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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Key business group endorses handful of targeted Iowa Democrats

The Iowa Association of Business and Industry’s political arm, the Iowa Industry PAC, released its first round of state legislative endorsements today. According to the PAC’s chairman Kirk Tyler, these “Friends of Iowa Business” have “demonstrated a commitment to improve Iowa’s business climate so that employers can create more jobs and grow the economy.”

During legislative sessions, the Iowa ABI often appears to act as a proxy for the Republican Party of Iowa, so I wasn’t surprised to see that most of Iowa Industry PAC’s favored candidates are Republican incumbents and challengers. But look who else made the list of “Friends of Iowa Business”: Democratic State Representatives McKinley Bailey, Brian Quirk, Doris Kelley, Dave Jacoby, Geri Huser, Larry Marek, and Mike Reasoner, and Democratic State Senators Rich Olive, Wally Horn and Matt McCoy.

Bailey, Quirk, Kelley, Huser and Marek were members of the “six-pack” that blocked passage of a prevailing wage bill in 2009. (The sixth Democrat who refused to support that bill was Dolores Mertz; she is retiring.) Jacoby spoke out against a union-backed “fair share” bill during the 2010 session. Reasoner serves on the House Commerce Committee and was able to keep a payday lending bill stuck in subcommittee during this year’s session.

A few of the Iowa Industry PAC’s endorsements mean little of consequence. Geri Huser and Brian Quirk represent safe Democratic districts, as does Dave Jacoby, whose only opponent is a Libertarian. Horn doesn’t have a Republican opponent either, and McCoy’s GOP challenger is an anti-abortion extremist.

On the other hand, some of the endorsed Democrats are among the GOP’s top targets. First-termer Marek represents the difficult southeast Iowa terrain of House district 89. He squeaked by in 2008 and faces the same opponent for a second time this year, without Barack Obama’s coat-tails.

Republicans also have a registration advantage in House district 9 in north-central Iowa, which Bailey has represented for two terms. The ABI PAC endorsement in this race is even more striking because Bailey’s opponent is Republican heavyweight Stew Iverson, a former Iowa Senate majority leader.

Kelley has represented House district 20 in Waterloo for two terms. Her challenger, Walt Rogers, came within a couple dozen votes of unseating State Senator Jeff Danielson in 2008. This district has a few hundred more registered Republicans than Democrats.

Reasoner is a four-term incumbent from House district 95 in southern Iowa, where Republicans have a registration advantage of nearly 800.

Olive represents Iverson’s old turf, Senate district 5. After Iverson retired in 2006, Olive won this seat by only 62 votes. The GOP has a registration advantage here and desperately needs this district to get back on track toward winning a majority in the Iowa Senate, perhaps in 2012 or 2014.

GOP leaders talk optimistically about winning the Iowa House this year, but that can’t happen unless they beat Marek, Bailey, Kelley, and Reasoner, or at least three out of those four. Republican blogger Craig Robinson discussed the path to taking back the House here.

Share any thoughts about the business lobby or Iowa legislative races in this thread.

UPDATE: John Deeth goes over some of the conspicuous Republican names omitted from the Iowa Industry PAC endorsement list:

Indeed, the only GOP challenger on the House side I see with an ABI endorsement is Dan Rasmussen, making a comeback attempt against Gene Ficken, who knocked him off in 2008. There’s big omissions, starting with Steve Burgmeier, who narrowly lost last year’s Fairfield special to Curt Hanson in House 90. Also forgotten: Guy Vander Linden over Democrat Eric Palmer, in the Oskaloosa-Grinnell seat that’s been hot the last few cycles, and Mark Lofgren in Muscatine’s House 80, challenging Nate Reichert.

So does this mean Republicans are trying to take the House on open seats? Or is ABI, by endorsing the Five Pack, hedging its bets? In either case, the open seat targets include the Sioux City races, Mary Ann Hanusa in Turncoat Doug Struyk’s old turf, and Ross Paustian in Elesha Gayman’s House 84.

And in Waterloo, former mayor John Rooff gets no love in House 21, with a no endorsement over Democrat Anesa Kajtazovic in the open Kerry Burt seat.

Mathematically, the Republicans can’t take back the House on open seats alone. They have to beat at least a few sitting House Democrats.

A thought just occurred to me: Iverson reportedly has close ties to Iowans for Tax Relief, and that outfit ran Burgmeier’s campaign in last year’s House district 90 special election. So maybe some behind the scenes rivalry between ABI and Iowans for Tax Relief is playing out here.

