Iowa lawmakers had their chance. Now governor should issue voting rights order

“Let them vote! Let them vote!” Black Lives Matter protesters chanted a few minutes after Governor Kim Reynolds signed a police reform bill on June 12. Reynolds did not acknowledge hearing them, continuing to pass out pens to advocates of the legislation, which the Iowa House and Senate had unanimously approved the night before.

The protesters want the governor to sign an executive order automatically restoring voting rights to Iowans who have completed felony sentences. Iowa has the country’s strictest felon voting ban, which disproportionately disenfranchises African Americans. Reynolds has resisted calls to issue an executive order, saying she wants the legislature to approve a state constitutional amendment on felon voting instead.

The Iowa legislature adjourned for the year on June 14 without the constitutional amendment clearing the Senate.

For many thousands of Iowans with felony convictions, an order from Reynolds provides the only path to voting before 2024. She should issue one as soon as possible.

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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2020

The Iowa House opened its 2020 session on January 13 with 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats, a change from last year’s 54-46 split due to State Representative Andy McKean’s party switch shortly before lawmakers adjourned last year.

The House members include 67 men and 33 women (23 Democrats and ten Republicans). Although 34 women were elected to the chamber in 2018 (a record number), State Representative Lisa Heddens stepped down last summer, and Ross Wilburn won the special election to serve out her term in House district 46.

Five African Americans (Democrats Ako Abdul-Samad, Ruth Ann Gaines, Ras Smith, Phyllis Thede, and Wilburn) will serve in the legislature’s lower chamber; the other 95 lawmakers are white. No Latino has ever been elected to the Iowa House, and there has not been an Asian-American member since Swati Dandekar moved up to the state Senate following the 2008 election. Democratic State Representative Liz Bennett is the only out LGBTQ member of the lower chamber. To my knowledge, Abdul-Samad (who is Muslim) is the only lawmaker in either chamber to practice a religion other than Christianity.

After the jump I’ve posted details on the Iowa House majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing House committees. Where relevant, I’ve noted significant changes since last year.

Some non-political trivia: the Iowa House includes two Smiths (both Democrats), while the other 98 members have different surnames. As for popular first names, there are six Davids (four go by Dave), four Marys (one goes by Mary Ann), three Roberts (a Rob, a Bob, and a Bobby), three men named Thomas (two go by Tom), three Johns and two Jons, and three men each named Gary and Brian. There are also two Elizabeths (a Beth and a Liz) and two men each named Bruce, Chris, Jeff, Michael (one goes by Mike), Ross, and Charles (a Chuck and a Charlie).

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Recognizing Bleeding Heartland's talented 2019 guest authors

More than 125 authors contributed to the 290 guest posts Bleeding Heartland published this calendar year–way up from the 202 pieces by about 100 writers in 2018 and the 164 posts by 83 writers the year before that. I’m immensely grateful for all the hard work that went into these articles and commentaries and have linked to them all below.

You will find scoops grounded in original research, such as John Morrissey’s exclusive reporting on Sedgwick landing a lucrative contract to administer Iowa’s worker’s compensation program for state employee, despite not submitting the high bid.

The most-viewed Bleeding Heartland post this year was Gwen Hope’s exclusive about the the Hy-Vee PAC donating $25,000 to the Iowa GOP, shortly before President Donald Trump headlined a Republican fundraiser at Hy-Vee’s event center in West Des Moines.

Several commentaries about major news events or political trends were also among the most widely read Bleeding Heartland posts of 2019. I’ve noted below pieces by Ed Fallon, Tim Nelson, Bruce Lear, Randy Richardson, J.D. Scholten, Dan Guild, State Senator Claire Celsi, and others that were especially popular. (This site has run more than 630 pieces since January 1.)

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Some bad laws for Iowa's environment take effect today

Continuing Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of the Iowa legislature’s work during the 2019 session.

Iowa’s environmental community had something to celebrate when state lawmakers adjourned for the year without passing legislation that would crush small-scale solar development. An unusual coalition including solar installers, environmental groups, and livestock farmers helped keep the bill bottled up in the Iowa House despite intense lobbying by MidAmerican Energy and its allies, along with massive spending by undisclosed donors.

Unfortunately, lawmakers approved and Governor Kim Reynolds signed several other measures that will be detrimental for Iowa’s natural resources and take our state’s energy policy in the wrong direction. The new laws take effect today, as the 2020 fiscal year begins.

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IA-Sen: Democratic establishment lining up behind Theresa Greenfield

Key individuals and Democratic-aligned organizations moved quickly this week to boost Theresa Greenfield, the third candidate to announce a challenge to U.S. Senator Joni Ernst. Both the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and EMILY’s List, a major source of support for pro-choice Democratic women candidates, announced their support on June 6.

Greenfield’s campaign released its first list of prominent supporters on June 5, including former Lieutenant Governor Sally Pederson, five current and two former state legislators, two former leaders of the Iowa Democratic Party, three local elected officials, and several longtime Democratic campaign hands.

Some candidates space out high-profile endorsements over a long period in order to general media coverage. An early show of organizational strength like this is typically aimed at discouraging other candidates from joining the field. Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker and former Congressional candidate J.D. Scholten have both said they may run for Senate.

Greenfield’s current competitors for the Democratic nomination are Kimberly Graham and Eddie Mauro. In a written statement following Greenfield’s June 3 launch, Mauro commented, “Iowans want a spirited primary not influenced by Washington insiders or the establishment, and deserve new progressive leadership in the United States Senate with a record of taking action and leading on progressive issues.” That statement and this week’s other relevant news releases are enclosed below.

UPDATE: U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand endorsed Greenfield on June 6 as well.

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Reynolds, GOP killed way to reduce racial, economic disparities in Iowa courts

Governor Kim Reynolds made headlines last week with two vetoes: blocking language targeting the attorney general, and rejecting a medical cannabis bill that had strong bipartisan support in both chambers.

A provision she didn’t veto drew little attention. For the foreseeable future, it will prevent Iowa courts from using a tool designed to make the criminal justice system more fair to defendants of all races and income levels.

Reynolds should appreciate the value of the Public Safety Assessment (PSA), since she works closely with two former State Public Defenders: Lieutenant Governor Adam Gregg and the governor’s senior legal counsel Sam Langholz. But last year she ordered a premature end to a pilot program introducing the tool in four counties. The governor’s staff did not reply to repeated inquiries about the reasoning behind Reynolds’ stance on this policy.

Notably, the owner of Iowa’s largest bail bonding company substantially increased his giving to GOP candidates during the last election cycle, donating $10,100 to the governor’s campaign and $28,050 to Republicans serving in the state legislature.

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