Democrats looking more likely to hold Iowa House district 21

First-term Democratic State Representative Kerry Burt announced yesterday that he won’t run for re-election in Iowa House district 21, which comprises part of Waterloo and some rural areas in southern Black Hawk County (map here). The state Attorney General’s Office filed charges against a group of parents including Burt, who allegedly gave false addresses to avoid paying higher tuition fees for their children to attend the Price Laboratory School in Cedar Falls. Burt said in a statement, “I look forward to my day in court.  I believe I am innocent and strongly believe my name will be vindicated once all of the relevant facts come to light. […] I am extremely grateful to the citizens of Waterloo for allowing me to serve and look forward to continuing my public service in the future.”

I wish Burt the best but won’t deny that I’m one of those relieved Democrats John Deeth mentioned here. I’ve been hoping for some time that Burt would not seek re-election, not only because of the tuition scandal but because of his drunk driving arrest in February 2009.

After the jump I cover the recent electoral history of House district 21 and reasons Democrats can feel optimistic about holding the seat.

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Iowa candidate filings deadline thread

The filing deadline for statewide and state legislative offices closed at the end of business today. John Deeth has been covering the highlights at his blog. Click here to download a pdf file from the Secretary of State’s office for the full candidate list.

As I mentioned earlier, Governor Chet Culver has no primary challenger. All three remaining Republican gubernatorial candidates qualified for the ballot (Terry Branstad, Rod Roberts, Bob Vander Plaats).

There will be a three-way Democratic primary for U.S. Senate between Roxanne Conlin, Tom Fiegen and Bob Krause.

Republicans have a full slate of candidates for statewide offices. Sadly, Democrats failed to find anyone to take on Auditor David Vaudt.

Four Republicans filed against Bruce Braley in Iowa’s first Congressional district, and four Republicans filed against Dave Loebsack in the second district. All seven declared GOP candidates qualified for the ballot in Iowa’s third district. I would not be surprised if a district convention ends up selecting Leonard Boswell’s opponent.

Bill Maske is the only Democrat running against Tom Latham in Iowa’s fourth Congressional district. As expected, we will have a competitive primary in the fifth between Mike Denklau and Matt Campbell.

Most surprising statehouse district left uncontested: House district 16 in northeast Iowa. I had heard rumors that Republicans had no candidate against freshman State Representative John Beard, but I’m still shocked they left him unchallenged. That was a battleground race in 2008. Does anyone know whether a GOP district convention will be able to name a candidate for this race later?

Democrats didn’t leave any obviously competitive statehouse districts open. I’m a little disappointed we don’t have a candidate in House district 73, from which Republican Jodi Tymeson is retiring. It is a fairly strong GOP district, but I thought a candidate pounding the pavement there might help State Senator Staci Appel in her re-election campaign against Kent Sorenson (Senate district 37).

We found a candidate in House district 51 (Carroll County), which Rod Roberts is vacating to run for governor. Democrat Larry Lesle of Manning will face the winner of a three-way GOP primary.

Yesterday two-term incumbent Elesha Gayman surprised many people by announcing her retirement from House district 84 in Davenport. Gayman indicated that no one had been lined up to replace her, but today Shari Carnahan filed for that seat as a Democrat. She will face Gayman’s 2008 opponent, Ross Paustian.

Ruth Ann Gaines ended up being the only Democrat to file in Wayne Ford’s district 65 (Des Moines).

Six Democratic Iowa House incumbents have primary challengers. The people running against Dave Jacoby (district 30, Iowa City/Coralville) and Geri Huser (district 42, east side of Des Moines) appear to be backed by organized labor. A socially conservative pastor, Clair Rudison, is running against Ako Abdul-Samad in district 66 (Des Moines). Anesa Kajtazovic stepped up to the plate in House district 21 (Waterloo). Freshman Kerry Burt really should have retired from that seat. I don’t know what the deal is with Kenneth Oglesby, who is challenging Chuck Isenhart in district 27 (Dubuque). Likewise, I have no idea why Mike Petersen is running against Mary Gaskill in district 93 (Ottumwa). Please post a comment or e-mail me (desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com) if you know the backstory.

