Ernst, Grassley prefer COVID-19 package without paid sick leave

The U.S. Senate voted on March 18 to approve a second bill responding to the rapidly spreading novel coronavirus (COVID-19), and President Donald Trump signed the legislation later the same day. Senators Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley were part of the 90 to 8 bipartisan majority that approved final passage of the bill. But first, Iowa’s senators supported a Republican amendment to remove mandatory paid sick leave from the bill the U.S. House approved late last week.

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Iowa Republicans pushing anti-abortion bills while they still can

Republican lawmakers in the Iowa House and Senate advanced several bills targeting abortion procedures and providers this week, as a legislative deadline approached.

Several political factors make this year a perfect time for the GOP to curtail Iowa women’s reproductive rights. First, it’s an election year, and no issue motivates social conservative voters more than abortion. Second, 2020 may be the last year of a Republican trifecta. Democrats have a realistic chance to win control of the Iowa House (now split 53-47) in November, which would take any anti-abortion legislation off the table. Finally,  Governor Kim Reynolds will soon have appointed four of the seven Iowa Supreme Court justices, ensuring that the high court will uphold almost any abortion restriction passed this year.

Where things stand on the anti-abortion bills introduced this year:

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Iowa House district 39 preview: Karin Derry vs. Eddie Andrews

Of the five Democrats who flipped Iowa House seats in the Des Moines suburbs in 2018, Karin Derry had the steepest uphill climb. Jennifer Konfrst and Kenan Judge were campaigning in open seats (House districts 43 and 44). Kristin Sunde was running against a GOP incumbent, but Hillary Clinton had carried House district 42, and registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans there. Heather Matson faced an incumbent in a district that had voted for Donald Trump, but the GOP had only a slight registration advantage in House district 38.

Derry challenged State Representative Jake Highfill in House district 39, where Trump outpolled Clinton and registered Republicans outnumbered Democrats by more than 2,300 going into election day.

It’s long been obvious that Derry’s seat will be among the GOP’s top targets for 2020 state House races. But until last week, Republicans didn’t have a declared candidate. Eddie Andrews made his campaign official on January 20. If elected, he would be only the second African-American Republican to serve in the Iowa legislature and the first in more than five decades.

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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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A few thoughts on campaign donations and Iowa caucus endorsements

Former Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy resigned as state political director for Tom Steyer’s presidential campaign on November 8, a day after Alexandra Jaffe reported for the Associated Press that Murphy “privately offered campaign contributions to local politicians in exchange for endorsing his White House bid, according to multiple people with direct knowledge of the conversations.”

Among politically active Iowans, reaction to Jaffe’s scoop ranged from anger to disappointment to a shrug: “Isn’t this long accepted practice?”

No. While presidential hopefuls and their affiliated committees have often donated to Democratic candidates and party organizations, hoping for future support, it is rare for anyone to dangle a possible donation in exchange for an endorsement.

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