First look at the Iowa Senate district 41 special election

UPDATE: Republicans selected Adrian Dickey and Democrats selected Mary Stewart at special nominating conventions on January 7. Original post follows.

Voters in a battleground southeast Iowa Senate district will soon choose a successor to Republican State Senator Mariannette Miller-Meeks.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi confirmed on December 30 that the House will seat Miller-Meeks, who was certified the winner by six votes in Iowa’s second Congressional district. The same day, Miller-Meeks confirmed that she is resigning from the Iowa legislature, effective January 2.

To my knowledge, no candidate has announced plans to run in Senate district 41 early next year. During a December 30 telephone interview, Democrat Mary Stewart said she was considering the race but had no timetable for deciding. Miller-Meeks defeated Stewart in 2018 by 11,460 votes to 10,652 (51.7 percent to 48.1 percent).

Former Republican State Senator Mark Chelgren represented the district for eight years, retiring in 2018. He hadn’t heard about Miller-Meeks’ resignation before speaking to Bleeding Heartland by phone on December 30. Chelgren said he would consider running for the Senate again but wasn’t ready to give a formal statement, since he hadn’t discussed the matter with his family or Republican colleagues.

Though recent voting patterns in the area favor Republicans, turnout for a mid-winter special election is a question mark.

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Five ways ending straight-ticket voting could affect Iowa's 2018 election

For the first time in living memory, Iowans will not have the option of filling in one oval to vote a straight ticket for a political party in this year’s general election. Republicans eliminated straight-ticket voting here in 2017, as GOP legislators have done in several other states in recent years. The more publicized provisions of Iowa’s new law, on voter ID and signature verification, will benefit Republicans by creating obstacles for eligible voters in groups that tend to favor Democrats (people with lower incomes, college students, racial minorities, and senior citizens).

By contrast, the impact of eliminating straight-ticket voting is less clear. More Iowans filled in the Republican oval than the Democratic one in the 2014 election, the only midterm for which such statistics are available.

One thing is for sure:

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Iowa legislative recap: Constitutional amendments

Iowa lawmakers went home for the year on May 5. In the coming weeks, Bleeding Heartland will catch up on some of the legislature’s significant work that attracted relatively little attention.

Two proposed state constitutional amendments passed both chambers and could appear on the 2020 general election ballot, if the House and Senate approve them in the same form during either 2019 or 2020.

Three other constitutional amendments cleared one chamber in 2017–in one case unanimously–then stalled in the other chamber as lawmakers completed this two-year session. Those ideas may resurface next year. But since changes to the state constitution must be passed by two consecutively elected legislatures before landing on the general election ballot (the last step in the process), Iowa voters would not be able to ratify those proposals until November 2022 at the earliest.

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Incumbents retiring in two battleground GOP-held Iowa Senate districts

During the last week before the filing deadline, Republican State Senators Mark Chelgren and Rick Bertrand announced that they will not seek re-election in 2018. Iowa Senate districts 41 and 7 were already the best Democratic pickup opportunities on a difficult midterm election map. Of the 29 Republicans now serving in the upper chamber, only four–Chelgren, Bertrand, Dan Dawson, and Tom Greene–hold seats where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans (barely in Dawson’s district). Dawson and Greene won’t be up for re-election until 2020.

Winning an open seat is usually easier than defeating a legislative incumbent, and Bertrand’s retirement clearly improves Democratic chances in Senate district 7.

But Republicans have likely increased their odds of holding Senate district 41 by swapping out Chelgren for Mariannette Miller-Meeks.

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School vouchers make first Iowa legislative appearance of 2018

Randy Richardson is a former teacher and retired associate executive director of the Iowa State Education Association. -promoted by desmoinesdem

The first of what will likely be multiple “school choice” bills appeared last week when Republican State Senator Mark Chelgren introduced Senate File 2091. The bill creates Education Savings Grants, which would be available to certain students attending non-public schools or who are receiving competent private instruction (CPI). Parents or guardians could apply for the grants if:

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