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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Fallons to host new radio show

I’M for Iowa made the announcement today in a mass e-mail:

For too long, Iowa’s airwaves have been dominated by Rush Limbaugh, Jan Mickelson, Steve Deace, Glen Beck and Michael Savage. Well, we have great news: times are changing!

Beginning Monday, September 21st, we will host our own talk show from 7:00 – 8:00 pm, Monday through Thursday on 98.3 WOW-FM. It’s called “THE FALLON FORUM” and can be heard from Fort Dodge to Chariton, from Grinnell to Carroll, and can be live-streamed at http://www.983wowfm.com. We hope you’ll tune in, and you can join the conversation at (515) 312-0983.

This is an unprecedented opportunity for those of us concerned about pressing economic, social and environmental issues. We want to offer true “talk” radio, as opposed to the “shock” radio dished-up by those on the far right. In fact, THE FALLON FORUM replaces some of the airtime currently given to Michael Savage, the guy who recently recommended making “the construction of mosques illegal in America, and the speaking of English only in the streets of the United States the law.”

We’ll kick off the show on Monday with Dolores Huerta. Dolores helped found the United Farm Workers of America with Cesar Chavez. At 79, she remains an energetic, outspoken advocate for many important causes, including marriage equality.

On Tuesday, we’ll dig into Iowa politics.

Zach Mannheimer with The Subjective Theatre Company joins us on Wednesday to discuss the merger of the artistic and corporate worlds. We anticipate a spirited exchange on the new sculpture garden set to open in downtown Des Moines.

On Thursday, we want to hear your thoughts on America’s historic health care debate … providing you keep it civil and based on fact. We’ll pull the plug on any caller who insists the legislation before Congress pulls the plug on grandma.

Thanks, and we hope you can join us on the show next week!

Ed and Lynn Fallon

Speaking of the Fallons and Iowa politics, I wonder how many primary challengers they’ve recruited in certain Iowa House districts.

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Paging Al Gore: Leonard Boswell needs to hear from you (updated)

Chris Bowers wondered yesterday at Open Left why advocates of legislation to address global warming (the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act) aren’t playing hardball with Democrats who are watering down and threatening to block this bill.

By way of example, Bowers mentioned Congressman Leonard Boswell, who along with other Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee won’t vote for Waxman-Markey unless the bill is amended to benefit conventional farmers. Brad Johnson of the Think Progress “Wonk Room” provides excellent background information on what the House Agriculture Committee members want to do to Waxman-Markey.

But back to Bowers’ post. He points out that during last year’s Democratic primary for the third Congressional district, Boswell relied heavily on Al Gore’s endorsement. Boswell featured Gore’s support in direct-mail campaign fliers and radio advertising. Gore also signed a fundraising appeal for Boswell’s campaign, which included this passage:

Whether the issue is global warming or increasing the minimum wage, making college more affordable or expanding health care to every American, Leonard Boswell is on the frontlines of these issues.

Truthfully, Boswell has never been out in front on global warming. He voted for George Bush’s awful energy bill in 2005, filled with subsidies for fossil-fuel polluters. He came late to support the Safe Climate Act in the last Congress, signing on as a co-sponsor only in December 2007, after learning that Ed Fallon was planning a primary challenge.

But that’s water under the bridge. The much more serious problem is Boswell’s threat to vote down Waxman-Markey, which for all its flaws is still the best climate change bill ever to have a chance of passing Congress.

Al Gore has said global warming is one of the great moral issues of our time. It’s time for him and other prominent environmental advocates to lean on the House Democrats who are undermining Waxman-Markey.

On a related note, Ed and Lynn Fallon’s organization I’M for Iowa sent a press release on June 16 criticizing Boswell for “failing Iowans” on climate change legislation. In a separate e-mail to supporters, the Fallons challenged Boswell to “do what Al Gore would do” and support the American Clean Energy and Security Act. I’ve posted both the press release and the e-mail message from I’M for Iowa after the jump.

Members of Congress also need to hear from ordinary citizens who support a strong American Clean Energy and Security Act. Iowa Interfaith Power and Light makes it easy for you to write to your representative by clicking here. Other non-profit organizations working on this issue include Iowa Global Warming, the Iowa Renewable Energy Association, the Sierra Club Iowa chapter, and the Iowa Environmental Council.

UPDATE: Boswell’s spokesman Mark Daley responded with a statement explaining several areas of concern with Waxman-Markey despite Boswell’s “ardent support for climate change legislation.” (Let me know if you’ve seen evidence of this “ardent support” during the past 14 years.) I’ve posted the statement after the jump.

I’m not buying it for several reasons. Many people who have thoroughly studied this issue do not agree with the alleged impact this bill would have on farmers. The idea behind giving the USDA jurisdiction over the agriculture offsets is that the USDA will give farmers more offsets than the EPA would. If this is about getting more money to farmers, then I agree with Bowers that we’d be better off just handing farmers cash instead of credits.

