# Josh Byrnes



No eminent domain solely for private gain

Democratic State Representative Chuck Isenhart represents Iowa House district 72, covering part of Dubuque and nearby areas. He is a member of the Iowa House Economic Growth Committee, the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators, and the Natural Resources and Infrastructure Committee of the National Conference of State Legislatures. The Dubuque Telegraph-Herald published a shorter version of this article on October 9.

“No eminent domain for private gain” is the catch phrase of opponents contesting three proposals for carbon dioxide pipelines in Iowa.

The Summit Carbon Solutions project would transport up to 18 million tons of the emissions each year, mainly from Iowa ethanol plants, to be buried deep in porous rock formations in North Dakota.

Why? Arguably, to keep the greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere, where it heats the air, causing climate change and weather disasters. At least that’s why the federal government is offering to pay $85 per ton for projects that capture and sequester carbon. At full capacity, that could be a $1.5 billion annual payday for Summit alone.

Owners of hundreds of parcels of land oppose the pipeline, mainly because they believe the productivity of farm ground will be lost and the integrity of drainage tiles will be damaged. Others question the safety of the pipelines.

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Exclusive: How Kim Reynolds got away with violating Iowa's constitution

Governor Kim Reynolds swore an oath to “support the constitution of the United States and the constitution of the State of Iowa.” But when she missed a deadline for filling a district court vacancy in June, she did not follow the process outlined in Iowa’s constitution.

Public records obtained by Bleeding Heartland indicate that Reynolds did not convey her choice for Judicial District 6 to anyone until four days after her authority to make the appointment had lapsed. Nevertheless, staff assured the news media and Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady that the governor had named Judge Jason Besler on time.

Reynolds and Secretary of State Paul Pate later signed an appointment and commission certificate that was backdated, creating the impression the governor had acted within the constitutionally-mandated window.

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Majority makers: 15 districts that will determine control of the Iowa House

Josh Hughes is a Drake University undergraduate and vice president of the I-35 school board. -promoted by desmoinesdem

There’s no question about it– 2018 is shaping up to be one of the most Democratic election years in nearly a decade. Polling and special election results all point to a significant advantage for Democrats in both voter preference and enthusiasm. It’s enough for most experts to consider the U.S. House a “tossup,” which is remarkable considering the gerrymandered playing field Democrats must compete on. Such a national political environment points to only one thing– the Iowa House of Representatives is in play too.

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Iowa House district 51 preview: Tim Hejhal vs. Jane Bloomingdale

Among the dozens of potentially competitive Iowa House and Senate races (a collateral benefit of our state’s non-partisan redistricting process), the contest in House district 51 will be one of the most closely watched. GOP State Representative Josh Byrnes immediately put this northeast Iowa seat on the top tier of Democratic pickup opportunities when he decided not to run for re-election. The district covers Worth, Mitchell, and Howard counties, plus a small area in Winneshiek County, not including Decorah. Scroll down to view a map.

Democrat Tim Hejhal, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Air National Guard and principal of Osage High School (Mitchell County), is running against Republican Jane Bloomingdale, an accountant and tax preparer who is mayor of Northwood (Worth County), where she previously served 17 years on the city council. Hejhal and Bloomingdale were unopposed in their respective party primaries. A former Iowa GOP State Central Committee member who had declared plans to run in district 51 did not file for the seat. I enclose more background on Hejhal below; I was unable to find an official campaign biography for Bloomingdale.

House district 51 is a must-win seat for Democrats hoping to gain control of the state House, where the party currently holds 43 of the 100 seats. Though the GOP has a registration advantage, the plurality of voters are affiliated with neither party. According to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, House district 51 contains 5,139 active registered Democrats, 6,418 Republicans, and 7,811 no-party voters. President Barack Obama received 55.19 percent of the vote among the district’s residents in 2012. Only two Iowa House districts currently held by Republicans voted to re-elect the president by a larger margin. One of them was House district 58, another open seat in eastern Iowa likely to be targeted by both parties.

Whether either party’s presidential candidate will have coat-tails here is hard to guess. In the February 1 caucuses, Donald Trump narrowly won Mitchell and Howard counties, nearly tying Ted Cruz in Worth. Hillary Clinton carried Mitchell County, while Bernie Sanders won Howard and Worth.

Intensifying the focus on this part of the state, House district 51 makes up half of Senate district 26, where Republican Waylon Brown is challenging State Senator Mary Jo Wilhelm. Both parties and a number of interest groups are heavily involved in that Senate race, which could determine control of the upper chamber. Democrats have had a campaign office up and running in Osage since early May. Iowa House districts are small enough for candidates to reach a significant percentage of voters in person, and Hejhal has been working the doors here, as have volunteers on his behalf. Bloomingdale has done some canvassing too and has had a campaign presence at various summer parades and festivals.

Neither candidate has raised much money for this race. Hejhal reported $2,650.00 in contributions through early May, and Bloomingdale took in $3,700 during the same period, loaning her campaign $500 as well. Through early July, Hejhal brought in another $5,020.00 and Bloomingdale raised another $5,825. (All contributions to both candidates came from individuals rather than political action committees.) The bulk of the money spent on this race will come from Democratic and Republican leadership committees.

Any comments on this or other state legislative campaigns are welcome in this thread.

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Never let it be said that the 2016 Iowa legislature accomplished nothing

In four months of work this year, Iowa lawmakers made no progress on improving water quality or expanding conservation programs, funded K-12 schools and higher education below levels needed to keep up with inflation, failed to increase the minimum wage or address wage theft, let most criminal justice reform proposals die in committee, didn’t approve adequate oversight for the newly-privatized Medicaid program, opted against making medical cannabis more available to sick and suffering Iowans, and left unaddressed several other issues that affect thousands of constituents.

But let the record reflect that bipartisan majorities in the Iowa House and Senate acted decisively to solve a non-existent problem. At a bill-signing ceremony yesterday, Governor Terry Branstad and supporters celebrated preventing something that probably never would have happened.

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Iowa House Republicans try to evade accountability on medical cannabis

What do state lawmakers do when they don’t want to pass something the overwhelming majority of their constituents support?

A time-honored legislative strategy involves 1) keeping the popular proposal from coming up for a vote, and 2) giving your members a chance to go on record supporting a phony alternative.

Iowa House Republicans executed that statehouse two-step this week in order to block efforts to make medical cannabis more widely available to Iowans suffering from serious health problems.

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Will any elected Iowa Republicans vow to #NeverTrump?

In an effort to halt Donald Trump’s momentum and also to preserve some self-respect, a growing number of Republicans are vowing never to vote for Trump, even if he becomes the GOP presidential nominee. As Megan McArdle reported for Bloomberg, the #NeverTrump faction represents “all segments of the party — urban professionals, yes, but also stalwart evangelicals, neoconservatives, libertarians, Tea Partiers, the whole patchwork of ideological groups of which the Republican coalition is made.”

Former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman said she would consider voting for Hillary Clinton over Trump. At a funeral in Des Moines this past weekend, the daughter of the deceased (like Whitman a moderate Republican) struck a chord with some of the mourners when she joked during her eulogy that she was a little envious her mother would not have to vote in the presidential election now.

At the other end of the GOP ideological spectrum, staunch conservative U.S. Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska became the first member of Congress to take the #NeverTrump pledge, laying out his reasoning in a long Facebook post.

