.

In 2010 and 2012, FFC will register an estimated one million new faith-based voters and make tens of millions of voter contacts in what may be the largest conservative get-out-the-vote effort in modern political history. These nationwide efforts offer a much better prospect for changing the direction of the country than winning a Congressional race myself.

Speaking of GOTV, Reed made a bizarre analogy during his speech to the Iowa Christian Alliance audience. According to Kathie Obradovich, Reed said that Barack Obama’s 2008 win in Iowa was like a Harlem Globetrotters game in which the GOP were the team that showed up to get beaten. Makes you wonder why the Republican Party of Iowa hired Jim Anderson as its executive director late last year. Anderson’s main political experience in this state was with John McCain’s “Victory” GOTV operation.

Iowa Christian Alliance head Steve Scheffler said his group won’t be “directly involved” in Iowa elections this year, but will “encourage activists to get involved with a candidate, especially in competitive legislative districts.” Scheffler is also one of Iowa’s representatives on the Republican National Committee.

Former Senator Rick Santorum headlined the Iowa Christian Alliance event. You can read about his speech at Iowa Independent and the Des Moines Register’s blog. I find it amazing that anyone can be considered presidential material after losing re-election in a purple state by 18 points.

All three Republican candidates for governor also spoke Tuesday evening. William Petroski covered highlights at the Des Moines Register’s blog, and Kathie Obradovich covered the event on Twitter. Bob Vander Plaats talked about economic issues and education as well as repeating his promises to halt same-sex marriages and choose a running mate who shares his values. Vander Plaats also mentioned polls showing him leading Governor Chet Culver. Terry Branstad criticized “arrogant” Democratic leaders who are blocking a vote on the definition of marriage. He also took credit for helping make home-schooling legal and passing a ban on late-term abortions while governor. My favorite Branstad line was, I know we made our share of mistakes but I think it’s important to ask Jesus Christ for forgiveness.. Rod Roberts said he can beat Chet Culver and “emphasized his background as development director for Christian Churches/Churches of Christ in Iowa.”

Final note: the Federal Election Commission appears not to have ruled yet on a complaint filed against the Iowa Christian Alliance last year. The complaint alleged that the group had run donations through a Burlington church, a 501(c)3 organization, so that donors could benefit from a tax deduction they wouldn’t receive from giving directly to the Iowa Christian Alliance, a 501(c)4.

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Dream recruit may spark Republican infighting in Senate district 45

Iowa Republicans have landed Sandy Greiner, their dream candidate against first-term Democratic State Senator Becky Schmitz in Senate district 45. The southeast Iowa district includes all of Washington, Jefferson, and Van Buren counties, plus part of Wapello and Johnson counties (map here). Schmitz defeated Republican incumbent David Miller by 184 votes in 2006, but the area leans slightly Republican in terms of voter registration.

Greiner represented Iowa House district 89, which makes up half of Senate district 45, for four terms (1993 to 2001). She then served for two years in the Iowa Senate before redistricting prompted her to return to House district 89 for another three terms (2003-2009). Consequently, she starts the race with high name recognition in the area and will be able to campaign almost as an incumbent. Republican blogger Craig Robinson sounds ready to declare this seat won for the GOP.

Greiner will be a stronger opponent for Schmitz than the three Republicans who had previously declared for the seat (Richard Marlar, Randy Besick and Dan Cesar). However, I would not assume that local Republicans will be united behind her this fall. Greiner is linked to business elites who have battled with activists on the religious right for control over the direction of the Iowa GOP.

Join me after the jump for more background on Greiner and why I suspect some social conservatives will fight her candidacy.

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Year in review: Iowa politics in 2009 (part 2)

Following up on my review of news from the first half of last year, I’ve posted links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of Iowa politics from July through December 2009 after the jump.

Hot topics on this blog during the second half of the year included the governor’s race, the special election in Iowa House district 90, candidates announcing plans to run for the state legislature next year, the growing number of Republicans ready to challenge Representative Leonard Boswell, state budget constraints, and a scandal involving the tax credit for film-making.

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Iowa Christian Alliance faces FEC complaint

The Iowa Christian Alliance, headed by Republican National Committeeman Steve Scheffler, is facing a Federal Election Commission complaint over contributions allegedly run through West Hill United Methodist Church of Burlington. Morris Hurd is pastor of that church and also serves as board president and treasurer of the Iowa Christian Alliance.

