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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Disenfranchised Winneshiek County voters will never have their day in court

Envelopes containing 29 absentee ballots that Winneshiek County voters mailed on time will likely remain sealed forever. Time has run out for Democratic candidate Kayla Koether to sue over how Iowa House Republicans handled her contest of the 2018 election result in House district 55.

It is also too late for any disenfranchised voter to challenge a process that placed an administrative rule about mail barcodes above the fundamental right to vote guaranteed by Article II of Iowa’s constitution.

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Lawmakers should act on absentee ballots, mail barcodes

Bev Clark calls for action to prevent a 2020 repeat of the scenario that played out in Iowa House district 55. -promoted by Laura Belin

The Iowa legislature must clarify the law that determines the timeliness of absentee ballots. Some 41 percent of Iowans who participated in the 2018 election voted early, according to the Secretary of State’s certified results. That’s 547,205 ballots!

Those are the known, counted absentee ballots. Some of them may not have complied with the postmark requirement, but were counted anyway. In the very tight election for Iowa House district 55, where only nine votes separated the candidates, Winneshiek County rejected 29 late-arriving absentee ballots without a postmark. But those ballots did have an intelligent mail barcode, proving they entered the postal service before election day. The dispute centered on what kind of mail barcode.

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When being fair isn't an Iowa value

Bruce Lear: Lately, I am struck with how Iowa values are eroding before our eyes. -promoted by Laura Belin

Three college guys decided to head to my hometown of Shellsburg, Iowa for a weekend. We threw three bags of dirty laundry in the trunk for my unsuspecting Mom, and we left Pella in Carl’s very used Toyota. In 1977, Toyotas in Iowa were about as rare as a Democrat in Pella. There were some, but they were hard to spot.

Things went fine, until it died. It was not a prolonged death with symptoms. It was sudden. We were three guys with a dead car on a county road outside of Kellogg, Iowa. We knew a lot. After all, we were sophomores in college. Unfortunately, our sophomore smarts didn’t extend to fixing dead Toyotas.

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Three things I learned watching Iowa House Republicans subvert democracy

The first Iowa House floor votes of 2019 are in the books, and they played out exactly as you’d expect. On two straight party-line votes, 53 Republicans rejected a Democratic effort to allow legally cast absentee ballots to be counted, then dismissed Kayla Koether’s contest of the House district 55 election result.

The chamber’s January 28 debate was enlightening. If you have a few hours to spare, I recommend watching the videos of the afternoon and evening sessions on the legislative website.

My takeaways:

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Iowa House Republicans are making a mistake

Every Iowa House Republican will likely vote on January 28 to dismiss Democrat Kayla Koether’s contest of the House district 55 election. She trails State Representative Michael Bergan by nine votes according to certified results, but 29 absentee ballots that voters in Winneshiek County mailed on time remain uncounted.

Although Republicans on a special House election contest committee insist “there exists no legal authority to open and count the twenty-nine ballots in question,” they are wrong about the law. Dismissing the contest without allowing Koether to call witnesses, take depositions, or have the ballots opened will open the door to judicial review.

It’s also terrible politics.

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