So far, the most prominent Iowa Republican to join the #NeverTrump camp is right-wing talk radio host Steve Deace, who explained his stance in a column for the Conservative Review website. Deace worked hard to persuade fellow Iowans to caucus for Ted Cruz. Meanwhile, Marco Rubio endorser and former Waukee City Council member Isaiah McGee described himself to me as a “founding member” of #NeverTrump.

Early signs suggest that few, if any, elected GOP officials in Iowa will join the club.

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Josh Byrnes not running for re-election in Iowa House district 51

Three-term GOP State Representative Josh Byrnes announced today that he will not seek re-election to the Iowa House. I enclose below the full statement he posted on Facebook, which expressed his “hope that the voters of House District 51 will continue to elect moderate candidates to represent them in Des Moines. The constituents of a district lose when we elect those who are hard line party people.”

Byrnes was occasionally out of step with his caucus, having supported marriage equality and voted with Democrats for expanding Medicaid. Rumors of his impending retirement proved wrong during the last election cycle but flared up again in recent months, following his unsuccessful bid to be House speaker and subsequent criticism of excessive partisanship and failure to approve school funding levels on time.

House GOP leaders have resisted compromise on education funding during the past several years, which likely contributed to decisions by three other Republicans not to run for re-election in 2016. Like Byrnes, State Representatives Brian Moore, Quentin Stanerson, and Ron Jorgensen all have worked in the education field.

With Byrnes retiring, House district 51 immediately moves to the top tier of Democratic pickup opportunities in the lower chamber, which the GOP controls with a 57 to 43 majority. President Barack Obama received 55.19 percent of the vote among its residents in 2012. Only two Iowa House districts currently held by Republicans voted to re-elect the president by a larger margin; one of them was House district 58, which Moore is vacating. According to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, House district 51 contains 5,119 active registered Democrats, 6,074 Republicans, and 8,247 no-party voters. I enclose below a district map.

UPDATE: Tony Krebsbach announced on Facebook today that he will seek the GOP nomination in House district 51. He has served on the Republican Party of Iowa’s State Central Committee and chaired the Mitchell County GOP and is part of the “Liberty” faction, which supported Ron Paul for president.

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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2016

The Iowa House opened its 2016 session today with 57 Republicans and 43 Democrats. The 100 state representatives include 27 women (21 Democrats and six Republicans) and 73 men. Five African-Americans (all Democrats) serve in the legislature’s lower chamber; the other 95 state representatives are white. No Latino has ever been elected to the Iowa House, and there has not been an Asian member since Swati Dandekar moved up to the Iowa Senate following the 2008 election.

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 changes since last year. All are on the Republican side, mostly following from Kraig Paulsen’s decision to step down as speaker, Chuck Soderberg’s retirement, and the passing of Jack Drake.

Some non-political trivia: the Iowa House includes two Millers (one from each party), two Taylors (one from each party), and two Moores (both Republicans). As for first names, there are six Davids (four go by Dave), four Roberts (two Robs, one Bob, and a Bobby), four Marys (one goes by Mary Ann), four Johns, and three Brians. There are two Lindas, two Elizabeths (a Beth and a Liz), and two men each named Dan, Mark, Greg, Tom, Bruce, Todd, Chris, and Charles (one goes by Chuck).

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Republican Brian Moore retiring, opening up Iowa House district 58

One of the best pickup opportunities for Democrats in the Iowa House got better on Thursday, as three-term Republican State Representative Brian Moore told KMAQ Radio in Maquoketa that he will not run for re-election in House district 58. After an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination in an Iowa Senate district, Moore switched parties, filed in a House seat where there was no Republican challenger, and pulled off one of the most shocking Iowa state legislative upsets in 2010. He won a re-match against Tom Schueller in the next election cycle and defeated challenger Kim Huckstadt by a comfortable margin in 2014.

House district 58 is among the most Democratic-leaning legislative seats currently held by a Republican. In 2012, Barack Obama received 55.6 percent of the vote here; only residents of House district 91 in the Muscatine area gave a higher percentage of their votes to the president while electing a Republican to the Iowa House. According to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, House district 58 contains 6,968 active registered Democrats, 4,726 Republicans, and 9,151 no-party voters.

Moore has not always fallen in line with House Republican leaders. In late December, he told William Garbe of the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald that he may break with his caucus during this year’s session to support a larger funding increase for K-12 schools. Fellow GOP State Representatives Quentin Stanerson and Ron Jorgensen are also retiring this year and are known to have been dissatisfied with the final compromise on education funding last year. Moore’s announcement will increase speculation that State Representative Josh Byrnes may not seek a fourth term in House district 51. He challenged Linda Upmeyer for the speaker’s chair last summer. After losing that contest, Byrnes criticized excessive partisanship and the failure to meet deadlines for approving school funding. In 2013, Byrnes and Moore were the only two House Republicans to vote with Democrats to expand Medicaid as foreseen under the Affordable Care Act.

Democrat Peter Hird launched his campaign in House district 58 in October. I enclose below some background on Hird and a map of the district, which covers all of Jackson County, a large area in Jones County and two rural Dubuque County townships. Pat Rynard profiled Hird at Iowa Starting Line last month. I would not be surprised to see another Democrat file to run for this seat, since the winner of the primary will have a good chance of being elected in November.

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Improving prospects for an early Iowa legislative deal on school funding?

The Iowa legislature’s 2016 session opens two weeks from today. Last year’s session extended more than a month past the scheduled date for adjournment, largely because House Republican leaders refused to compromise on education spending. Lawmakers finally approved a budget deal in early June, only to watch Governor Terry Branstad strike out the key concessions to Democrats on funding for K-12 schools, state universities, and community colleges.

Legislators from both parties sound determined not to let history repeat itself.

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Iowa Senate district 26 preview: Mary Jo Wilhelm vs. Waylon Brown

After several months of recruiting efforts, Republicans finally have a candidate willing to run against two-term State Senator Mary Jo Wilhelm in Iowa Senate district 26. This race is among a half-dozen or so contests that will determine control of the upper chamber after the 2016 elections. Since Iowans elected Governor Terry Branstad and a GOP-controlled state House in 2010, the 26 to 24 Democratic majority in the state Senate has spared Iowa from various disastrous policies adopted in states like Kansas, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Of the senators who make up that one-seat majority caucus, Wilhelm was re-elected by the narrowest margin: 126 votes out of nearly 31,000 cast in 2012.

I enclose below a map of Senate district 26, a review of its voter registration numbers and recent voting history, and background on Wilhelm and challenger Waylon Brown. Cautionary note: although Brown is the establishment’s pick here, he is not guaranteed to win the nomination. “Tea party” candidates won some upset victories in the 2012 Iowa Senate Republican primaries, notably Jane Jech against former State Senator Larry McKibben in Senate district 36 and Dennis Guth against former State Senator James Black in Senate district 4.

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Linda Upmeyer will be first woman Iowa House speaker; Chris Hagenow to be majority leader

Iowa House Republicans chose Linda Upmeyer to replace Kraig Paulsen as House speaker today. First elected to the legislature in 2002, Upmeyer has served as majority leader since 2011. House leaders did not release details on today’s vote. State Representative Josh Byrnes was the only other candidate to seek the speaker’s post, despite rumors that one or more other Republicans were sounding out colleagues about the race. All credit to Byrnes for putting himself out there against the party establishment favorite. That takes guts.