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House Democrats may not have the votes for "fair share"

John Deeth attended the League of Women Voters’ forum in Coralville on Saturday, and he buried an interesting nugget toward the end of his liveblog:

Chris Bonfig asks about HF 2420; Mascher, Dvorsky, Schmitz, Lensing, Bolkcom yes; Jacoby, Marek no. Jacby: “The first part of the bill is marvelous, the [second] part needs some work.”

House file 2420, formerly known as House Study Bill 702, is the reworked “fair share” legislation. The idea behind “fair share” is that employees who don’t belong to a union would have to reimburse the union for services provided, such as collective bargaining and handling grievances. A “fair share” bill passed the Iowa Senate in 2007 but stalled in the Iowa House, where the Democratic majority was 53-47 at the time. The current Democratic majority is 56-44, but none of organized labor’s legislative priorities passed during the 2009 legislative session because of opposition from a “six-pack” of House Democrats.

This year’s “fair share” proposal has been scaled back and would apply only to state employees. (Many labor advocates agree with Iowa AFL-CIO president emeritus Mark Smith, who has argued that the measure should apply to all private sector and public sector unions.) Iowa Republicans and business groups are fiercely opposing “fair share,” even though it would not apply to private businesses.

State Representative Dave Jacoby represents a relatively safe district in Johnson County. If he just announced at a public forum that he’s not backing HF 2420, I don’t see much chance of the “six-pack” members supporting the bill. That would leave House Democrats short of the 51 votes needed for passage.

When Jacoby praised the first part of the bill but not the second part, he appeared to be supporting reimbursement for grievance services but not for bargaining services, which are more costly for the union to provide. Click here for the full text of HF 2420. It states that “reasonable reimbursement” for bargaining services “shall not exceed sixty-five percent of the regular membership dues that the nonmember would have to pay if the nonmember were a member” of the union. The bill caps reimbursement for grievance services at ten percent of the union’s regular membership dues.

In February, Iowa House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy suggested that a new “prevailing wage” bill is more likely to pass this session than “fair share.” In 2009 the “six-pack” sank a prevailing wage bill, but this year House Labor Committee Chairman Rick Olson prepared a compromise version that would require payment of prevailing wage on a smaller number of projects. Olson told the Cedar Rapids Gazette that the “softer” version of the prevailing wage bill addresses the objections raised last year by conservative House Democrats.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

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We need new candidates in House districts 90 and 21

A special election will be held in Iowa House district 90 to replace State Representative John Whitaker, who is becoming Iowa State Executive Director for the Farm Service Agency at the USDA. In theory, Democrats shouldn’t have trouble holding this district, where Whitaker won re-election last year with more than 80 percent of the vote. (His only opponent was from the “4th of July Party.”)

However, John Deeth noted last month that this district has been competitive in the recent past. I want to hear from Democrats familiar with Jefferson and Van Buren counties: who should run for Whitaker’s seat? Anyone know who might run on the Republican side? (UPDATE: According to IowaPolitics.com, “community activist and educator Curt Hanson of Fairfield,” a retired teacher and Democrat, has already announced that he’s running for this seat. His campaign website is here, and he’s already on Twitter and Facebook.)

In unhappier news, State Representative Kerry Burt appears to have lied about where his children lived to avoid paying tuition fees:

The University of Northern Iowa’s Malcolm Price Laboratory School failed to collect more than $250,000 in tuition from a dozen families, including a state representative and the school’s former executive director, the state auditor said Thursday.[…]

– Burt had children enrolled in the school since 2001. He listed a home owned by Marguerite Pircer, who said Burt is her daughter’s paternal uncle, as his childrens’ address. Pircer said Burt’s children never lived in her home. Burt told state auditors that “Mr. Smith and several other staff knew my niece lived at the 1815 Franklin Street and no one questioned it.” He also said David Smith knew he had a Waterloo address.

The unpaid registration fees for Burt’s children were $37,139.

Burt declined comment Thursday, saying all questions had to be directed to his attorneys.

In an unrelated matter, the first-term lawmaker has also pleaded innocent to a drunken driving charge filed against him earlier this spring.

For once I agree with Republican Party of Iowa chairman Matt Strawn, who called for Burt to resign and repay the tuition fees his family evaded. I don’t want this guy on the ballot as a Democrat next year. I don’t want other Democrats publicly defending him. I don’t want the Iowa House Ethics Committee to settle this matter. Whatever they do to discipline Burt, they’ll be accused of going too easy on him.

