Iowa Senate district 16 primary preview: Pam Dearden Conner vs. Nate Boulton

A generational battle is shaping up in the Democratic primary to replace State Senator Dick Dearden, who has represented parts of Des Moines in the legislature since 1995. Dearden recently disclosed plans to retire in 2016. Like last year’s campaign to replace Jack Hatch in Iowa Senate district 17 on the south side of Des Moines, the June primary will determine Dearden’s successor.

Senate district 16 covers heavily Democratic neighborhoods on the east side of Des Moines, and also the growing suburb of Pleasant Hill. A detailed map is after the jump. The latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office indicate that the district contains 14,624 active registered Democrats, 6,978 Republicans, and 10,106 no-party voters. Dearden was unopposed in 2004 and defeated his Republican challengers by wide margins in 2008 and in 2012.

More candidates may enter the race later, but for now the primary will pit the incumbent’s daughter Pam Dearden Conner against labor attorney Nate Boulton. Iowa Labor Commissioner and former Secretary of State Michael Mauro endorsed Conner on Facebook this past weekend. She is his administrative assistant and also worked for him in the Polk County Election Office and the Secretary of State’s Office. Many other longtime friends and backers of Senator Dearden have expressed their support for Conner’s campaign on social media.

Nate Boulton is a partner in a law firm that has represented Iowa’s largest pubic employee union (AFSCME) in several high-profile cases against Governor Terry Branstad’s administration. Since last Friday, many Democratic activists in their 20s and 30s have promoted his candidacy on social media. Bouton’s on Twitter here, and his campaign is on Facebook here.

I enclose below press releases from each candidate, containing short biographies and statements of values. Both Conner and Boulton have strong pro-labor credentials and are pledging to support consensus Democratic priorities like education. Boulton’s statement hints at the case he will make in the primary, promising to “be an active and engaged representative of district interests” and to “bring bold progressive ideas and a fresh, energetic style of leadership to the Iowa Senate.” Such phrases allude to the fact that Dearden, while a solid vote in the legislature, has never been at the forefront of progressive fights. In fact, I’m hard-pressed to think of a cause he has led on, besides bringing back dove hunting, which isn’t a partisan issue. Dearden didn’t accomplish that longstanding goal until Governor Terry Branstad was back in office.

Two (or perhaps more) committed candidates working hard to identify and turn out supporters next June can only help Democratic GOTV in the general election. Here’s hoping for a competitive race that doesn’t turn bitter and negative, as happened in Senate district 17 last spring.

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