O.Kay Henderson posted highlights from Upmeyer’s remarks to reporters today, as well as the audio clip. Not known for showing a lot of emotions in public, Upmeyer’s voice broke as she talked about her late father, Del Stromer, who served as House speaker during the 1980s. She doesn’t sound inclined to change much about how Paulsen was running the lower chamber, but joked, “I use more words than Speaker Paulsen, and I will try to curb that temptation going forward.”

Chris Hagenow will move up from majority whip to replace Upmeyer as majority leader, and Joel Fry will move from an assistant majority leader position to majority whip. Matt Windschitl will continue to serve as House speaker pro-tem. Hagenow told reporters that no one else sought the majority leader post. Bobby Kaufmann ran for majority whip.

Henderson quoted Byrnes as saying,

“I feel like I’m in that movie, Groundhog Day….It’s the same leadership in the House, the same leadership in the Senate. It’s the same governor and the parameters just feel like they’re just set and we can’t move from them. We need new ideas. We need new energy, we need to be able to accept other people’s concepts and infuse those in and I hope that, you know, she can do that.”

According to Byrnes, rank-and-file legislators are upset with missed deadlines, as the legislature has failed to set state school aid levels on time and met for weeks past its scheduled adjournment date. Byrnes also said Iowans are soured by the hyper-partisanship they see from statehouse politicians. […]

Upmeyer told reporters she’ll address the concerns Brynes raised.

“We never should be comfortable with where we’re at,” Upmeyer said. “We always should be striving for innovation and to do things smarter and better and so I absolutely applaud that.”

No need for a lot of innovation here, Madam Speaker: just accept reasonable compromises instead of refusing to budge from your initial negotiating position, and approve school funding bills on time, as happened for a decade and a half before Iowa House Republicans decided to stop following state law a few years back.

After the jump I’ve enclosed official comments on the House leadership election from the Republican Party of Iowa and House Minority Leader Mark Smith, as well as a Facebook status update Byrnes posted after today’s vote.

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Update on the race to replace Kraig Paulsen as Iowa House speaker

Iowa House Republicans will meet in Des Moines on August 20 to choose a new speaker, Erin Murphy reported earlier this week. Outgoing Speaker Kraig Paulsen surprised mtost Iowa politics watchers when he announced last week that he will step down from leadership before next year’s legislative session and will not seek re-election to the Iowa House in 2016.

House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer and State Representative Josh Byrnes quickly let it be known that they will run for speaker. The rumor mill expects another House Republican to seek the position, but to my knowledge, no one has gone public with that ambition. Several House members have not responded to my request for comment, including Representative Peter Cownie, who was rumored to be interested in the speaker’s post two years ago. I’ve heard rumblings about Representative Guy Vander Linden, but speaking by phone on August 10, he told me, “I don’t intend to run for speaker. I don’t feel prepared to run for speaker.” He said he undecided on whom he will support to replace Paulsen but inclined to back Upmeyer, because “continuity is important.”

House Majority Whip Chris Hagenow is supporting Upmeyer for speaker and formally announced on Monday that he will seek the post of majority leader. Current House Speaker Pro-Tem Matt Windschitl is also backing Upmeyer and does not appear interested in moving up to majority leader.

According to the Des Moines Register’s Kathie Obradovich, over the weekend WHO talk radio host Simon Conway referred to State Representative Walt Rogers (currently one of four assistant majority leaders) as “quite probably the next majority leader” of the Iowa House. However, Rogers told me he will not run for majority leader, because he’s “having fun and working hard” with Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign. Rogers was an early Santorum endorser during the last election cycle, and Santorum in turn supported Rogers’ short-lived Congressional campaign.

Rogers declined to comment when I asked whether he will support Upmeyer for speaker.

As for whether Vander Linden might run for majority leader, he told me, “I haven’t given it any serious consideration,” adding, “I would give a politician’s ‘Never say never.’”

Governor Terry Branstad is wisely staying out of the speaker’s race.

Spin your own scenarios in this thread, and please contact me if you know of another House Republican actively seeking the post of speaker or majority leader.  

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GOP State Representative Josh Byrnes will not run for Iowa Senate district 26

Republican State Representative Josh Byrnes will not run against Democratic State Senator Mary Jo Wilhelm in Iowa Senate district 26 next year. The Iowa House Transportation Committee chair has thrown his hat in the ring to replace Kraig Paulsen as House speaker. Regardless of how the speaker contest goes, Byrnes confirmed to Bleeding Heartland, “I am not running for Senate.”

The news will lift Democratic spirits, as Byrnes would have been the obvious GOP recruit for this competitive Senate district. Democrats hold a 26 to 24 majority in the upper chamber, and Republicans will almost certainly target Wilhelm next year.

First elected to the upper chamber in 2008, the former Howard County supervisor was the Iowa Senate incumbent re-elected by the narrowest margin in 2012. Redistricting pitted Wilhelm against GOP State Senator Merlin “Build my fence” Bartz, whom she defeated by just 126 votes in a district where Barack Obama carried 55.6 percent of the vote.

Meanwhile, Byrnes was re-elected to the Iowa House by more than 4,000 votes in 2012, even as Obama carried 55.2 percent of the vote in House district 51. Only two other Republican-held House seats went to Obama by a larger margin: House district 91 (Muscatine area) and House district 58 (Maquoketa). Byrnes easily won re-election in 2014 as well. He disagrees with his more conservative House colleagues on some high-profile issues, giving him potentially strong crossover appeal.

I haven’t heard of any other Republicans taking a close look at Senate district 26. I encourage Bleeding Heartland readers who know differently to contact me. Since December 2012, Bartz has run Representative Steve King’s district office in Mason City. I will be surprised if he runs for the Iowa Senate again.

Senate district 26 includes all of Worth, Mitchell, Floyd, Howard and Chickasaw counties, part of Cerro Gordo County (but not Mason City or Clear Lake) and part of Winneshiek County (but not Decorah). A detailed map is after the jump. According to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, Senate district 26 contains 11,202 active registered Democrats, 11,101 Republicans, and 16,899 no-party voters.

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Preview of the coming Iowa House Republican leadership battle

Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen announced yesterday that he will not seek re-election in 2016 and will step down from leadership before next year’s legislative session. His surprise move kicks off what will be the most competitive leadership election within the House Republican caucus since colleagues elected Paulsen minority leader shortly after the 2008 general election.

Linda Upmeyer, a seven-term incumbent who has served as majority leader since 2011, immediately confirmed that she will run for speaker. She would be the first woman to lead the Iowa House, and to my knowledge, the first child of an Iowa legislative leader to follow a parent in that role. Upmeyer’s father Del Stromer was House speaker for part of the 1980s.

She won’t get Paulsen’s job without a fight, though.  

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Iowa Senate, House approve gas tax increase

A bill that would raise Iowa’s gasoline tax by 10 cents a gallon is on its way to Governor Terry Branstad’s desk after approval today by both chambers in the Iowa legislature. The Iowa Senate passed Senate File 257 this morning by 28 votes to 21. Sixteen Democrats and twelve Republicans voted for the bill, while ten Democrats and eleven Republicans opposed it. Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal had reportedly insisted on at least half the GOP caucus supporting a gas tax increase as a condition for bringing the bill to the floor.

A few hours later, the Iowa House took up the Senate bill (rather than the bill that cleared two House committees last week). Thirty Republicans and 23 Democrats voted yes, while 26 Republicans and 20 Democrats voted no.

