# News



How Iowa Democrats could have saved the caucuses

Anyone who was paying attention has seen this day coming for years.

The Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee voted on December 2 for a new presidential nominating calendar, leaving Iowa out of the coveted early group. Though the Iowa Democratic Party will hold precinct caucuses in early 2024, as state law requires, we will no longer have presidential candidates campaigning around the state.

Some activists are already focused on adapting to life without being first-in-the-nation. I applaud their pragmatic mindset and welcome guest commentaries about how to rebuild the party without the money and national media spotlight we have enjoyed during presidential campaigns for decades.

But first, let’s acknowledge what some Democrats gloss over as they fondly recall the good times or grouse about President Joe Biden’s “complete kick in the teeth.”

Iowa Democratic leaders might have avoided this outcome if they had addressed problems with the caucus system a long time ago.

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Iowans join Congress, Biden in forcing bad contract on rail workers

Every member of Congress from Iowa voted this week to force a five-year contract on the freight rail industry, as President Joe Biden had requested to avert a possible strike on December 9. It was the first time since the 1990s that Congress exercised its power to intervene in national rail disputes.

Four unions representing tens of thousands of rail workers had rejected the tentative agreement, which U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh helped negotiate in September. The main sticking point was the lack of paid sick leave. Instead,

The deal gave workers a 24% raise over five years, an additional personal day and caps on health care costs. It also includes some modifications to the railroads’ strict attendance policies, allowing workers to attend to medical needs without facing penalties for missing work.

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Joni Ernst chooses right side of history

Iowa’s U.S. Senator Joni Ernst was among twelve Republicans who helped Democrats pass the Respect for Marriage Act on November 29. Her vote reflected both a personal evolution and a smart political calculation.

The bill would repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which banned same-sex marriages when it was enacted in 1996. It would also “require the federal government to recognize a marriage between two individuals if the marriage was valid in the state where it was performed.” Finally, although the bill would not require states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, it would require states to give marriages performed elsewhere “full faith and credit, regardless of the couple’s sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin.”

Senate rules require at least 60 votes to overcome a filibuster by the minority party, and the vote on final passage was 61-36 (roll call). Iowa’s Senator Chuck Grassley was one of the 36 Republicans who opposed the bill.

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Iowa governor still ducking public questions

Three weeks after her re-election victory, Governor Kim Reynolds continues to avoid unscripted interactions with journalists. She has not held a news conference for 20 weeks, and her public appearances since the November election have not even built in “gaggles” where reporters could informally ask a few questions.

Reynolds cut off press conferences about four months before the 2018 midterm election as well, but during that year’s campaign, she participated in three televised debates and pledged to hold weekly news conferences if elected. Though she didn’t keep that promise, she provided several opportunities for reporters to ask about her plans soon after winning the 2018 race.

This year, Reynolds agreed to only one debate with her Democratic challenger and made no commitment regarding future news conferences. The governor’s spokesperson Alex Murphy has not replied to Bleeding Heartland’s questions about plans for media availabilities.

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Democrats prevail in three Iowa House races after recounts

Democrats have officially won three close Iowa House races following recounts completed this week, confirming that the party will hold at least 36 of the 100 seats in the chamber next year.

In House district 20, covering part of Council Bluffs and Carter Lake in Pottawattamie County, the final vote tally narrowed Josh Turek’s lead over Republican Sarah Abdouch by one vote. He ended up winning by six: 3,403 votes to 3,397 (50.0 percent to 49.9 percent). Turek, who uses a wheelchair, will be the first disability rights advocate elected to the legislature.

In House district 42, covering part of Ankeny, Heather Matson remained 23 votes ahead of GOP State Representative Garrett Gobble: 6,991 votes to 6,968 (50.0 percent to 49.8 percent).

This area is by far the “swingiest” current Iowa House terrain. In a district covering much of the same territory, Republican State Representative Kevin Koester held off a challenge from Matson in 2016, then lost to the Democrat two years later. Republican Garrett Gobble narrowly defeated Matson in 2020, only to lose an even closer race this year.

In House district 72, covering part of the city of Dubuque and some areas of Dubuque County outside the city, State Representative Chuck Isenhart’s lead over Jennifer Smith shrank from 95 votes to 94. Final tally: 6,164 to 6,070 (50.3 percent to 49.6 percent).

Click here for maps, voter registration totals, and recent voting history for all of the districts where Republicans requested recounts.

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Will Pat Grassley's power play get school vouchers through Iowa House?

Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley sent Governor Kim Reynolds a message this past week: her school voucher plan will need to go through him before it reaches the House floor.

In an unusual move, the speaker put himself in charge of a new five-member Education Reform Committee “dealing with bills containing significant reforms to our educational system.”

The decision could signal Grassley’s determined to get a “school choice” bill to Reynolds’ desk, after House Republicans couldn’t find the votes for the proposal over the past two years.

Alternatively, it could give more cover to GOP holdouts by sparing them from voting against the governor’s plan in committee.

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