IA-Gov: John Norris releases first batch of high-profile endorsers

Gubernatorial candidate John Norris announced a statewide steering committee yesterday with more than 90 “current and former state legislators, public officials, party activists and officers, farmers, educators, students, labor leaders and business owners.”

State Representatives Marti Anderson and Jo Oldson became the first two Iowa House Democrats to back Norris, joined by former State Representatives Brian Quirk, Andrew Wenthe, Mark Kuhn, Deo Koenigs, and Roger Thomas, and former State Senators Daryl Beall, Bill Hutchins, and Lowell Junkins (who was the 1986 Democratic nominee for governor).

Other notable endorsers include Brad Anderson, who managed Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign in Iowa and was the 2014 Democratic nominee for secretary of state, former Iowa Democratic Party executive director Norm Sterzenbach, and Marcia Nichols, the longtime political director for the public employee union AFSCME. Candidates won’t release their fundraising reports until January, but I doubt these three would publicly back Norris unless they were confident that he would have the resources to compete on a statewide level before the primary. Anderson, Sterzenbach, and Nichols were part of State Representative Todd Prichard’s leadership team earlier this year. Prichard left the governor’s race in August and endorsed Fred Hubbell yesterday.

I’ve posted below the full Norris steering committee list, along with a November 20 e-mail blast from Brad Anderson and a Facebook post by Marti Anderson.

Bleeding Heartland readers may recognize the names of other Norris endorsers, such as Jess Vilsack (the former governor’s son), former Vilsack aide Dusky Terry, 2016 Iowa House candidate Heather Matson, and Kevin Techau, who was U.S. attorney for Iowa’s Northern District from 2014 until this March. Dave Swenson and Matt Russell have been occasional guest authors at this site. Emilene Leone is one of the newly-engaged Scott County activists profiled in this post. Bill Sueppel represented Muscatine Mayor Diana Broderson during her impeachment hearings and later in her civil lawsuit, resolved last month in her favor.

Any comments about the governor’s race are welcome in this thread. Bleeding Heartland previously posted audio and transcripts of stump speeches by all seven contenders and a comprehensive list of current or former state lawmakers who have endorsed a gubernatorial candidate.

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Iowa House rejects broadband access bill

When bills come to the floor of the Iowa House or Senate, the outcome of the vote is typically a foregone conclusion. Leaders rarely call up bills that don’t have the votes to pass. But in “the most surprising vote of the day, if not this year’s session,” Iowa House members on Friday rejected House File 2472, a bill designed to expand broadband access in small-town and rural Iowa. The initiative was among Governor Terry Branstad’s legislative priorities this year. While the goal is uncontroversial, especially in communities where people are stuck with dialup internet, lawmakers disagreed on how to accomplish the task.

The House Journal for April 25 includes details from the floor debate, including roll calls on two Democratic amendments that failed to pass on party-line votes. One of them was a “strike” amendment replacing the entire content of House File 2472 with stronger incentives favored by House Democrats. After the routine business of rejecting minority party amendments, a vote was called on final passage. But only 42 Republicans voted yes, joined by just two Democrats. I’ve posted a list of yes and no votes after the jump. House Minority Leader Mark Smith said Democrats opposed the bill because it “does not go far enough in expanding broadband access to more homes and small businesses.” The Republicans who voted no may have been put off by the size of the tax breaks or the lack of accountability. State Representative Guy Vander Linden told Radio Iowa, “We don’t say they need to meet any requirements in terms of our capacity, speed – anything. All we say is: ‘If you will put broadband infrastructure in place in any unserved or underserved area…we’ll give you all these benefits.’ That, to me, sounds like a blank check that I’m not willing to sign up to.”

House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer has already filed a motion to reconsider the vote on this bill, so leaders may believe they can find the votes they need through friendly persuasion or arm-twisting. (She was one of the “no” votes, presumably to preserve her ability to file the bill again after realizing it would not pass.) Two Republicans (Clel Baudler and Ron Jorgensen) were absent from Friday’s vote. Assuming they support the broadband bill and Upmeyer changes her vote, House leaders would need to persuade four more Republicans or Democrats.

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Education budget passes, ensuring tuition freeze at state universities

Iowa lawmakers are finally getting the hang of divided control–or maybe they just want to get out of town early in an election year. During the 2011 legislative session, Iowa House Republicans and Senate Democrats were still arguing about state budget targets well into June and didn’t approve final spending bills until the very last day of the fiscal year.