Most surprising retirement: Republican Doug Struyk in district 99. The GOP candidate for secretary of state in 2006, Mary Ann Hanusa, is running for the Council Bluffs-based seat instead. She will face Democrat Kurt Hubler, who nearly defeated Struyk in 2008. Struyk was first elected as a Democrat but switched parties several years ago. His departure will leave only one turncoat in the Iowa House. We failed to field a candidate against Dawn Pettengill (district 39), who switched to the GOP in 2007.

More posts are coming soon on some of the battleground statehouse races. Meanwhile, post any relevant comments in this thread.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention that we will see seven or eight rematches in Iowa House races. Republicans are running Josh Thurston and Stephen Burgmeier and 2009 special election winners Kirsten Running-Marquardt (district 33) and Curt Hanson (district 90). Also, in district 23 first-term Democrat Gene Ficken will face the Republican he beat in 2008, Dan Rasmussen. Republican Jane Jech is taking another shot at incumbent Mark Smith in district 43. The district 89 race may be a rematch as well if Jarad Klein wins the GOP primary to face first-term Democrat Larry Marek. In House district 60, first-term Republican Peter Cownie faces 2008 Democratic candidate Alan Koslow. Not only will Koslow be at a severe financial disadvantage, his endorsement of Jonathan Narcisse for governor won’t win him friends among the Democratic base. Democrat Pat VanZante is taking another shot at Jim Van Engelenhoven in district 71 (assuming Van Engelenhoven doesn’ lose to his GOP primary challenger). Republican Dave Heaton will face his 2008 opponent, Ron Fedler, in district 91.

SECOND UPDATE: Republicans are crowing that they are fielding candidates in 88 of the 100 Iowa House districts, while Democrats are fielding candidates in only 75 districts. I would like to challenge Republicans everywhere, but it’s only natural that Iowa Democrats are going to focus more on defense this year. We already have the majority, and it could be a tough cycle for incumbents at all levels.

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Year in review: Iowa politics in 2009 (part 2)

Following up on my review of news from the first half of last year, I’ve posted links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of Iowa politics from July through December 2009 after the jump.

Hot topics on this blog during the second half of the year included the governor’s race, the special election in Iowa House district 90, candidates announcing plans to run for the state legislature next year, the growing number of Republicans ready to challenge Representative Leonard Boswell, state budget constraints, and a scandal involving the tax credit for film-making.

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Burt gets fine, probation for drunk driving

State Representative Kerry Burt received a year of probation and a $625 fine after pleading guilty to drunk driving, the Des Moines Register reported on August 21. He will also be required to take a class for drunk drivers. Burt released a statement apologizing for his actions and promising never to let it happen again. I’ve posted that statement after the jump. It doesn’t sound like he’s planning to resign.

I would like Democrats to find a new candidate for House district 21 next year. The Register pointed out that State Senator Robert Dvorsky was re-elected in 2006 despite a drunk driving arrest earlier that year, but Dvorsky had spent nearly two decades in the Iowa legislature at that time and represents a safe Democratic district. Burt is in his first term and defeated a Republican incumbent by a narrow margin in 2008. He is also among several people being investigated for giving false addresses in order to evade tuition payments at the University of Northern Iowa’s Malcolm Price Laboratory School.

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The Iowa legislature can't enforce its own disclosure rules

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement on Wednesday filed an ethics complaint against the Iowa Pharmacy Association, which entertained Governor Chet Culver and numerous state legislators in February but did not disclose the reception until after journalists started asking questions five months later. State Representative Kerry Burt, who attended the event, was arrested later that night for drunk driving. From an August 5 Iowa CCI press release:

Iowa CCI’s initial research has uncovered 26 additional late-filing disclosure violations by lobbyist groups during the 2009 legislative session.  This amount represents nearly one-third of the 90 reports that were filed in 2009.