It’s a real shame. Burt’s victory over Republican incumbent Tami Wiencek was a pleasant surprise last November. Iowa Democrats hadn’t targeted House district 21, but Burt won by about 200 votes. I want to hear from Democrats familiar with Black Hawk County: who should run for this seat if Burt steps down?

Districts 90 and 21 are more important holds than, say, Larry Marek’s seat in House district 89, because Whitaker and Burt weren’t part of the “six-pack” that kept us from getting 51 votes for some important bills.

P.S.- When will Strawn call for the resignation of Republican State Senator James Seymour, who pled guilty to a prostitution charge in 2002?

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Some Iowa House Democrats will get primary challengers

The Democratic-controlled legislature failed to pass some important bills during the 2009 legislative session, including a tax reform package and all major agenda items for organized labor.

Since the fiasco that doomed the “prevailing wage” bill in February, I’ve thought that electing better Democrats to the state legislature is at least as important as electing more Democrats. With a 56-44 majority in the Iowa House, it’s ridiculous not to be able to find 51 votes for some of these bills.

According to a letter I received last weekend, Ed and Lynn Fallon of I’M for Iowa are already meeting with potential progressive challengers in some House districts. I’ve posted the full text of the letter after the jump. I share their disappointment with what the Democratic “trifecta” has accomplished since the 2006 elections.

The Fallons do not specify where they are recruiting candidates. The obvious targets are the six House Democrats who refused to support “prevailing wage.” Known in Iowa political circles as the “six-pack,” these incumbents also stood in the way of other labor bills. Of those six, Geri Huser and Dolores Mertz seem particularly likely targets, because they supported House Republican efforts to ban same-sex marriage in April. Marriage equality is one of I’M for Iowa’s priority issues.

Good opportunities for primary challengers include districts that are relatively safe for Democrats in the general election. That points to “six-pack” members Huser (House district 42), Brian Quirk (district 15) and Doris Kelley (district 20).

Challenging the rest of the group is somewhat more risky. McKinley Bailey (district 9), Larry Marek (district 89) and Dolores Mertz (district 8) represent marginal districts. In fact, first-termer Marek will probably be the most endangered Democratic House incumbent next year. Bailey beat back a strong challenge from Republicans to win a second term by a fairly healthy margin in 2008, but according to this report by Iowa Independent’s Jason Hancock, some House Democrats have been “quietly concerned” that he might consider switching parties.

Mertz is a longtime incumbent in a very conservative district. In the unlikely event that a progressive challenger defeated her, Republicans would almost certainly pick up the seat. On the other hand, a smaller Democratic House caucus without Mertz would be an improvement over a larger caucus with Mertz, in my opinion. As chair of the House Agriculture Committee, she blocks any decent bill in sight, and she will be the Republicans’ biggest Democratic ally in the fight to overturn the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling in Varnum v Brien.

Two big questions come to mind. First, will organized labor put money and/or foot soldiers into serious Democratic primary races? Earlier this year, Ken Sagar of the Iowa AFL-CIO didn’t rule out supporting competitors to Democrats who are unfriendly to labor.

Second, will the Iowa House Democratic leadership spend money or political capital to defend targeted incumbents? In 2008 the Iowa Democratic Party blocked Huser’s primary challenger from access to the voter database. I heard from multiple sources at the time that the House Democrats made that call. Huser returned her colleagues’ favor by not being a team player during the general election campaign, then refusing to support the labor bills mentioned above.

I look forward to reading your comments on whether it’s worth taking on any House Democratic incumbents next year, and if so, which ones. The Fallons’ letter laying out the case for primary challenges is after the jump.

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House votes down prevailing wage bill: now what?

The “prevailing wage” bill fiasco finally ended on Monday:

In what officials called the longest vote in Iowa Statehouse history, House Speaker Pat Murphy at 1:09 p.m. today closed the voting machine on the prevailing wage bill after 2 days, 19 hours and 14 minutes, declaring the bill had lost.

The vote was 50-48, one vote short of passage. But then House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Des Moines, switched his vote to “no” — a procedural move that will allow him to bring the bill up for reconsideration later this session. So the final vote stood at 49-49.

After the jump I consider the two eternal political questions: “What is to be done?” and “Who is to blame?”

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