In contrast, legislative leaders agreed on fiscal year 2015 spending targets seven weeks ago. On April 23, both the Iowa House and Senate approved the conference committee report for the education appropriations bill. Details on the education budget debate, final funding levels and roll calls are after the jump.

Amazingly, the legislature may be ready to adjourn for the year by the end of next week.

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Q: When do Iowa Democrats talk like Steve King?

A. When doing so serves Big Ag’s interests.

Yesterday the Iowa House approved House Resolution 123, which requests “that all necessary and immediate action be taken by the State of California, the United States Congress, the United State Attorney General, state legislatures, state governors, and state attorneys general to effectuate the repeal of California legislation enacted as AB 1437 that unconstitutionally infringes upon the Commerce Clause of the Constitution of the United States to the detriment of this nation’s consumers and farmers.”

U.S. Representative Steve King has been on the warpath against the supposedly “unconstitutional” California law for some time. After he failed to get language overriding the egg regulations into the new Farm Bill, several state attorneys general filed suit in federal court. Last month Governor Terry Branstad joined that lawsuit, saying the California law “discriminates against Iowa’s egg producers.”

Thirteen Iowa House Democrats joined all 53 Republicans to co-sponsor House Resolution 123 (full text here). The Democrats were Bruce Bearinger, Nancy Dunkel, John Forbes, Bruce Hunter, Jerry Kearns, Dan Kelley, Helen Miller, Dan Muhlbauer, Joe Riding, Patti Ruff, Sally Stutsman, Roger Thomas, and Frank Wood. Reading from the resolution on the Iowa House floor yesterday, State Representative Helen Miller parroted the same talking points we’ve heard from King before. Supposedly Iowa egg farmers “can’t” sell their products in California anymore, which “unconstitutionally infringes upon the commerce clause of the Constitution of the United States.” Sorry, no. That law does not establish a higher bar for out-of-state producers than for in-state producers. Nor does it force any course of action on Iowa egg farmers. They will simply face the same choice any number of manufacturers face regarding any number of state laws: either comply with the relevant state’s requirements, or sell your products elsewhere.

Some of the House Democrats who co-sponsored this resolution represent rural or suburban districts that will be competitive this year. Others, including Miller, are unopposed or represent urban districts that Republicans have no prayer of winning. Before taking Steve King’s word for it on matters of constitutional law, they should have consulted Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller. He didn’t sign on to the lawsuit Branstad joined, I suspect because he sensed the case is weak. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was not a fan of King’s efforts to overturn the California law either.  

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How not to retire from the Iowa legislature

Most election years, at least one Iowa House or Senate incumbent reveals retirement plans shortly before the filing deadline. During the last midterm, three Iowa House incumbents gave their constituents only a day or two’s notice that they were not planning to run for re-election.

Qualifying for the ballot is relatively easy here; candidates can collect the 50 signatures needed for an Iowa House district or the 100 needed for a Senate district in a day. But deciding whether to run for the state legislature is not so simple. Common courtesy demands that incumbents give their constituents at least a few weeks, or preferably a few months, to talk things over with family and friends, weighing what would be involved in a campaign and part-time work as a lawmaker. Lots of politically active people might want to serve. Most would not challenge an incumbent in a primary, but the calculus is different for an open seat.

Longtime State Senator Dennis Black announced on March 10 that he would not run for re-election. Presumably some insiders had advance warning, but every other Democrat in Senate district 15 had at most three days to consider this race, plus one day to collect the signatures and drive petitions to Des Moines.

Longtime State Representative Roger Thomas officially announced his retirement in a press release that went out  at 4:50 pm on March 13, barely 24 hours before the filing deadline. He gave the scoop to local activists at the Winneshiek County Democratic convention on March 8, but that news would only reach a small circle of insiders. A wider audience didn’t learn of Thomas’ retirement until he informed the Decorah Newspapers on the morning of March 12. Democrats in House district 55 (covering parts of Winneshiek, Fayette, and Clayton counties) deserved more than five days to think about running for the legislature, collect signatures, and make the four-hour drive to Des Moines. Nothing against Rick Edwards of Decorah, who has stepped up to run, but others should have had more time to consider the opportunity Thomas created.

Note: Iowa House district 55 will likely be a very competitive race this November, and Senate district 15 may also be in play, but my feelings about last-minute retirements also apply to seats that are safe for one party.

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