Only two state legislators missed today’s votes: Republican State Senator Mark Chelgren and Republican State Representative Chip Baltimore. Baltimore voted against the House version of this bill in committee last week, while Chelgren doesn’t serve on the committees that approved the bill in the Senate. Chelgren appears to have been absent for all of today’s votes, while Baltimore was at the Capitol but left the chamber when the gas tax bill came up. Speaking to reporters later, he tried to make a virtue out of his absence: “I refuse to legitimize either the bill or the process with a vote.” Weak sauce from a guy who is widely expected to seek higher office someday.

Conservative groups are urging Branstad to veto Senate File 257, but that seems unlikely, given the governor’s recent comments on road funding. Branstad’s spokesman said today that the governor will carefully review the final bill before deciding whether to sign it.  

After the jump I’ve enclosed the roll call votes in both chambers, as well as Senate Transportation Committee Chair Tod Bowman’s opening remarks this morning, which summarize key points in Senate File 257.

Final note: several of the “no” votes came from lawmakers who may face competitive re-election campaigns in 2016. Those include Democrats Chris Brase (Senate district 46), Steve Sodders (Senate district 36), and Mary Jo Wilhelm (Senate district 26), and Republicans Dennis Guth (Senate district 4) and Amy Sinclair (Senate district 14).

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Iowa legislative state of play on raising the gas tax

Iowa House and Senate members have taken several steps toward raising the state gasoline tax for the first time since 1989. Follow me after the jump for details on where the legislation stands and the latest signals from the governor.

One big political question was answered today, as House Speaker Kraig Paulsen not only endorsed the gas tax bill but personally intervened to make sure it would clear the House Ways and Means Committee. His support may bring some reluctant House Republicans on board. Conservative advocacy groups such as Americans for Prosperity and Iowans for Tax Relief are pushing hard against any gas tax increase. Governor Terry Branstad or Iowa Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix appear ready to back this bill but may need to spend more political capital to get it passed.

Two important policy questions remain unanswered. First, what will be done to lessen the blow on low-income Iowans, who would be disproportionately affected by any increase in a regressive tax? Iowa’s tax system is already stacked against people with lower incomes.

Second, will the gas tax hike turn out to be a giant bait and switch? From business groups to road builders to heavyweights in the agricultural sector, advocates of a tax increase cite the poor condition of many Iowa roads and bridges. However, to my knowledge the pending legislation would not guarantee that any new Road Use Tax Fund revenues from gasoline taxes or vehicle fees be spent on repairing torn-up roads or structurally deficient bridges. Unless “fix it first” language or a change to the funding formula is added to the bill, the lion’s share of additional revenues from a gas tax hike could go toward building new roads or new lanes on existing roads, such as U.S. Highway 20 in northwest Iowa or any number of local “economic development” projects. If crumbling roads and bridges are used to justify a gas tax hike, lawmakers should stipulate that most of the new money raised would go toward existing infrastructure rather than new roads and lanes, which only increase future maintenance costs.  

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Iowa House Republicans accept marriage equality but can't admit it yet

Four years ago, Republicans rushed to pass a state constitutional amendment restricting marriage to one man and one woman within weeks of regaining control of the Iowa House. Every member of the GOP caucus was on the same page.

Two years ago, the marriage amendment failed to come up for a vote in the Iowa House, but a majority of Republican lawmakers still co-sponsored the legislation.

Now, signs point to Iowa House Judiciary Committee Chair Chip Baltimore letting the marriage amendment die quietly, as he did in 2013. Fewer than a quarter of the 57 House Republicans signed on to the latest effort to turn back the clock on marriage rights. At the same time, only one GOP lawmaker is “loud and proud” about supporting the right of all Iowans to marry the person they love.

Follow me after the jump for a breakdown of where Iowa House Republicans stand on the “traditional marriage” amendment, and speculation on why so many of them aren’t trying to pass it anymore, even though they ostensibly don’t support LGBT marriage rights.  

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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2015

The Iowa House will begin its 2015 session on January 12 with 57 Republicans and 43 Democrats (assuming a Republican wins the January 6 special election in House district 4). Depending on who wins that special election, the 100 state representatives will include either 27 or 28 women, and either 72 or 73 men.

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 changes since the previous legislative session.

Some non-political trivia: two of the three state representatives with the surname Olson retired this year, as did one of the two Iowa House members named Smith. There are still two Millers and two Taylors in the legislature’s lower chamber, one from each party. As for first names, the new cohort contains five six Davids (four go by Dave), four Roberts (two Robs, one Bob, and a Bobby), four Marys (one goes by Mary Ann), three four Johns, and three Brians. There are two Lindas, two Elizabeths (a Beth and a Liz), and two men each named Dan, Mark, Greg, Chuck, Bruce, Todd, and Chris.

2015 UPDATE: Added below information for John Kooiker, who won the House district 4 special election, and David Sieck, who won the House district 23 special election.  

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Now he tells us: Branstad will support gas tax hike

Two days after being re-elected to a sixth four-year term, Governor Terry Branstad finally came out for raising the gasoline tax as part of a plan to increase transportation funding. He told journalists on November 6, “The timing is good because gas prices have dropped significantly. That makes it a little more palatable to the public.”

For years, a bipartisan group of legislators have been working on a bill to increase Iowa’s gas tax for the first time since 1989. The governor has left them hanging again and again and again. The issue is politically charged, since gas taxes disproportionately hit lower-income drivers and residents of rural Iowa. Joni Ernst switched from supporting an increase to opposing it as soon as she started preparing to run for the U.S. Senate. Legislative leaders have long made clear that a bill raising the tax would move forward only if at least half the members of Democratic and Republican caucuses in the Iowa House and Senate were ready to vote for it.

Iowa House Republican Brian Moore believes “this is the year” a gas tax increase will happen, because the issue will be on the “front burner” when lawmakers reconvene in January. Moore was vice chair of the House Transportation Committee. He and committee Chair Josh Byrnes have worked closely on this issue with Iowa Senate Democrat Tod Bowman, who leads the transportation committee in the upper chamber.

Arguably, 2015 will be a good opportunity for bipartisan cooperation, since it’s not an election year. However, I am inclined to think the gas tax increase will fail to gain broad support in either chamber. Many Iowa House Republicans are hostile to any tax increase, and what’s in it for House Democrats to stick their necks out on the issue? Meanwhile, several Iowa Senate Democrats will face tough re-election bids in 2016, and Senate minority leader Bill Dix has long been close with leaders of anti-tax interest groups. Gasoline prices have dropped to relatively low levels now, but they could bounce back up by the time lawmakers would be considering a gas tax bill in February or March.

If Branstad had campaigned on this issue, he could have claimed a popular mandate for raising the gas tax. But he didn’t, even when pressed on the issue during debates with challenger Jack Hatch.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. Although the road use tax fund clearly needs more money, I would hesitate to raise the gasoline tax without strong “fix-it first” language in the bill. The lion’s share of additional revenue should go toward fixing roads and bridges that are in bad shape, not toward building new roads (or new lanes on existing roads) that we won’t be able to maintain adequately.

20 Iowa House races to watch tonight

Thanks to Iowa’s non-partisan redistricting process, we have an unusually large number of competitive state legislative districts. In any given general election, depending on candidate recruitment, between one dozen and two dozen of the 100 Iowa House districts could be up for grabs. Democrats and Republicans spend big money on a much smaller number of districts; this year, only seven Iowa House races involved a large amount of television advertising. But the parties and candidates invest in direct mail and/or radio commercials in many more places than that.