If we want to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions from current levels, then utilities that currently rely on fossil fuels may need to do more. Boswell says this is a bias against consumers in the midwest and that the allowances for utilities should be based on “historical emissions”. I am sorry that midwestern utility companies have not been more farsighted about getting away from fossil fuels, but I don’t understand how Boswell’s approach gets us to the solution we need, which is to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

Speaking more generally, no one claims the Waxman-Markey bill is ideal. I could argue that a carbon tax approach would be better than cap-and-trade, but a carbon tax isn’t politically viable, so here we are. I could complain about two dozen compromises that have already been made to satisfy this or that corporate or regional interest. Ultimately, the threat global warming poses to the planet is too great to let any one group derail the whole Waxman-Markey project, as Boswell is apparently willing to do if he doesn’t get his way about USDA jurisdiction. Someone who continually bragged about Al Gore’s endorsement during last year’s primary should be able to see the bigger picture here.

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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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Fallons blast "sham" hearing on ethics complaint

Last week the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee voted unanimously to dismiss Ed and Lynn Fallon’s complaint against State Senator Merlin Bartz, who used his official  website to promote this petition last month. The petition sought to pressure Iowa’s county recorders to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The Fallons contended that Bartz failed to comply with the Senate Code of Ethics, which requires legislators to “encourage respect for the law.” They also questioned whether taxpayer money was used to support the website where Bartz promoted the petition drive and urged volunteers to send copies of their signature lists to the Iowa Family Policy Center.

The Senate Ethics Committee concluded after a few minutes’ discussion that Bartz was exercising his free speech rights.

On May 18, I’M for Iowa released a statement depicting the hearing as a “sham.” Contrary to the Iowa Senate Code of Ethics, the Senate Ethics Committee failed to inform the Fallons of the date and time of the hearing in advance. The committee also did not consider the specific questions raised in the Fallons’ complaint. I’ve posted I’M for Iowa’s statement after the jump.

It seems clear that two political realities derailed any serious inquiry into the complaint against Bartz. First, Bartz is an insider, and the complainants are outsiders. (Heck, Ed Fallon was an outsider even when he was serving in the state legislature.) Earlier this year, the Iowa House Ethics Committee dismissed with prejudice a complaint Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement filed against State Representative Dolores Mertz without seriously considering many of the issues raised by the group.

I would put very low odds on any ethics complaint filed by any citizen action group leading to disciplinary action against a state representative or senator. (Please correct me if you know of any counter-examples.)

Second, I suspect that Senate Democrats have no interest in making a martyr out of Bartz. Opponents of marriage equality are desperate to show that their rights are threatened by same-sex marriages. We don’t need Bartz to be purportedly “punished for speaking his mind” (even though that wasn’t the point of the Fallons’ complaint). Look what the National Organization for Marriage has done to make Miss California USA seem like a victim of “gay marriage activists”.

Bartz hasn’t prevented any same-sex marriages from taking place, but he has secured a reputation as the most aggressive defender of “traditional marriage” in the Iowa Senate Republican caucus. He has also helped the Iowa Family Policy Center generate lots of new leads for their next membership drive.

I’ll be interested to see whether Senate Republicans seek to replace their current leader, Paul McKinley, with Bartz next year. McKinley’s actions on the marriage front have been found wanting by some Iowa conservatives and anti-gay activists.

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No discipline for state senator who sought to pressure county recorders

Charlotte Eby reported at Covering Iowa Politics that the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee

voted unanimously Tuesday to dismiss an ethics complaint against a lawmaker who had encouraged county recorders to refuse to issue licenses to same-sex couples.

Sen. Merlin Bartz, R-Grafton, has been one of the most vocal critics of the Iowa Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage. On his Web site, Bartz had encouraged Iowans who also are opposed to same-sex marriage to sign petitions asking county recorders to not issue same-sex licenses.

Members of the ethics committee said Bartz was simply exercising his First Amendment rights to free speech, and voted 6-0 to reject the complaint after a short discussion.

Last month I posted the full text of the petition along with the language Bartz used to promote the drive on his official Iowa Senate website.

Ed and Lynn Fallon of I’M for Iowa filed the ethics complaint against Bartz, saying he should not have encouraged elected county officials to fail to comply with an Iowa Supreme Court ruling.

The petition drive did not succeed in blocking same-sex marriages; so far no county recorders in Iowa have refused to issue marriage licenses. On the other hand, I read that some petitions containing some 17,000 signatures were delivered to county recorders the week of April 27.

If even a fraction of the people who collected signatures followed Bartz’s instructions to send copies to Chuck Hurley’s Iowa Family Policy Center, then the drive will turn out to be a list-building bonanza for that organization.

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