# Jane Bloomingdale



Governor's plan would gut independence of Iowa Consumer Advocate

First in a series analyzing Governor Kim Reynolds’ plan to restructure state government.

Attorney General Brenna Bird would gain direct control over the office charged with representing Iowa consumers on issues related to utilities, under Governor Kim Reynolds’ proposed restructuring of state government.

House Study Bill 126, which lays out the governor’s plan over more than 1,500 pages, contains several provisions undermining the independence of the Office of Consumer Advocate. Iowa House State Government Committee chair Jane Bloomingdale introduced the legislation on February 1.

The Office of Consumer Advocate’s mission is to represent consumers on issues relating to gas and electric utilities and telecommunications services, “with the goal of maintaining safe, reliable, reasonably-priced, and nondiscriminatory utility services.” Much of the office’s work involves matters before the Iowa Utilities Board, which regulates the state’s investor-owned utilities, Alliant Energy and MidAmerican Energy.

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The twelve Iowa Republicans who voted against school vouchers

Less than two weeks after making her latest pitch for “school choice,” Governor Kim Reynolds got what she wanted. The Republican-controlled legislature approved the governor’s expansive school voucher program, by 55 votes to 45 in the Iowa House and 31 votes to 18 in the Senate.

The state of play in the lower chamber was in doubt as recently as a few days ago. Reynolds had only one public event on her schedule last week, but she held private meetings with more than a few House Republicans who either opposed her plan or were on the fence about approving an unlimited new entitlement for families choosing private schools. According to the fiscal analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, which does not include all expenses, the proposal will cost Iowa’s general fund an additional $878.8 million over the next four fiscal years, with costs reaching about $345 million during the fourth year.

House leaders changed the chamber’s rules to keep the voucher bill out of the Appropriations and Ways and Means committees, where there might not have been enough Republican support to send the legislation to the floor. Senate leaders used a procedural trick to prevent any Democratic amendments from being considered.

No GOP lawmakers spoke against the bill during the floor debates in either chamber. Three Republican holdouts (State Representatives Chad Ingels, Brian Lohse, and Tom Moore) indicated during the five-hour House session that they would like to be recognized by the chair. But each turned off their light at some point before being called on to speak.

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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2023

The Iowa House opened its 2023 session on January 9 with 64 Republicans and 36 Democrats, a four-seat gain for the GOP compared to last year.

Thirty-eight representatives (24 Republicans and fourteen Democrats) were just elected to the chamber for the first time in November. Two Republicans previously held other legislative offices: Craig Johnson served one and a half terms in the Iowa Senate, and David Young served two terms in Congress.

The House members include 71 men and 29 women (sixteen Democrats and thirteen Republicans), down from 31 women who served for the last two years. The record for women’s representation in the Iowa House was 34 female lawmakers in 2019.

Six African Americans (Democrats Ako Abdul-Samad, Jerome Amos, Jr., Ruth Ann Gaines, Mary Madison, and Ross Wilburn, and Republican Eddie Andrews) serve in the legislature’s lower chamber. As Abdul-Samad began his seventeenth year at the capitol, he surpassed Helen Miller as Iowa’s longest-serving Black state legislator.

Republican Mark Cisneros was the first Latino elected to the Iowa legislature in 2020, and Democrat Adam Zabner is now the second Latino serving in the chamber. Republican Henry Stone became only the second Asian American to serve in the House after the 2020 election, and Democrat Megan Srinivas was also elected in November. The other 92 state representatives are white.

Democrat Elinor Levin is the only out LGBTQ member of the Iowa House. She and Zabner are also the first Jews to serve in the chamber for more than three decades. Abdul-Samad is the only Muslim member of the House, and Srinivas is Hindu.

I’ve posted details below on the Iowa House majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing House committees. Where relevant, I’ve noted changes since last year’s session. The biggest change is that House Speaker Pat Grassley created an Education Reform Committee to consider the governor’s school voucher plan and other controversial education bills. The House also eliminated the Information Technology Committee.

Some non-political trivia: the 100 Iowa House members include two with the surname Meyer (a Democrat and a Republican) and two Thompsons and a Thomson (all Republicans). As for popular first names, there are four men named David or Dave, four named Thomas or Tom, three Roberts (a Robert, a Bob, and a Bobby), three Brians, three men named Michael (two go by Mike), a Jon and two Johns, two named Charles (a Chuck and a Charley), and two men each named Jeff, Ken, Steve, Matt, Austin, and Josh or Joshua. There are also two Elizabeths (one goes by Beth), an Ann and an Anne, and two women each named Heather, Megan, and Shannon. As recently as 2020, four women named Mary served in the Iowa House, but just one was sworn in this week.

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State board asks Iowa lawmakers to regulate recurring campaign donations

The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board has asked state lawmakers to approve a bill requiring donors to opt in to recurring contributions to Iowa candidates or political committees.

The agency charged with enforcing Iowa’s campaign regulations pre-filed the bill last month, after the six-member board unanimously voted to recommend the policy at its November meeting.

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Iowa House race exposes problems with Scott County's ballot count

Fifth in a series interpreting the results of Iowa’s 2022 state and federal elections.

Iowa’s final unresolved race from 2022 wrapped up on December 7 when Republican Luana Stoltenberg was declared the winner in House district 81. She received 5,073 votes (50.05 percent) to 5,062 votes (49.95 percent) for Democrat Craig Cooper. Stoltenberg led by 29 votes on election night in the district, which covers part of Davenport. But the Democrat pulled ahead by six votes once Scott County officials tabulated hundreds of overlooked absentee ballots.

It’s rare for a recount in an Iowa legislative race to alter the vote totals by more than a dozen. It’s even more rare for a recount to produce fewer overall votes for each candidate. Yet as Sarah Watson noted in her story for the Quad-City Times, the three-member recount board’s final “totals showed 31 fewer votes for Cooper and 14 fewer votes for Stoltenberg.”

Cooper conceded the race but expressed “grave concerns” about the inconsistent ballot counts in a December 7 Facebook post.

It’s clear that something went very wrong with the processing of absentee ballots in Iowa’s third largest county. The problems warrant further investigation to prevent anything like this from happening again.

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Will Pat Grassley's power play get school vouchers through Iowa House?

Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley sent Governor Kim Reynolds a message this past week: her school voucher plan will need to go through him before it reaches the House floor.

In an unusual move, the speaker put himself in charge of a new five-member Education Reform Committee “dealing with bills containing significant reforms to our educational system.”

The decision could signal Grassley’s determined to get a “school choice” bill to Reynolds’ desk, after House Republicans couldn’t find the votes for the proposal over the past two years.

Alternatively, it could give more cover to GOP holdouts by sparing them from voting against the governor’s plan in committee.

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