The Iowa Christian Alliance is a 501(c)4 non-profit organization, meaning that it can engage in political advocacy on issues, but donations to the group are not tax-deductible. Many houses of worship, including West Hill United Methodist Church, are 501(c)3 non-profits, to which donations are tax-deductible. However, 501(c)3 groups may not engage in political advocacy.

The AP’s Mike Glover summarized the FEC complaint filed last week by Stacey Cargill of West Des Moines:

The complaint charges that Iowa Christian Alliance officials solicited money from potential donors, instructing them to send the money to Hurd’s church, making it tax-deductible. Donations were made with the understanding they would be forwarded to the alliance, the complaint said. […]

In a phone interview, Des Moines lawyer and GOP activist Ted Sporer described a similar process to The Associated Press. He said he wrote two checks to the church.

“The facts are, I was told that if I were to write a check to this church, I would get credit for being a sponsor at Christian Alliance events,” said Sporer. “I was advised that if I wrote the check to the church I would be credited.”

Hurd did not dispute that churches offered financial support to Iowa Christian Alliance.

“There are churches and ministries in Iowa that have supported the ICA and have occasionally contributed to our nonpartisan voter education effort, including voter registration and nonpartisan voter guides,” said Hurd. “They are fully within their right to do so under both the Internal Revenue code and the First Amendment.”

Scheffler told Glover that Cargill “is not dealing with a full deck of cards […] The woman is a troublemaker. She attacks everybody and anybody.”

Cargill filed a previous FEC complaint against the Iowa Christian Alliance, alleging the group allowed a woman to use its office space and database to support presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The FEC rejected that charge in February of this year.

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Branstad running mate speculation thread

Former Governor Terry Branstad is expected to announce soon that he’s running for governor again. The rumor going around town is that he will name his running mate immediately upon entering the race. One person I’ve heard mentioned for that role is former State Representative Libby Jacobs. She represented Iowa House district 60, containing most of West Des Moines, from 1995 until she retired in 2008.

Jacobs would be a logical choice for Branstad in some ways. She could help correct the gender gap that hurts Republican candidates. She could help the GOP in wealthy suburban areas that are no longer solidly Republican. Jacobs never faced serious opposition in House district 60, but Chet Culver carried the district in 2006. Although House district 60 voters elected Republican Peter Cownie to replace Jacobs last November, Barack Obama narrowly beat John McCain in the district.

Jacobs also has time to embark on an aggressive campaign. In May of this year, she was laid off as a spokeswoman for the Principal Financial Group.

Choosing Jacobs would incur some political risks for Branstad, because she was a fairly reliable pro-choice vote in the Iowa House. Jacobs hasn’t been active in Planned Parenthood like some other former Republican women legislators (Joy Corning, Janet Metcalf, Betty Grundberg, Julia Gentleman), but that distinction won’t matter to social conservatives. Certain people on the religious right had trouble accepting even GOP Congressional candidate Mariannette Miller-Meeks, who was against abortion rights with very few exceptions.

Branstad didn’t attend the Iowa Family Policy Center’s big fundraiser in September, and he skipped last weekend’s Iowa Christian Alliance dinner too. Selecting Jacobs or any other pro-choice running mate would indicate that Branstad agrees with his longtime top aide Doug Gross, who says Republicans will continue to lose until they stop alienating moderates and shift their focus from social issues to the economy. In effect, Branstad would be telling social conservatives, “I’ve got the money to win this primary, we need to appeal to the center, now sit down and shut up.”

Republicans who believe Gross hurts the party and are looking for Branstad to distance himself from him will be disappointed. Those who share Bob Vander Plaats’ view (Republicans have been losing elections in Iowa because they’re not conservative enough) will be enraged. Expect WHO talk radio host Steve Deace to go ballistic if Branstad shuns his campaign advice.

Of course, the rumor about Jacobs could turn out to be false. Branstad might choose a running mate with strong backing among social conservatives. That would indicate a desire to unify the party and neutralize critics who are angry that he chose Joy Corning to serve as lieutenant governor. If Branstad has any concerns about losing the Republican primary, he might take this route. Doing so would undercut Vander Plaats, who has already pledged not to pick a pro-choice running mate. State Representative Jodi Tymeson, who co-chairs the Vander Plaats campaign, is widely expected to be his choice for lieutenant governor.

Share any relevant rumors, thoughts or predictions in this thread.

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