Iowa Senate district 25 preview: Tracy Freese vs. Annette Sweeney

Voters in Iowa Senate district 25 will elect a successor to disgraced former Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix on April 10. The special election campaign is happening on a compressed timetable because the vacancy arose during the Iowa legislature’s session. Dix should have faced pressure to resign last year over his many missteps in handling sexual harassment in the Senate GOP caucus. Instead, he stepped down unexpectedly last week after publication of a video and photographs showing him “in a romantic relationship” with a lobbyist.

Local Democrats nominated Tracy Freese for the special election on March 17. Sweeney won the GOP nomination three days later. The former Republican lawmaker will be heavily favored on April 10 and in the November election for a full four-year term. However, if Freese keeps it closer than expected, the special election may provide a snapshot of high Democratic voter engagement, like the recent over performance by Todd Wendt in Iowa Senate district 3 and Rita DeJong in Iowa House district 6.

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Weekend thread: Statewide candidate edition

Iowa will soon have its first new secretary of agriculture since 2007. The U.S. Senate confirmed Bill Northey on February 27 as undersecretary for farm production and conservation at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He should have been confirmed months ago; senators on the Agriculture Committee unanimously endorsed his nomination in October. But Senator Ted Cruz of Texas held the nomination over a Renewable Fuel Standard dispute that has nothing to do with Northey’s portfolio.

Once Northey resigns as Iowa secretary of agriculture, Governor Kim Reynolds will appoint his longtime deputy Mike Naig to fill that post for the rest of this year, the governor’s office announced on March 1. I enclose Naig’s official bio below. One of five Republicans who have said they will run for Northey’s job, Naig formally launched his campaign for that office on March 2. At this writing, only Craig Lang has qualified for the primary ballot. Other declared GOP candidates are Ray Gaesser, Chad Ingels, and Dan Zumbach. UPDATE: Northey posted on Twitter March 6, “I heartily endorse Mike Naig as our next Iowa Ag Secy. Mike has been a great partner as my Deputy Secy of ag for 4+ yrs. Mike is ready to lead. Let’s elect Mike in June & Nov!”

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Pat Grassley not running for Iowa secretary of agriculture

State Representative Pat Grassley tweeted this afternoon that he will seek re-election in Iowa House district 50. The six-term Republican lawmaker was widely seen as a likely 2018 candidate for Iowa secretary of agriculture, since the current office-holder Bill Northey will leave the state upon confirmation to a senior U.S. Department of Agriculture post. Grassley doesn’t seem to have been laying the groundwork for a statewide campaign, though. He reported just $31,900 in campaign contributions during 2017. About three-quarters of his haul came from political action committees that give to many state legisators.

The House Appropriations Committee chair represents what should be a safe GOP seat, even in a less favorable election climate. House district 50 contains just 3,773 active registered Democrats, 8,953 Republicans, and 7,244 no-party voters, according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. Donald Trump outpolled Hillary Clinton here by 64.4 percent to 30.4 percent. I enclose below a map of the district, covering Grundy County and parts of Hardin and Butler counties.

Another prospective secretary of agriculture candidate, former State Representative Annette Sweeney, accepted a federal job in November as state director for USDA Rural Development.

At least two Republicans will seek to succeed Northey. Former Iowa Farm Bureau Federation President Craig Lang announced his candidacy in October. He is keeping his cards close to the chest; his campaign financial disclosure showed only $5,600.00 in contributions, including a $5,000 check from himself.

American Soybean Association Chairman Ray Gaesser created a campaign committee last week. Scroll to the end of this post for background on the latest GOP candidate.

Governor Kim Reynolds has not said whom she will appoint to lead the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship through 2018. Recent rumors have centered around a placeholder with no plans to run for the office: Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig. UPDATE: In early February, Naig told the Des Moines Register that he will seek the GOP nomination for Northey’s job.

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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2018

The Iowa House opens its 2018 session today with 58 Republicans, 41 Democrats, and one vacancy, since Jim Carlin resigned after winning the recent special election in Iowa Senate district 3. Voters in House district 6 will choose Carlin’s successor on January 16. UPDATE: Republican Jacob Bossman won that election, giving the GOP 59 seats for the remainder of 2018.

The 99 state representatives include 27 women (18 Democrats and nine Republicans) and 72 men. Five African-Americans (all Democrats) 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 Iowa Senate following the 2008 election.

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.

Under the Ethics Committee subheading, you’ll see a remarkable example of Republican hypocrisy.

Some non-political trivia: the Iowa House includes two Taylors (one from each party) and two Smiths (both Democrats). As for first names, there are six Davids (four go by Dave), four Roberts (two Robs, one Bob, and a Bobby), four Marys (one goes by Mary Ann), three Johns and a Jon, and three men each named Gary and Charles (two Chucks and a Charlie). There are also two Elizabeths (a Beth and a Liz) and two men each named Brian, Bruce, Chris, Todd, and Michael (one goes by Mike).

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If all Iowa candidates had to win under rules Republicans forced on unions

“There’s not one Republican in this state that could win an election under the rules they gave us,” asserted AFSCME Council 61 President Danny Homan after the first round of public union recertification elections ended this week.

He was only slightly exaggerating.

A review of the last two general election results shows that Iowa’s capitol would be mostly devoid of office-holders if candidates for statewide and legislative races needed a majority vote among all their constituents–rather than a plurality among those who cast ballots–to be declared winners.

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Get ready for a competitive GOP secretary of agriculture race

Craig Lang didn’t wait for Governor Kim Reynolds to decide. He is running for Iowa secretary of agriculture, no matter whom Reynolds picks to replace Bill Northey.

In his first comments to journalists about his campaign, Lang advocated more crop diversity and better land management practices, asserting that the dominant approach to farming in Iowa is not “sustainable.” That’s an unusual message for a Republican. Stranger still is hearing a former president of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation talk about soil health in terms more often heard from environmental experts than from Big Ag heavyweights.

Though he’s a first-time candidate, Lang has plenty of political connections and should have little trouble raising enough money for a credible statewide primary campaign against State Representative Pat Grassley or other contenders.

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