Republicans go into election day favored to hold their Iowa House majority, which now stands at 53 seats to 47. Carolyn Fiddler has pegged seven “districts to watch” at her Statehouse Action blog, and in September, the Des Moines Register’s Jason Noble discussed five districts he viewed as “key to Iowa House chamber control.” I see the playing field as much larger.

Follow me after the jump to review 20 Iowa House seats that will determine control of the chamber for the next two years.

Caveat: most years, there’s at least one shocking result in an Iowa House district neither party had their eye on. I’m thinking about Tami Weincek defeating a longtime Democratic incumbent in Waterloo in 2006, Kent Sorenson defeating a Democratic incumbent in Warren County in 2008, three Democratic state representatives who had run unopposed in 2008 losing in 2010, and Democrat Daniel Lundby taking out the seemingly safe Republican Nick Wagner in the Linn County suburbs in 2012. Wagner had run unopposed in the previous election.

So, while I don’t expect any of the “favored” seats discussed below to change hands, I would not rule out a surprise or two. That would be excellent news for the stealth challenger’s party.

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New data bolster supporters of raising Iowa's gas tax

The average cost of owning a car is lower in Iowa than in any other state, the Cedar Rapids Gazette’s B.A. Morelli reported on August 16, citing an analysis by Bankrate.com. Car insurance costs an average of $630 per year in Iowa, the lowest in the 50 states. Vehicle repairs cost Iowa drivers an average of $315 per year, also the lowest number for any state. The average cost of gasoline for Iowa drivers worked out to $998 a year, taking into account not only the price of gas but also vehicle miles traveled and fuel efficiency rates. That’s “middle of the pack,” Morelli noted.

Iowa’s gasoline tax has not been increased since 1989, reaching a historic low in real terms. Meanwhile, Iowa road and bridge conditions continue to deteriorate. Three years ago, our state ranked third-worst in the country for structurally deficient bridges. The latest data indicate we are second-worst in that category, with more than 20 percent of the state’s bridges in need of repairs or replacement.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jack Hatch supports raising the gas tax, while Governor Terry Branstad has said he favors other ways to finance road and bridge work. The candidates clashed over that issue during last week’s debate. Branstad has left himself some wiggle room by not pledging to veto a gas tax increase.

The current leaders of the Iowa House and Senate Transportation Committees strongly support raising the gas tax to pay for road work. Bills to increase the tax by a total of 10 cents per gallon over several years passed committees in both chambers in recent years, but advocates were unable to recruit enough bipartisan support to pass them in the full Iowa House or Senate in either of the past two legislative sessions. Iowa House Transportation Committee Chair Josh Byrnes has promised to keep working on this issue, and State Representative Brian Moore, the vice chair of that committee, said this spring that a gas tax hike is “in the works” for 2015. He has emphasized that weight limits on structurally deficient bridges are bad for businesses like the livestock transportation company he owns.

Republicans Byrnes and Moore both represent Iowa House districts that may be targeted this fall, as does Iowa Senate Transportation Committee Chair Tod Bowman, a Democrat. Prospects for raising the gas tax will depend in part on whether key advocates are re-elected in November. Regardless of which parties control the Iowa House and Senate after the midterm elections, a gas tax increase would have to be a bipartisan effort.

Democratic and Republican critics of increasing the gasoline tax have pointed out that consumption taxes tend to be regressive, hitting lower-income people harder. A gas tax hike would also disproportionately affect rural residents, who may need to travel further to work or shop. The Washington-based Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy has recommended reforms to address those concerns. I’ve posted the short summary after the jump; you can read more in depth on their ideas for “building a better gas tax” here. I would add that any increase to Iowa’s gas tax should be accompanied by “fix-it first” language, so that new road construction doesn’t swallow the most of the revenue that should be earmarked for repairs. Fixing roads and bridges gives taxpayers more bang for their buck and creates more jobs than building new roads or putting new lanes on existing roads, which (while sometimes needed) increase future maintenance costs.

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Iowa House rejects broadband access bill

When bills come to the floor of the Iowa House or Senate, the outcome of the vote is typically a foregone conclusion. Leaders rarely call up bills that don’t have the votes to pass. But in “the most surprising vote of the day, if not this year’s session,” Iowa House members on Friday rejected House File 2472, a bill designed to expand broadband access in small-town and rural Iowa. The initiative was among Governor Terry Branstad’s legislative priorities this year. While the goal is uncontroversial, especially in communities where people are stuck with dialup internet, lawmakers disagreed on how to accomplish the task.

The House Journal for April 25 includes details from the floor debate, including roll calls on two Democratic amendments that failed to pass on party-line votes. One of them was a “strike” amendment replacing the entire content of House File 2472 with stronger incentives favored by House Democrats. After the routine business of rejecting minority party amendments, a vote was called on final passage. But only 42 Republicans voted yes, joined by just two Democrats. I’ve posted a list of yes and no votes after the jump. House Minority Leader Mark Smith said Democrats opposed the bill because it “does not go far enough in expanding broadband access to more homes and small businesses.” The Republicans who voted no may have been put off by the size of the tax breaks or the lack of accountability. State Representative Guy Vander Linden told Radio Iowa, “We don’t say they need to meet any requirements in terms of our capacity, speed – anything. All we say is: ‘If you will put broadband infrastructure in place in any unserved or underserved area…we’ll give you all these benefits.’ That, to me, sounds like a blank check that I’m not willing to sign up to.”

House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer has already filed a motion to reconsider the vote on this bill, so leaders may believe they can find the votes they need through friendly persuasion or arm-twisting. (She was one of the “no” votes, presumably to preserve her ability to file the bill again after realizing it would not pass.) Two Republicans (Clel Baudler and Ron Jorgensen) were absent from Friday’s vote. Assuming they support the broadband bill and Upmeyer changes her vote, House leaders would need to persuade four more Republicans or Democrats.

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Can Josh Byrnes escape a GOP primary challenge in Iowa House district 51?

Since last summer, many Iowa politics watchers have had Republican State Representative Josh Byrnes on retirement watch. However, he announced this week that he will seek a third term in Iowa House district 51. After the jump I’ve posted a district map and Byrnes’ re-election statement.

Democratic candidate Laura Hubka has been actively campaigning for months. She’s facing a relatively strong incumbent in this district, which covers Howard, Mitchell, Worth, and part of Winneshiek Counties along Iowa’s northern border. Byrnes was comfortably re-elected in 2012 even as President Barack Obama won more than 55 percent of the vote in House district 51. The latest totals from the Secretary of State’s office indicate that the district contains 5,765 registered Democrats, 6,470 Republicans, and 8,643 no-party voters.

Although I have not heard of any Republican planning to challenge Byrnes, three factors make me suspect he will not get a free pass in the GOP primary.

1. Byrnes is the leading Iowa House proponent of raising the gasoline tax, a popular view among some rural constituencies but not in the Republican base. He even taunted the advocacy group Iowans for Tax Relief after this year’s subcommittee hearing, where the gas tax bill advanced.

2. While many Iowa House Republicans are quietly satisfied to see a constitutional amendment on marriage die in the funnel for two years running, to my knowledge Byrnes is still the only person in his caucus who openly supports same-sex marriage rights.

3. Last year Byrnes was one of just two GOP legislators to support the Democratic position on expanding Medicaid in Iowa. (The other one, Brian Moore, represents the most Democratic-leaning Iowa House district Republicans now control.)