“Today we are focusing on the Iowa Pharmacy Association because its disclosure violation is the most egregious example of abuse of the law by special-interest lobbyists, particularly because they only filed after they were caught,” [Iowa CCI’s State Policy Organizing Director Adam] Mason said.

This emerging and growing political scandal raises new questions about the ability of the House and Senate Ethics Committees to accurately monitor and regulate these types of events.

In 2005, state lawmakers voted to strip oversight powers from the nonpartisan State Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board and task the House and Senate Ethics Committees with oversight responsibilities.  Since then, the number of reported filings have gone down, as has the reported amount of money spent at lobbying events.

I called Mason today with more questions and learned that Iowa CCI filed the complaint with the secretary of the Iowa Senate and the chief clerk of the Iowa House. According to Mason, the Iowa House and Senate Ethics Committees cannot investigate this kind of disclosure violation in the absence of a complaint filed by a third party.

The trouble is, no third party would typically be in a position to set this process in motion. If not for Burt’s bad judgment and bad luck, the public would never have known that the Iowa Pharmacy Association wined and dined policy-makers in February. Iowa CCI has been comparing the disclosure reports filed against the social calendar for legislators from the 2009 session, but Mason told me that not all details about entertainment offered to state legislators are available to the public. Some industry groups provide free travel, food or drinks to lawmakers when the legislature is out of session.

More disturbing, no one on the House or Senate Ethics Committees seems to be taking responsibility for enforcing the disclosure rules. In April, Senate Ethics Committee Vice Chairman Dick Dearden admitted that no one checks the reception disclosures against the legislators’ social calendar. The Des Moines Register reported at the time that Dearden “does not recall any organization ever being punished for not filing reception disclosures properly.”

Legislators should stop pretending to care about money in politics and start addressing real problems with our current system of campaign finance and lobbying. A good start would be to give oversight powers back to the State Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board.

I’ve posted Iowa CCI’s full press release after the jump.

UPDATE: Forgot to link to Jason Hancock’s piece on this subject at Iowa Independent.

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Pharmacy group didn't disclose reception for governor, lawmakers

Groups that throw receptions for Iowa legislators are supposed to file a disclosure report within five business days of the event, but the Iowa Pharmacy Association filed paperwork for its February 10 reception only this week. Why now? Journalists have been asking about the event that preceded State Representative Kerry Burt’s drunk driving arrest around 2 am on February 11. Burt told an Ankeny police officer that he’d been drinking with the governor that evening.

I agree with Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement; the Iowa Pharmacy Association’s disclosure violation once again demonstrates the need for campaign finance reform. I’ve posted a press release from Iowa CCI after the jump. Excerpt:

Several years ago, state lawmakers voted to strip oversight powers from the nonpartisan State Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board and task the House and Senate Ethics Committees with oversight responsibilities.  Since then, the number of reported filings have gone down, as has the amount of money spent at lobbying events.

“What other profession in the state is allowed to regulate themselves,” asks Ed Rethman, Iowa CCI member from West Des Moines.  “Are doctors allowed to license themselves?”

The Des Moines Register reported in April that many interest groups are providing free food and drink to legislators without properly disclosing how much they spend on these events. Usually, the public never finds out about these events, because no one gets arrested afterwards.

Wining and dining legislators is only one of many ways to buy influence at the Iowa statehouse. Many interest groups hire expensive lobbyists. Some pay legislators’ expenses for out of state trips. Then there’s good old-fashioned contributions to political parties and campaign funds, which are unlimited in Iowa. These methods bury a lot of good ideas and get some bad ideas signed into law.

Meanwhile, what passes for campaign finance reform in the Iowa legislature is a joke.

Any suggestions for making progress on this issue are welcome in this thread.  

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