Iowa absentee ballot law improved, new voter suppression plans blocked

Iowa lawmakers adjourned for the year on April 27. Bleeding Heartland continues to catch up on some of the legislature’s significant work. Previous reporting related to the 2019 legislative session can be found here.

Republicans have enacted new voting restrictions in some two dozen states this decade. Iowa became part of that trend in 2017 with a law requiring voter ID, shortening the early voting period, and imposing new absentee ballot rules that are on hold pending litigation.

The march toward voter suppression appeared set to continue, with Governor Kim Reynolds winning a four-year term and the GOP retaining control over the Iowa House and Senate last November. Senate State Government Committee chair Roby Smith introduced a horror show election bill days before the legislature’s first “funnel” deadline in March. His Republican colleagues in the upper chamber later approved a bill with most of Smith’s bad-faith proposals.

But in a plot twist, House Republicans agreed to remove all the provisions that would make it harder to vote when House File 692 came back to the lower chamber. The final version, which Reynolds signed on May 16, contained largely technical code revisions and big improvements to the process for tracking and counting absentee ballots.

Follow me after the jump for a short history of a voter suppression tragedy averted.

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How the Iowa House passed the civil rights bill in 2007

Former Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy shares his memories of an important legislative victory twelve years ago. -promoted by Laura Belin

Last month Iowans celebrated ten years of marriage equality. Two years prior, the legislature added protections for LGBTQ people to Iowa’s civil rights law. One of my children asked me to share that experience in writing. What you are about to read is an excerpt.

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Plaintiffs challenging Iowa judicial changes face uphill climb

A Linn County attorney and eight Iowa House Democrats are challenging the new law that altered the composition of the State Judicial Nominating Commission and the term of the Iowa Supreme Court chief justice.

Republican lawmakers approved the changes as an amendment to the “standings” budget bill on the final day of the 2019 legislative session. Governor Kim Reynolds signed the bill on May 8, giving herself and future governors nearly unchecked power to choose judges for Iowa’s Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.

The plaintiffs are not claiming the legislature lacked the power to change the commission’s membership through a statute. Although most of Iowa’s judicial selection system is spelled out in the state constitution, which takes years to amend, a loophole in Article V, Section 16 specified the manner of forming judicial nominating commissions only “Until July 4, 1973, and thereafter unless otherwise provided by law.”

Rather, the lawsuit filed in Polk County District Court on May 14 cites two constitutional violations related to the process by which the law passed and one violation related to the separation of powers.

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First look at the Iowa House landscape for 2020

Republicans used their control over state government to inflict tremendous damage on Iowa during the 2019 legislative session: underfunding education, blocking steps that would improve Medicaid services, dismantling effective sex education programs, further undermining workers’ rights, targeting health care for transgender Iowans, and giving Governor Kim Reynolds the ability to pack our highest courts with conservative ideologues.

The disastrous outcomes underscored the urgent need for Democrats to break the Republican trifecta in 2020. The Iowa House is the only realistic path for doing so, since Reynolds won’t be up for re-election next year, and the 32-18 GOP majority in the Iowa Senate will take several cycles to undo. State Representative Andy McKean’s recent party switch improved Democratic prospects, shrinking the Republican majority in the chamber from 54-46 to 53-47. Nevertheless, a net gain of four House seats will be no easy task for Democrats.

The Daily Kos Elections team calculated the 2018 election results for governor and state auditor in every Iowa House district. Jeff Singer discussed their key findings in a May 2 post: Reynolds carried 60 state House districts, Democratic nominee Fred Hubbell just 39. The “median seat backed Reynolds 51.0-46.3, a margin of 4.7 points. That’s about 2 points to the right of her statewide margin of 2.8 points.” Eight Democrats represent districts Reynolds carried, and one (Dave Williams) represents a district where Reynolds and Hubbell tied, while “only one Republican is in a Hubbell district.”

I’d encourage all Iowa politics watchers to bookmark the DK Elections number-crunching, as well as the team’s spreadsheet on 2016 presidential results by House district.

The Daily Kos team also looked at the 2018 voting for state auditor, seeking clues on which House seats might be within reach for Democrats. I don’t find that angle as useful. Previous State Auditor Mary Mosiman ran a terrible campaign. Not only did Rob Sand outwork Mosiman on the trail, he ran unanswered television commercials for six weeks, allowing him to go into election day with higher name ID than the incumbent, which is almost unheard of. Sad to say, Democrats won’t be outspending incompetent, little-known GOP candidates in the 2020 state legislative races.

Here’s my first take on both parties’ best pickup opportunities. What appear to be competitive state House seats may shift over the coming year, depending on candidate recruitment and incumbent retirements, so Bleeding Heartland will periodically return to this topic.

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Dark money group spent $1.25 million pushing MidAmerican's solar bill

A group that popped up this year to support MidAmerican Energy’s solar bill spent $1.25 million on television commercials alone, as well as at least $11,000 on Facebook advertising and an undisclosed sum on direct mail.

The REAL Coalition conceals its donors and board members but appears to be funded primarily by utility companies and the industry’s trade association.

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Four reasons the GOP attack on trans Iowans won't hold up in court

Republicans slipped a couple of nasty surprises into the health and human services budget on the penultimate day of the Iowa legislature’s 2019 session. One of the new provisions in House File 766 would amend the Iowa Civil Rights Act to deprive transgender and intersex Iowans of access to surgery through Medicaid or other public health insurance programs.

Governor Kim Reynolds should strike this language because denying health care to people in need is reprehensible.

If she lacks the empathy to comprehend why punching down on a marginalized group is wrong, the governor should use her item veto power for a pragmatic reason: the Iowa Supreme Court is unlikely to let this discriminatory act stand.

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