Four thoughts about Mary Ann Hanusa's state auditor campaign

Former State Representative Mary Ann Hanusa finally gave up her Congressional ambitions and announced on January 5 she’s running for state auditor. She won’t face any competition in the Republican primary, coming out of the gate with endorsements from Governor Kim Reynolds, Senator Chuck Grassley, and Senator Joni Ernst.

Democrat Rob Sand won the 2018 state auditor’s race by 660,169 votes to 601,320 for GOP incumbent Mary Mosiman (50.9 percent to 46.4 percent). Turnout set a modern midterm record for Iowa that year. Participation could be far lower in 2022—perhaps 1.1 million to 1.2 million voters.

Whether Hanusa emerges as a strong challenger will become more clear as her campaign unfolds, but here are some initial thoughts.

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State appeals ruling on law targeting trans Iowans

The Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) is appealing a Polk County District Court ruling that found the state law and policy designed to deny Medicaid coverage for gender-affirming surgery are unconstitutional. The state filed notice of its intent to appeal on December 17, near the end of its 30-day window to do so following the District Court’s decision in November.

The Iowa Attorney General’s office had no comment on the appeal. Governor Kim Reynolds’ office also had no comment on why the governor is determined to prevent transgender Iowans on Medicaid from receiving medically necessary care approved by their doctors.

Plaintiffs Aiden Vasquez and Mika Covington have been waiting for years to obtain surgery and first challenged the state law in court within weeks of Reynolds signing the provision into law in May 2019.

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Court finds law targeting trans Iowans unconstitutional

For Aiden Vasquez and Mika Covington, the news was life-changing. Polk County District Court Judge William Kelly ruled on November 19 that Iowa’s law designed to deny Medicaid coverage for gender-affirming surgery “violates the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution.”

He ordered the Iowa Department of Human Services to change a longstanding regulation “excluding coverage for sex reassignment surgery” and said the agency must apply the revised rule to allow “transgender individuals coverage under Iowa Medicaid for medically necessary gender affirming surgery for the treatment of Gender Dysphoria and other relevant diagnoses.”

Vasquez and Covington are transgender Iowans who qualify for Medicaid and have been unable to obtain the health care they need for years. They have been seeking legal redress since soon after Governor Kim Reynolds signed the discriminatory statute in May 2019.

Naturally, not everyone was happy with what the ACLU of Iowa’s legal director Rita Bettis Austen described as a “historic win for civil rights in Iowa.” Soon after the court ruling was published on November 22, Reynolds’ spokesperson Alex Murphy told reporters, “The governor’s office is disappointed in today’s decision and disagrees with the district court’s ruling on Medicaid coverage for transgender reassignment surgeries.”

Reynolds echoed the sentiment when speaking to reporters on November 23: “Of course we were disappointed with the ruling and disagree […] My legal team is looking at it. There will be more to come later on. We’re still looking through it and trying to determine what our options are.”

She should stop fighting this battle.

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Iowa governor wrongly claims credit for large budget surplus

Tax and budget policy expert Randy Bauer was Governor Tom Vilsack’s budget director for six and a half years and has evaluated tax and revenue policies for many state and local governments.

In late September, Governor Kim Reynolds announced that the State of Iowa had a $1.24 billion surplus for fiscal year 2021, which ended on June 30. In a news release, she and the state’s interim budget director credited their own fiscal management for the surplus. Top Iowa Republican lawmakers have echoed that message.

Was it really all that praiseworthy? I’d suggest not. Here’s why this record surplus was not the big deal Reynolds and her minions made it out to be.

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Iowa House district 37: Mike Bousselot banks on false ads

The short special election campaign in Iowa House district 37 has been a costly affair, as expected. Disclosures filed last week show the Iowa Democratic Party has spent $306,470.21 on behalf of Andrea Phillips, while the Republican Party of Iowa has spent $234,327.12 supporting Mike Bousselot.

As is typical for targeted Iowa legislative races, the bulk of the spending has gone toward television and digital advertising: roughly $285,000 on the Democratic side and just under $230,000 from Republicans.

Bleeding Heartland analyzed the introductory ads for Phillips and Bousselot here. During the last two weeks of the campaign, I’ve seen more negative advertising about both candidates on Des Moines-based broadcast and cable television. The difference is that the Democratic ads highlight truthful claims about Bousselot’s past work, whereas the Republican ads are wholly false–much like the spots they ran against Phillips in 2020.

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Iowa's Medicaid enrollment up 17 percent during pandemic

Approximately 702,800 Iowans were enrolled in some version of the Medicaid program last month, up by roughly 100,000 since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, according to analysis by Charles Gaba at the ACA Signups website.

The biggest increase was in the Iowa Health and Wellness Plan, the state’s version of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. Gaba’s analysis indicates that some 225,300 Iowans were participating in that plan as of May 2021, up from about 177,200 people fourteen months earlier.

Enrollment in traditional Medicaid increased by a smaller rate from about 425,000 in March 2020 to some 477,500 last month. The federal government recently released statistics on state level Medicaid enrollments from July 2019 through December 2020. Gaba’s estimates for 2021 are based on monthly reports published by the Iowa Department of Human Services, adjusted to compensate for how closely the state’s numbers tracked with the federal figures for 2020.

Gaba commented on his website,

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