IA-02: Abby Finkenauer, Cindy Axne endorse Rita Hart

Former State Senator Rita Hart now has the backing of every Democrat representing Iowa in Congress for her bid to succeed Representative Dave Loebsack in the second district. The campaign announced support this morning from Representatives Abby Finkenauer (IA-01) and Cindy Axne (IA-03). I enclose below the full statement.

Loebsack endorsed Hart last month, and State Auditor Rob Sand did the same last week. Former Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge and a number of state lawmakers are among more than six dozen other high-profile supporters of Hart in the 24 counties that comprise IA-02. The current press contact for Hart’s campaign, Zachary Meunier, managed Loebsack’s re-election effort in 2018.

With several other prospective Democratic candidates taking themselves out of contention in recent weeks, Newman Abuissa appears likely to be Hart’s only competitor for the 2020 nomination. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will surely back Hart but probably will spend little on the primary.

The Republican field has not yet settled in IA-02. Although the GOP has vowed to play for this seat, and recent voting patterns suggest it could be competitive, I question whether Republicans will invest heavily in the race. Hart is a good fit for the area and should be able to capitalize on the district’s slight Democratic lean.

The 24 counties in IA-02 contain 164,390 active registered Democrats, 142,462 Republicans, and 184,572 no-party voters, according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office.

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Reynolds/Miller deal could encourage future Republican power grabs

Governor Kim Reynolds issued her first item veto of the year this week, rejecting part of a budget bill that sought to limit Attorney General Tom Miller’s authority to sign on to multi-state lawsuits. However, she did so only after Miller agreed not to join any such litigation without her permission, ensuring that he “will not be suing the Trump administration” anymore. In addition, the governor’s veto letter praised the “Legislature’s leadership on this issue.”

While not the worst-case scenario, the resolution of this conflict could invite more Republican bills encroaching on the authority of statewide elected Democrats. The governor and her staff could then pressure those officials to cede some of their power in exchange for a veto.

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IA-02 primary: Hart gaining strength, Croken considering, Russell's out

More than six dozen prominent Democrats endorsed former State Senator Rita Hart’s campaign for U.S. House on May 22. The list enclosed in full below includes activists from each of the 24 counties in Iowa’s second Congressional district. The best-known endorsers are former Iowa Lieutenant Governor and Secretary of Agriculture Patty Judge, former Iowa Democratic Party chair Sue Dvorsky, and twenty current or former state lawmakers.

Hart was already the clear favorite to win the nomination. She appears increasingly unlikely to face serious competition from the left in the Democratic primary. Iowa City business owner Veronica Tessler ruled out the race earlier this month. Former Bernie Sanders national delegate Daniel Clark, who ran in IA-02 as an independent last year, is now backing Hart. Johnson County progressives on the new list of Hart endorsers include State Senators Joe Bolkcom and Zach Wahls and State Representatives Mary Mascher and Amy Nielsen.

Scott County Supervisor Ken Croken is still considering a Congressional bid, he told Bleeding Heartland in a May 23 telephone interview. Croken said he and his team are collecting information about potential Republican candidates with a view to deciding who would be the best person to keep IA-02 in Democratic hands. He said the long list of Hart endorsers won’t affect his decision, which he will announce sometime after Memorial Day.

Hart’s news release mentioned eleven high-profile Scott County Democrats, including State Representatives Monica Kurth and Phyllis Thede, State Senator Jim Lykam, former Davenport Mayors Bill Gluba and Thom Hart, and former state lawmaker Frank Wood. Croken’s past contributions to some local Republican candidates would also be a problem in a primary race.

Speaking of Democrats in the Quad Cities area, Davenport attorney Ian Russell has ruled out running for Congress next year, he told Bleeding Heartland by phone on May 22. Russell said he talked to Hart about a week ago and “told her she’s going to be a very good candidate for the second district and that I’d support her.”

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First look at the Iowa House landscape for 2020

Republicans used their control over state government to inflict tremendous damage on Iowa during the 2019 legislative session: underfunding education, blocking steps that would improve Medicaid services, dismantling effective sex education programs, further undermining workers’ rights, targeting health care for transgender Iowans, and giving Governor Kim Reynolds the ability to pack our highest courts with conservative ideologues.

The disastrous outcomes underscored the urgent need for Democrats to break the Republican trifecta in 2020. The Iowa House is the only realistic path for doing so, since Reynolds won’t be up for re-election next year, and the 32-18 GOP majority in the Iowa Senate will take several cycles to undo. State Representative Andy McKean’s recent party switch improved Democratic prospects, shrinking the Republican majority in the chamber from 54-46 to 53-47. Nevertheless, a net gain of four House seats will be no easy task for Democrats.

The Daily Kos Elections team calculated the 2018 election results for governor and state auditor in every Iowa House district. Jeff Singer discussed their key findings in a May 2 post: Reynolds carried 60 state House districts, Democratic nominee Fred Hubbell just 39. The “median seat backed Reynolds 51.0-46.3, a margin of 4.7 points. That’s about 2 points to the right of her statewide margin of 2.8 points.” Eight Democrats represent districts Reynolds carried, and one (Dave Williams) represents a district where Reynolds and Hubbell tied, while “only one Republican is in a Hubbell district.”

I’d encourage all Iowa politics watchers to bookmark the DK Elections number-crunching, as well as the team’s spreadsheet on 2016 presidential results by House district.

The Daily Kos team also looked at the 2018 voting for state auditor, seeking clues on which House seats might be within reach for Democrats. I don’t find that angle as useful. Previous State Auditor Mary Mosiman ran a terrible campaign. Not only did Rob Sand outwork Mosiman on the trail, he ran unanswered television commercials for six weeks, allowing him to go into election day with higher name ID than the incumbent, which is almost unheard of. Sad to say, Democrats won’t be outspending incompetent, little-known GOP candidates in the 2020 state legislative races.

Here’s my first take on both parties’ best pickup opportunities. What appear to be competitive state House seats may shift over the coming year, depending on candidate recruitment and incumbent retirements, so Bleeding Heartland will periodically return to this topic.

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Iowa Republicans choose not to look for overspending on Medicaid prescriptions

The Iowa Department of Human Services will not audit a practice that could be inflating costs for Medicaid prescription drug payments by millions of dollars a year.

State Representative John Forbes raised concerns after finding discrepancies on bills for some prescriptions his Urbandale pharmacy filled for patients served by Amerigroup, one of Iowa’s Medicaid managed-care providers. Earlier this month, House members unanimously approved Forbes’ amendment to the health and human services budget, instructing DHS to “audit all prescription drug benefit claims managed by a pharmacy benefit manager under the Medicaid program.”

However, House and Senate Republicans dropped that section from the final version of House File 766.

State Senator Mark Costello, who floor managed the health and human services budget in the upper chamber, claimed Iowa’s Medicaid director Michael Randol and an Amerigroup representative had told him the audit was unnecessary.

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State auditor to Iowa Medicaid recipients, providers: "Know your rights"

Iowans affected by UnitedHealthcare’s impending exit as a Medicaid managed-care provider should be aware that they have rights under the contract the state signed with the insurer, State Auditor Rob Sand announced at an April 1 news conference.

Sand reviewed the company’s 287-page contract with the Iowa Department of Human Services before news broke on March 29 that UnitedHealthcare will not continue to manage care for Iowans on Medicaid in the coming fiscal year, which begins on July 1. That development suddenly made the contract’s termination provisions “very important and relevant.”

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