It will be a St. Patrick’s Day miracle if no anti-tax zealot, social conservative, or “Liberty” activist steps up to challenge Byrnes by the March 14 filing deadline.  

UPDATE: Amazingly, no other Republican filed papers to seek the GOP nomination in House district 51.

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Laura Hubka challenging Josh Byrnes in Iowa House district 51

Democrats have a candidate in what could become one of next year’s battleground Iowa House races. Depending on the outcome of a special election in House district 25, Democrats need a net gain of three or four seats to win control of the lower chamber. Laura Hubka announced her plans to run for House district 51 two weeks ago on the SiriusXM program “Make It Plain.” The Iowa House Democrats made the campaign official yesterday. Hubka went to high school in Decorah and returned to live in northeast Iowa nearly 20 years ago, after completing 10 years of service in the U.S. Navy. She has worked at several health centers in the area. She became involved in Democratic politics in 2007, volunteering for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. After Iowa’s new map of political boundaries was approved in 2011, Hubka helped form the “Tri County Democrats” collaboration among activists in Mitchell, Howard, and Worth Counties. She volunteered for State Senator Mary Jo Wilhelm’s successful re-election bid against Senator Merlin “Build My Fence” Bartz in 2012.

After the jump I’ve posted background on Hubka and two-term Republican incumbent Josh Byrnes, along with a detailed map of House district 51. The district runs along the Minnesota border, including Worth, Mitchell, and Howard Counties, plus part of Winneshiek County. As of November 2013, House district 51 contained 5,794 registered Democrats, 6,463 Republicans, and 8,522 no-party voters.

Byrnes was comfortably re-elected in 2012 even as President Barack Obama won more than 55 percent of the vote in House district 51. So he would be favored to win a third term. I sought comment from Byrnes after hearing rumors that he might retire next year. Notably, he did not say he will definitely run again. Rather, he indicated that he will decide after the legislative session is over. He’ll need to make up his mind before then, because the filing deadline for major-party candidates is March 14, 2014.

Byrnes has occasionally looked like the odd man out in the Iowa House Republican caucus. He is on the record supporting same-sex marriage rights and an increase in the state gasoline tax. He was one of only two GOP legislators to support the Democratic position on expanding Medicaid. For those reasons, I would not be surprised to see a primary challenge against him from the right.

Regardless of whether Byrnes seeks re-election, Hubka is unlikely to face competition in the Democratic primary. According to Kurt Meyer, Byrnes’ Democratic opponent in 2010, the Tri-County Democrats are strongly behind Hubka. UPDATE: Hubka’s campaign is on Facebook here and has not yet launched a website.

LATE UPDATE: Added further information about Hubka below.

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IA-01: Republican Walt Rogers forming exploratory committee (updated)

State Representative Walt Rogers inched closer to a Congressional bid in Iowa’s open first district, telling a group of Delaware County Republicans last night that he is forming an exploratory committee. Speaking to journalist Mike Wiser, Rogers said he would evaluate his potential to raise money, adding that each of his Iowa House colleagues in IA-01 have “encouraged me to run.” The following Iowa House Republicans represent parts of this Congressional district: Speaker Kraig Paulsen, Brian Moore, Lee Hein, Quentin Stanerson, Sandy Salmon, David Maxwell, Dawn Pettengill, and Josh Byrnes.

Bleeding Heartland recently posted background on Rogers here. I doubt fundraising will be a problem for him. Not only did he raise more than the average state lawmaker for his 2012 re-election bid, he has national connections. In fact, Rogers just returned from the GOPAC Emerging Leaders Summit in Tennessee. The two declared Republican candidates in IA-01, Steve Rathje and Rod Blum, are not powerhouse fundraisers.

Assuming Rogers runs for Congress, his main competition in the GOP primary will probably be Blum. He narrowly lost the 2012 primary to establishment favorite Ben Lange and is organizing around the district, including in Rogers’ home base of Black Hawk County. Blum would likely paint Rogers as a compromiser and opportunist, like he described Speaker Paulsen. Although Rogers wouldn’t bring as much baggage into this race as Paulsen might have done, he may be vulnerable to similar attacks as a member of the Iowa House Republican leadership team.

I am seeking comment from two Republicans in Linn County who are said to be considering the IA-01 race as well: former State Representative Renee Schulte and Paul Pate, a former state senator, Cedar Rapids mayor, and Iowa Secretary of State.

Side note: if Rogers runs for IA-01, both parties are likely to target the vacant Iowa House district 60 in Cedar Falls and Waterloo. While Republicans have a slight voter registration advantage there, no-party voters are the largest group, and President Barack Obama carried House district 60 in last year’s general election.

UPDATE: Added the official announcement from Rogers after the jump.

SECOND UPDATE: According to James Q. Lynch of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Pate will enter the IA-01 primary field soon.

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Analysis of the Obama-Romney vote in the Iowa House districts

The Daily Kos Elections team has been compiling 2012 presidential election results by state legislative district as well as by Congressional district, state by state. Last week the Iowa numbers were added to the database. I took a first stab at previewing the battle for control of the Iowa Senate next year, using data including the raw vote totals and percentages for President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in each district.

The Daily Kos database includes Obama and Romney vote totals and percentages for each Iowa House district here. After the jump I’ve incorporated that information and other factors to predict which Iowa House districts will be competitive in 2014. Writing this post has been challenging, because every election cycle brings surprises, and many more seats in the lower chamber will be in play. Unlike the Iowa Senate, where only half of the 50 members are on the ballot in each general election, all 100 Iowa House members are on ballot in every even-numbered year. Republicans currently hold a 53-47 majority in the lower chamber.

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IA-Sen: Joni Ernst campaign rollout links and discussion thread

State Senator Joni Ernst made her U.S Senate campaign official last week by bringing her Joni for Iowa website live and posting several slogans on a campaign Facebook page. She plans several public events around Iowa later this week, beginning at the Montgomery County courthouse in Red Oak.

Ernst is the fifth candidate in the Republican field, after Matt Whitaker, David Young, Sam Clovis, and Paul Lunde–or the sixth if you count Mark Jacobs, who has formed an exploratory committee but not announced his candidacy. Lots of links and early thoughts about her campaign are after the jump.

JULY 17 UPDATE: Adding news from Ernst’s campaign kickoff events below.

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IA-02: Mark Lofgren is first Republican to challenge Dave Loebsack (updated)

State Representative Mark Lofgren of Muscatine will formally announce tomorrow that he is running against four-term Representative Dave Loebsack in Iowa’s second Congressional district, James Q. Lynch reported today for the Cedar Rapids Gazette. After the jump I’ve posted Lofgren’s official bio and material from the “issues” and “endorsements” pages of his campaign website. Of the seventeen current Iowa House Republicans and four former state representatives who have endorsed Lofgren, four live in Loebsack’s district. Dan Dolan, who lost last year’s GOP primary in IA-02 to John Archer, has also endorsed Lofgren.

As of June 2013, the 24 counties in IA-02 contain 170,130 active registered Democrats, 138,390 Republicans, and 180,950 no-party voters. Loebsack defeated Archer by a comfortable margin in 2012, but in the 2010 midterm election he needed help from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to fend off a challenge by Mariannette Miller-Meeks, winning by only about 11,000 votes in what was then a more Democratic-leaning district.

