28 Iowa House races to watch in 2020, with ratings

It’s been too long since Bleeding Heartland took a comprehensive look at the Iowa House landcsape. Democrats need a net gain of four seats to gain control of the chamber, where Republicans have held a 53-47 majority since they stopped ballots from being counted in the closest race from the last election cycle.

Thanks to our state’s nonpartisan redistricting system, at least a quarter of the House races could become competitive, and more than a dozen will be targeted by both parties and some outside groups. This post covers 28 House districts that could fall into that category. One or both parties spent significant funds on twenty Iowa House races in 2018.

The playing field has changed somewhat since Bleeding Heartland last reviewed the House landscape in March. A few new contenders have declared; click here for the full list of general election candidates. In addition, some races look less competitive or more competitive now than they did six months ago.

Forthcoming posts will examine themes in television advertising for or against Iowa House candidates and late spending in these campaigns.

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Five unanswered questions about Iowa governor's staff salary payments

Governor Kim Reynolds has defended her decision to use nearly $450,000 in federal funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to pay salaries and benefits for her permanent staffers.

But her comments at a September 16 news conference, along with information her staff provided to some reporters afterwards, left several salient questions unanswered.

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Exclusive: Iowa governor used CARES Act funds to pay staff salaries

Governor Kim Reynolds directed that nearly $450,000 in federal funding the state of Iowa received through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act be used to cover salaries and benefits for staff working in her office.

According to documents Bleeding Heartland obtained from the Iowa Department of Management through public records requests, the funds will cover more than 60 percent of the compensation for 21 employees from March 14 through June 30, 2020.

Reynolds has not disclosed that she allocated funds for that purpose, and reports produced by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency have not mentioned any CARES Act funding received by the governor’s office. Nor do any such disbursements appear on a database showing thousands of state government expenditures under the CARES Act.

The governor’s communications director Pat Garrett did not respond to four requests for comment over a two-week period.

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Why did these House Republicans reject an easy win for Iowa taxpayers?

State Auditor Rob Sand had “great news” to share with members of the Iowa House and Senate Appropriations Committees in May. Federal officials had agreed not to demand repayment for alleged overbilling, provided that Iowa changed its billing practices for future audits. The savings to the state would amount to tens of thousands of dollars for each fiscal year.

Documents Bleeding Heartland obtained through a public records request confirm that key Reynolds administration officials were on board with the reform plan, and Iowa Senate appropriators took it up in June as the legislature was completing its work.

The records also show that State Representatives Gary Mohr and John Landon refused to move the fix through the Iowa House.

What they don’t explain is why.

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Ashley Hinson dodged Iowa House debates on high-profile bills

State Representative Ashley Hinson didn’t miss a roll call vote as the Iowa House wrapped up its work in June, legislative records show. But the two-term Republican mostly stayed out of the House chamber while colleagues debated controversial bills.

The tactic allowed Hinson, who is also the GOP challenger in Iowa’s first Congressional district, to avoid public questioning about policies she supported. Notably, she was absent during most of the House deliberations on imposing a 24-hour waiting period for abortions, establishing a barrier to voting by mail, and giving businesses near-total immunity from lawsuits related to COVID-19.

Neither Hinson nor her Congressional campaign responded to Bleeding Heartland’s repeated inquiries about those absences.

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