Who's who in the Iowa House for 2020

The Iowa House opened its 2020 session on January 13 with 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats, a change from last year’s 54-46 split due to State Representative Andy McKean’s party switch shortly before lawmakers adjourned last year.

The House members include 67 men and 33 women (23 Democrats and ten Republicans). Although 34 women were elected to the chamber in 2018 (a record number), State Representative Lisa Heddens stepped down last summer, and Ross Wilburn won the special election to serve out her term in House district 46.

Five African Americans (Democrats Ako Abdul-Samad, Ruth Ann Gaines, Ras Smith, Phyllis Thede, and Wilburn) will serve in the legislature’s lower chamber; the other 95 lawmakers are white. No Latino has ever been elected to the Iowa House, and there has not been an Asian-American member since Swati Dandekar moved up to the state Senate following the 2008 election. Democratic State Representative Liz Bennett is the only out LGBTQ member of the lower chamber. To my knowledge, Abdul-Samad (who is Muslim) is the only lawmaker in either chamber to practice a religion other than Christianity.

After the jump I’ve posted details 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 significant changes since last year.

Some non-political trivia: the Iowa House includes two Smiths (both Democrats), while the other 98 members have different surnames. As for popular first names, there are six Davids (four go by Dave), four Marys (one goes by Mary Ann), three Roberts (a Rob, a Bob, and a Bobby), three men named Thomas (two go by Tom), three Johns and two Jons, and three men each named Gary and Brian. There are also two Elizabeths (a Beth and a Liz) and two men each named Bruce, Chris, Jeff, Michael (one goes by Mike), Ross, and Charles (a Chuck and a Charlie).

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Bleeding Heartland's coverage of Iowa legislative races in 2019

I’ve always enjoyed writing about legislative happenings and campaigns, since my first year on the job as an analyst covering Russian domestic politics during a parliamentary election year.

While most political reporters were understandably assigned to follow the many presidential candidates visiting Iowa in 2019, I made it a priority to keep an eye on down-ballot races. The 2020 Iowa House and Senate elections may affect our daily lives more than whether Donald Trump or the Democratic nominee wins our state’s electoral votes. For one thing, breaking the GOP trifecta is the only way to guarantee that Iowa preserves nonpartisan redistricting for the coming decade.

I’m proud that Bleeding Heartland provided more in-depth coverage of potentially competitive state legislative races than any other Iowa news source this year. All of those stories are linked below.

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Why I’m running for Iowa House district 37

You can follow Andrea Phillips through her campaign website, Facebook page, or Twitter feed. She stepped down as the Iowa Democratic Party’s first vice chair before launching this campaign. -promoted by Laura Belin

My mother worked her way up from bank teller to bank manager while my Dad worked as a blueprint repair man, instilling in me there is no substitute for hard work. Growing up with these influences I worked my way through college, with the help of Pell Grants and student loans, graduating with a degree in economics.

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Top ten tips for Governor Reynolds' new public relations staffer

Democratic State Senator Claire Celsi has extensive experience in the public relations field. -promoted by Laura Belin

As ranking member of the Iowa Senate’s Administration and Regulation Appropriations Subcommittee, I was supposed to be privy to budget requests from state agencies, including the governor’s office. Unfortunately, Governor Kim Reynolds refused our committee’s request to appear in person to explain why they were requesting a 10 percent increase in their budget while requesting a “status quo” budget from all other state departments.

Since our committee’s process was prematurely cut short by Committee Chair Representative John Landon, I attempted to go through staff back channels to find out what the $200,000 increase would be used for. I was told that Reynolds had requested the hiring of two analysts, one for tax policy and one for healthcare policy. I thought those were perfectly reasonable requests, since both areas have been so completely botched by Republicans in the past three years. But I still wondered why no one would come to our committee meeting to explain the request.

Now we have the answer. Turns out, the governor is planning to hire a “public relations manager.” I have some advice for the new staff member, based on my years of experience in public relations, brand management and communications. Some of my former clients were state agencies, so I know the demands they will be facing.

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In bait and switch, Iowa governor hiring "public relations manager"

Governor Kim Reynolds asked for and received a nearly 10 percent budget increase for her office operations during the fiscal year beginning on July 1, with a view to hiring two additional full-time employees. Republican lawmakers told members of the Iowa House and Senate the extra funding was for analysts to focus on health policy and tax policy.

This week the governor’s office posted a new job listing on a state government website. Instead of seeking a health or tax policy analyst, the governor is hiring a full-time “public relations manager” to coordinate messaging about her initiatives.

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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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