Governor Terry Branstad appointed Miller-Meeks to lead the Iowa Department of Public Health in 2011. The GOP challenger to Loebsack in 2008 as well as 2010, Miller-Meeks has attended some Republican Party events this year and confirmed last week that she is still considering a third Congressional bid. Having fallen short in the 2010 Republican wave, Miller-Meeks would likely face an uphill battle persuading GOP primary voters that she deserves another chance to win this district.

Lofgren’s decision leaves Iowa House district 91 open for the 2014 election cycle. This swing district currently contains 6,300 registered Democrats, 6,291 Republicans, and 8,401 no-party voters. A detailed district map is at the bottom of this post. Democrat Nathan Reichert represented the Muscatine area in the Iowa House for three terms, losing to Lofgren in the 2010 wave. Lofgren defeated Democratic challenger John Dabeet last year by 915 votes.

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Last-minute Iowa legislative scramble is nothing to brag about

The Iowa Senate wrapped up its work for the year shortly after midnight on May 23, and Iowa House members adjourned about 11 hours later. Lawmakers in both parties have been congratulating themselves for compromising on some big issues that ended in stalemate the previous two years. Rod Boshart compiled an excellent list of what the legislature did and didn’t approve during 2013.

We all can appreciate the desire to finish a big project before a holiday weekend, and since legislators stopped receiving per diem payments weeks ago, they understandably wanted to get out of town as quickly as possible. However, I found it disturbing that votes were held before most lawmakers, let alone members of the public, had time to digest final conference committee deals on education reform, an alternative to Medicaid expansion, property taxes, and the health and human services budget. Transparency isn’t just a buzzword. Had journalists and advocacy groups been able to look over the last-minute compromises, people might have discovered problematic language or even simple drafting errors, which could produce unintended consequences after Governor Terry Branstad signs these bills into law.

I have a lot of questions about the final education reform bill and the plan to provide health insurance to low-income Iowans, particularly those earning between 101 percent and 138 percent of the poverty level. I also need more time to sort through the budget numbers and final changes to the standings bill. After the holiday weekend Bleeding Heartland will examine the important results of the legislative session in more detail. For now, I’ve posted after the jump details on who voted for and against the major bills approved this week.

UPDATE: In the May 24 edition of the On Iowa Politics podcast, statehouse reporters Mike Wiser and James Lynch discussed how the big issues came together “behind closed doors,” with no public scrutiny or oversight. Lynch commented that to his knowledge, the conference committee named to resolve the impasse over Medicaid expansion never formally met, except perhaps for one organizational meeting. Lynch recounted one occasion when Iowa House Republican Dave Heaton was briefing journalists about the health care talks, and the journalists asked when that happened, since there hadn’t been any public notices of conference committee meetings. According to Lynch, Heaton replied, “We’re not having meetings, but we’re meeting.” Senate President Pam Jochum said that negotiations between Democratic State Senator Amanda Ragan and House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer produced the “key to Iowa’s health care compromise.” Notably, Upmeyer didn’t have a prominent role in passing the House health insurance plan, nor was she named to the conference committee assigned to merge the House and Senate proposals.

Speaking to journalists on May 22, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and Jochum weren’t able to answer a specific question about compromise wording reached regarding Medicaid coverage of abortions. That was no minor issue–it was the last sticking point holding up approval of the health and human services budget. In effect, Gronstal told journalists, you can see the wording after the final bill is published.

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Another Iowa legislative victory for Big Ag

Factory farm advocates failed in 2009 to circumvent the Iowa DNR’s rulemaking on applying manure over frozen and snow-covered ground. Then they failed in 2010 to win passage of a bill designed to weaken Iowa’s newly-adopted regulations on manure storage and application.

But this year, the Iowa Pork Producers Association succeeded in convincing state lawmakers to relax requirements for CAFO operators to be able to store their own manure properly. All they had to do was dress up their effort as an attempt to help families with aspiring young farmers.

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Rob Portman: New marriage equality hero?

Yesterday Rob Portman of Ohio became the first sitting Republican U.S. senator to endorse marriage equality. In a guest editorial for the Columbus Post-Dispatch, Portman explained that he reconsidered his opinion on gay marriage after his son came out of the closet.

As a rule, I welcome any public support for marriage equality from Republican ranks. It’s nice to see a current elected official join the long list of campaign professionals and former GOP office-holders who support civil marriage rights. Still, something about Portman’s comments yesterday rubbed me the wrong way.

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Iowa House: Birthplace and graveyard for marriage and abortion bills

During 2011 and 2012, the Iowa Senate was our state’s firewall against the social conservative agenda. The Republican-controlled Iowa House passed a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, sweeping limits on abortion rights (twice), a “stand your ground” bill and a constitutional amendment that would invalidate virtually all restrictions on guns. All of those bills died in the Democratic-controlled state Senate.

Social issues have never been a priority for Iowa House leaders. They blocked a floor vote on a “personhood” bill in 2011 and steered clear of extremist crusades like impeaching Iowa Supreme Court justices and replacing gun permit laws with “constitutional carry.” Still, I expected House Republicans to cover the usual bases during this year’s legislative session.

Instead, almost every high-profile bill on so-called family values failed to win House committee approval and therefore died in the legislature’s first funnel deadline last Friday. That includes some mainstream conservative efforts as well as freak show bills like ending no-fault divorce or barring county recorders from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Most amazing to me, House Republicans no longer have the votes to pass a constitutional amendment restricting marriage to one man and one woman.  

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Mid-week open thread: Sports and the great outdoors

I’m not much of a wrestling fan, but what the heck were members of the International Olympics Committee thinking when they voted to eliminate wrestling as an Olympic sport beginning in 2020? Wrestling is a much more important sport than some other events they’re keeping. The IOC is adding golf as an Olympic sport in 2016, but even professional golfer Zach Johnson, an Iowa native, disagrees with the IOC’s decision on wrestling. I’ve posted some Iowa political reaction to this news after the jump. UPDATE: More comments are below; also, Governor Terry Branstad’s campaign set up a “keep wrestling” website.

A few weeks ago, Republican State Representative Josh Byrnes made the discovery of a lifetime for a Hawkeye fan: a football signed by Nile Kinnick and other members of the 1939 University of Iowa team. Mike Wiser wrote up the story. Byrnes found the football in the place he’s renting with three other Iowa House Republicans during this year’s legislative session.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is training volunteers to help with their wildlife monitoring programs. They are looking for people to identify certain types of bird nests and frog and toad calls. I’ve posted some details after the jump.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is happening from February 15 to 18. You don’t have to be an expert bird-watcher to help scientists collect information about bird populations. This winter we’ve had more birds at our finch feeder than usual, and I learned they are pine siskins (closely related to goldfinches). They don’t always over-winter in Iowa.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2013

The Iowa House will begin its 2013 session next Monday with 53 Republicans, 46 Democrats and one seat to be filled in a special election on January 22.

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 changes since last year’s legislative session.

Some non-political Iowa House trivia: three state representatives have the surname Olson (not counting Democrat Jo Oldson). There are two Millers, two Taylors, and two Smiths, one from each party in every case. David is most common first name: the new cohort contains three Daves and two Davids. Four state representatives have the first name Mark, four are called Daniel (three go by Dan) and four were given the name Robert (two Robs, one Bob, and a Bobby). Four women are named Mary (one goes by Mary Ann), and two are named Linda. There are two men each named Greg, Chuck, John, Kevin, Pat, Bruce, Tom, and Chris, and there would have been two Brians if Brian Quirk had not resigned shortly after winning re-election. Oddly, no current Iowa House member is named Mike or Michael.

