The 2007 votes that made 2019 a historic year for transgender Iowans

Only three months in, 2019 is already the most significant year for transgender equality in Iowa since 2007, when state lawmakers and Governor Chet Culver added sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes in the Iowa Civil Rights Act. That 1965 law hadn’t been significantly amended in decades.

The crucial Iowa House and Senate votes on the civil rights law happened during the first year since the 1960s that Democrats controlled both legislative chambers and the governor’s office. Support for LGBTQ equality is often taken for granted now in Democratic circles, but the issue was seen as more politically volatile twelve years ago. The bill amending the civil rights act came late in the 2007 legislative session and could not have passed without some Republican votes.

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10 years of marriage equality in Iowa

Ten years ago today, the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously held in Varnum v Brien that the state’s Defense of Marriage Act “violates the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution.”

Justice Mark Cady wrote the opinion, which cost three of his colleagues (Chief Justice Marsha Ternus, Justice David Baker, and Justice Michael Streit) their jobs in the 2010 judicial retention elections. Assigned the task of writing by random drawing, Cady “strongly believed the court should speak in one voice” on such a controversial matter, Tom Witosky and Marc Hansen wrote in their 2015 book Equal Before the Law: How Iowa Led Americans to Marriage Equality. In fact, Cady “was convinced there was no room for even a concurring opinion–an opinion in agreement with the court’s conclusion but not its reasoning.” (pp. 134-5)

Thousands of Iowans have enjoyed a better quality of life since our state became the third to give LGBTQ couples the right to marry. Lambda Legal, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of six Iowa couples, has posted a timeline of key events in the case. State Senator Zach Wahls wrote today about the Supreme Court decision’s impact on his family.

I wanted to mark this day by sharing highlights from Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of that historic event. My deepest condolences go out to the friends and relatives of former Supreme Court Justice Daryl Hecht. The Iowa Judicial Branch announced today that Hecht has died. He stepped down from the bench in December 2018 while battling melanoma. Of the seven justices who joined the Varnum opinion, only Cady, Brent Appel, and David Wiggins still serve on the high court.

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MidAmerican's bid to crush small solar creates strange lobbying bedfellows

MidAmerican Energy’s effort to crush small-scale solar generation made it through the Iowa legislature’s first “funnel” and will be eligible for floor debate in both chambers. The House Commerce Committee on March 4 approved House Study Bill 185 (now renamed House File 669) without amendment on a party-line 12 to 10 vote. The Senate Commerce Committee amended the companion Senate Study Bill 1201 before advancing it on March 7.

The bill will likely pass the upper chamber, where Republicans have a 32 to 17 majority. Although Republicans outnumber Democrats by 54 to 46 in the House, and MidAmerican’s political action committee donated to dozens of incumbents’ campaigns last year, getting the solar bill through the lower chamber will be no easy task. A utility-backed bill to undercut energy efficiency programs was one of the heaviest lifts during the 2018 session. Only after several concessions did supporters cobble together 52 Republican votes in the House. The GOP held 59 seats at that time.

More than three dozen corporations, industry groups, or advocacy organizations have lobbyists registered for or against MidAmerican’s solar bill. While it’s not unusual for a high-profile bill to draw that kind of attention, the two camps seeking to persuade legislators on this issue reflect alliances rarely seen at the statehouse.

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Iowa Senate district 8 preview: Dan Dawson vs. Steve Gorman

Every election, a handful of Iowa legislative races turn out to be far closer than expected. One of the sleepers in 2018 was Steve Gorman’s rematch against Republican State Representative Mary Ann Hanusa in House district 16, covering part of Council Bluffs.

Hanusa was a four-term incumbent and had defeated Gorman by 6,847 votes to 5,120 (57.2 percent to 42.8 percent) in 2016. Last year, Republicans spent about $83,000 on direct mail, radio, and digital advertising for Hanusa (see here and here), far less than they spent in districts they worried about losing. By the same token, Democrats spent at least $100,000 in more than a dozen Iowa House races during the 2018 campaign, including $128,000 defending the other Council Bluffs-based seat. Gorman had to raise all of the $24,405.45 the party spent on his behalf.

Nevertheless, Gorman nearly pulled off an upset, losing to Hanusa by 4,949 votes to 4,835 (49.5 percent to 48.4 percent), with 208 votes going to Libertarian Steve Sechrest. Now Gorman’s the first announced Democratic candidate for a Republican-held Iowa Senate seat. Both parties will surely take his challenge seriously in 2020.

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The case for each Democrat running for Congress in IA-03

With less than three weeks remaining before the June 5 primary, many Democrats (including myself) are still undecided in the primary to represent Iowa’s third Congressional district. All three candidates left standing in the once-crowded field have raised enough money to run strong, district-wide campaigns.

This post focuses on how Cindy Axne, Pete D’Alessandro, and Eddie Mauro have presented themselves in stump speeches, direct mail, and television commercials aimed at Democratic voters.

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IA-03: Austin Frerick, EMILY's List endorse Cindy Axne

Catching up on this week’s news from the third Congressional district, former candidate Austin Frerick is now supporting Cindy Axne, one of three remaining Democratic contenders. In a statement enclosed in full below, Frerick described Axne as “the hardest working candidate” in the once-crowded field, having held more than 80 meetings with voters in communities large and small. “Cindy is hands down the best person to beat David Young in November. I ask my supporters to fight as hard for Cindy as they did for me,” Frerick added.

Frerick ended his campaign just before last month’s filing deadline, saying he did not have the financial resources to compete for the nomination. He gained respect among supporters of all candidates for highlighting problems rarely discussed on any campaign trail, such as economic concentration and the Iowa Farm Bureau’s conflicts of interest.

I would guess that many local activists expected Frerick to endorse Pete D’Alessandro. Anecdotally, a lot of “Bernie Democrats” were having trouble deciding between those two candidates. U.S. Representative Ro Khanna, a vice chair of the House Progressive Caucus, was an early Frerick supporter and endorsed D’Alessandro soon after Frerick was out.

Also this week, Axne landed the endorsement of EMILY’s List (full statement below). The group promoting pro-choice, Democratic women has a huge national mailing list and can help candidates raise substantial funds from donors who might not otherwise be familiar with their campaigns. EMILY’s List came out for Abby Finkenauer in Iowa’s first Congressional district last year and for secretary of state candidate Deidre DeJear last month. Understandably, the PAC was keeping its powder dry in IA-03, where until recently, two strong pro-choice women were running. With Theresa Greenfield not qualifying for the ballot, Axne’s only remaining Democratic competitors are D’Alessandro and Eddie Mauro.

Any comments on the IA-03 race are welcome in this thread. Click here to read each candidate’s case for being able to beat Representative David Young and here for a list of high-profile endorsers.

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