JANUARY 28 UPDATE: Democrat Todd Prichard won the special election in House district 52, bringing the number of Todds in the Iowa House to two. I’ve added his committee assignments below. Republicans maintain a 53-47 majority.

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Medicaid abortion funding ban a bridge too far for Branstad administration

Opposing all government funding for abortion is settled dogma among Iowa Republican activists and elected officials. For two years in a row, Senate Democrats have blocked attempts to write new restrictions on Medicaid abortion coverage into the budget for the state Department of Human Services. Now DHS Director Chuck Palmer has signaled that taking control of the upper chamber may not give Republicans the power to restrict the choices of low-income women.

Palmer’s action puts Governor Terry Branstad in an awkward position, and a legislature completely under GOP control could create a political nightmare for Branstad, a proud “pro-lifer” throughout his career.

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Iowa House district 60: Walt Rogers flunks Politics 101

The nice thing about a large majority, like the 60 to 40 Republican advantage in the Iowa House, is not needing every vote in your caucus for every bill. Members can oppose the party line when local interests are threatened without derailing the legislative process. Retiring State Representative Steve Lukan showed how it’s done when he voted against the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund budget in the House Appropriations Committee last week, because that bill left out $5 million in funding for a major project in Lukan’s district.

This basic concept of representing your constituents is apparently lost on Walt Rogers. The first-term Republican from a district covering parts of Cedar Falls and Waterloo just voted for an education budget that slashes funding for the University of Northern Iowa.

UPDATE: Scroll down for Rogers’ weekly newsletter, which discusses his vote on the education budget.

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IA-01: Blum's stump speech and more endorsements for Lange

Republican rivals Rod Blum and Ben Lange continue to make very different cases for their candidacies in Iowa’s first Congressional district. Blum emphasizes his biography and experience, while Lange emphasizes the network of support he is building in his second attempt to defeat Representative Bruce Braley.

Follow me after the jump for a closer look at Blum’s pitch to Republican audiences and Lange’s new endorsements from nine GOP state legislators, complementing the steering committee he announced earlier this month.  

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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2012

Although the 60 Republicans and 40 Democrats in the Iowa House haven’t changed since last year, I thought it was worth updating this post, because some committee assignments have changed, and House Democrats reshuffled their ranking members somewhat.

Majority and minority leadership teams are after the jump, along with all members of standing House committees. All 100 House districts are on the ballot every two years, so I’ve noted the new district numbers for state representatives seeking re-election in 2012, as well as which House members have said they will retire after this year’s legislative session.

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Branstad to seek new teacher pay system for Iowa (updated)

New Iowa teachers would no longer receive automatic raises based on years of experience or post-graduate degrees under an education reform proposal to be revealed in the coming weeks. Iowa Department of Education Director Jason Glass and Governor Terry Branstad’s special adviser on education, Linda Fandel, shared the outlines of the proposed changes with journalists yesterday.

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Clue to a mystery in Iowa House district 7?

Republicans made huge gains in the Iowa House on November 2, defeating 13 Democratic incumbents and winning four Democratic-held open seats. Republicans fell just short in several other House races, and one that puzzled me was in district 7, covering Emmet and Palo Alto Counties and part of Kossuth in north-central Iowa.

Democrat Marcella Frevert retired after representing the district for 14 years in the Iowa House. The district leans a bit Democratic in voter registration, but open seats tend to be harder for parties to hold than districts where they have established incumbents. Clearly district 7 was winnable for the GOP; the certified results put Democrat John Wittneben just 32 votes ahead of Republican Lannie Miller.

For some reason, the Iowa GOP and allied groups didn’t invest nearly as much in Miller’s campaign as in other House Republican candidates. But why?

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First take on the Iowa House and Senate results (updated)

Democrats suffered big losses in the Iowa House and Senate last night. Assuming no results change through recounts, the House is likely to switch from 56 Democrats and 44 Republicans to 59 Republicans and 41 Democrats. I’ve seen some online references to a 58-42 split, but that’s not how the count looks based on unofficial results posted on the Secretary of State’s website.

Democrats maintain control of the Iowa Senate, but their majority shrank from 32-18 to 27-23. Governor-elect Terry Branstad should easily be able to get his agenda through the Iowa House, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal may have trouble keeping his caucus united.

UPDATE: Late returns could change the outcome in two Senate seats; it’s possible the chamber could have a 25-25 split, or a 26-24 Democratic majority.

SECOND UPDATE: A few more races could switch as more absentee ballots come in. As of Wednesday evening, Democrat Tom Schueller is now trailing in House district 25 by about 150 votes.

Here’s my take on the seats that changed hands and the near-misses.

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Update on Iowa House district 14 race

In October, State Representative Mark Kuhn announced plans to retire from the Iowa House, where he has represented district 14 since 1999. District 14 (map in pdf file) contains all of Floyd and Mitchell Counties, plus a small part of Cerro Gordo County.

Democrat Kurt Meyer announced plans to run for this House seat in December, but I missed the story at the time. Bleeding Heartland readers may remember Meyer from the 2008 Democratic primary campaign in Iowa’s fourth Congressional district. He finished second in that race, behind Becky Greenwald. Meyer has spent most of his career as a consultant for non-profit organizations. His family has lived in rural Mitchell County for five generations. His name recognition in the area should be strong, and I doubt he will have any trouble raising enough money to run a good campaign.

The Republican candidate in House district 14 is Josh Byrnes, the agricultural and industrial technology division chairman at North Iowa Area Community College.

Kuhn will run for the Floyd County Board of Supervisors in 2010. He served on that board before being elected to the Iowa House in 1998.

We need a new candidate in Iowa House district 14

This bad news comes to you courtesy of the Mason City Globe-Gazette: State Representative Mark Kuhn will retire from the Iowa House next year to seek a seat on the Floyd County Board of Supervisors. He served on that board for six years before being elected to represent House district 14 in 1998. He told the Globe-Gazette that he will serve out his current term but wants to be closer to his family.

He said some of the highlights of his legislative career include:

– In his first term, securing an $800,000 interest-free loan for Floyd County and Charles City for Iowa’s first shared (with the DOT) transportation maintenance facility, located in Charles City.

– Authoring a bill banning the gasoline additive MTBE, believed to be a cancer-causing agent.

– Increasing markets for ethanol.

– Working to make the State Capitol building safer for persons with disabilities.

– Securing a $500,000 I-JOBS grant to repair the flood-damaged Charles City Fire Station and for infrastructure projects in Rudd, Rockford, Marble Rock and Nora Springs.

Kuhn currently chairs the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee. He is a farmer and strong supporter of agricultural zoning at the county level, also known as “local control” over confined-animal feeding operations (CAFOs). I had hoped that one day he might chair the Iowa House Agriculture Committee, and I’m sorry to hear of his retirement.

District 14 (map in pdf file) contains all of Floyd and Mitchell Counties, plus part of Cerro Gordo County. Bleeding Heartland readers familiar with north-central Iowa, which Democrats should run to replace Kuhn? According to the Globe-Gazette, one Republican candidate has already declared in this district: Josh Byrnes, the agricultural and industrial technology division chairman at North Iowa Area Community College. In the 2008 election, Kuhn won just under 71 percent of the vote against Jeff Mosiman.

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