# Ross Wilburn



A raise for Iowa lawmakers is long overdue

State Representative Joel Fry floor manages a bill on raising elected officials’ salaries on April 18

Before adjourning for the year on April 20, the Iowa Senate did not take up a last-minute bill from the House that would have given state legislators and statewide elected officials a $10,000 raise, effective 2025.

Lawmakers should not wait until the closing days of the next session to address this issue. Stagnant, relatively low salaries are a real barrier to bringing more diverse perspectives and life experiences to the statehouse.

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Iowa House Democrats strangely quiet on eminent domain bill

Protester’s sign against a pillar in the state capitol on February 27 (photo by Laura Belin)

What’s the opposite of “loud and proud”?

Iowa House Democrats unanimously voted for the chamber’s latest attempt to address the concerns of landowners along the path of Summit Carbon Solutions’ proposed CO2 pipeline. But not a single Democrat spoke during the March 28 floor debate.

The unusual tactic allowed the bill’s Republican advocates to take full credit for defending property rights against powerful corporate interests—an extremely popular position.

It was a missed opportunity to share a Democratic vision for fair land use policies and acknowledge the progressive constituencies that oppose the pipeline for various reasons.

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Iowa House GOP's "big wins" won't avert big problems for AEAs

Representative Skyler Wheeler floor manages the AEA bill on March 21 (photo by Laura Belin)

UPDATE: The Iowa Senate approved the final House version of this bill on March 26, and the governor signed House file 2612 the following day. Original post follows.

Iowa House leaders attempted to wrap up work last week on the thorniest issue of the 2024 session: overhauling the Area Education Agencies (AEAs) to comply with Governor Kim Reynolds’ demand for “transformational change.” Less than three hours after a 49-page amendment appeared on the legislature’s website on March 21, the majority party cut off debate and approved a new version of House File 2612 by 51 votes to 43.

State Representative Skyler Wheeler hailed many provisions of the revised AEA bill as “wins” for House Republicans during the floor debate. House Speaker Pat Grassley likewise celebrated “big wins in this legislation” in the March 22 edition of his email newsletter.

Nine Republicans—Eddie Andrews, Mark Cisneros, Zach Dieken, Martin Graber, Tom Jeneary, Brian Lohse, Gary Mohr, Ray Sorensen, and Charley Thomson—didn’t buy into the official narrative and voted with Democrats against the bill.

I doubt any of them will regret that choice. If House File 2612 becomes law, it could irreparably harm the AEAs’ ability to provide a full range of services to children, families, educators, and schools.

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Iowa Democratic caucus a limited success—but much work remains

John Deeth has volunteered for the Johnson County Democrats and been involved in caucus planning since 2004. He was the lead organizer for the Johnson County caucuses in 2016 and 2020 and is doing the same work for 2024. Deeth has also worked in the Johnson County Auditor’s Office since 1997.

While I was never going to be satisfied with the Iowa Democratic Party’s first effort at a party-run primary (“mail-in caucus” in IDP’s language), which wrapped up March 5 with a results announcement, there were at least some successes.

In fairness, with Iowa Republicans still First In The Nation on their side and opposed to any substantive changes to accommodate the new calendar that removed Iowa from the early Democratic states, IDP didn’t have many realistic options other than what they did: a January 15 in-person caucus for party business only to comply with state law, and a later mail-in process to comply with Democratic National Committee rules.

I recommended that plan myself long before IDP implemented it.

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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2024

Photo by Carl Olsen of the Iowa House chamber in 2020

Iowa House members return to Des Moines on January 8 for the opening day of the 2024 legislative session. Although the balance of power remains the same (64 Republicans, 36 Democrats), I’m publishing a new version of this post to note small changes in leadership or among the chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing House committees. Where relevant, I’ve noted changes since last year’s session.

Thirty-eight House members (24 Republicans and fourteen Democrats) are serving their first term in the legislature. Two Republicans previously held other legislative offices: Craig Johnson served one and a half terms in the Iowa Senate, and David Young served two terms in Congress.

The House members include 71 men and 29 women (sixteen Democrats and thirteen Republicans), down from 31 women who served in 2021 and 2022. The record for women’s representation in the Iowa House was 34 female lawmakers in 2019.

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Democrats blew a chance to connect with rural Iowa

Wally Taylor is the Legal Chair of the Sierra Club Iowa chapter.

Sierra Club has been opposed to the carbon dioxide pipelines that several corporations are trying to build across Iowa since the projects were first announced. The pipeline companies claim the capturing of carbon dioxide from ethanol plants will address climate change, save the ethanol industry, and provide economic benefits. There is no merit to any of these claims.

One thing we learned from the Dakota Access pipeline fight several years ago is that the crucial strategy to oppose the pipelines is to organize the impacted landowners into a unified opposition. Through the fantastic work of Sierra Club’s Conservation Program Coordinator, Jessica Mazour, the landowners have created a groundswell of opposition. Their efforts helped persuade Republican legislators to introduce bills that would restrict or prohibit the use of eminent domain for the pipelines.

State Representative Steven Holt introduced one of those bills. Initially numbered House File 368, it was renumbered House File 565 following approval by the House Judiciary Committee.

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Iowa ban on gender-affirming care would face uphill battle in court

UPDATE: The governor signed this bill on March 22. Original post follows.

Moving with unusual speed last week, Iowa Republican lawmakers approved Senate File 538, which broadly prohibits gender-affirming care, including puberty blockers, hormone treatments, and surgery, for Iowans under age 18.

Governor Kim Reynolds is expected to sign the bill soon, having used several opportunities over the past year to position herself against transgender youth.

The new law would certainly be challenged in court, as similar bans prompted lawsuits in Arkansas and Alabama.

During hours-long debates in the Iowa Senate and House, lawmakers raised points that would be central to litigation over whether banning gender-affirming care violates the constitutional rights of transgender children, their parents, and medical professionals.

For this post, I’ve pulled video clips to illustrate some of the core legal questions surrounding the bill. But there is much more of value in the passionate speeches delivered about Republicans’ latest attempt to target LGTBQ Iowans. You can watch the full Senate debate here (starting around 7:32:30) and the House debate here (starting around 1:40:45).

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Iowa Democrats demand Arab, Climate caucuses be seated on governing body

Brian McLain chairs the Iowa Democratic Party’s Progressive Caucus.

In a letter finalized on January 14, several Democratic leaders called for a special meeting to challenge the refusal to seat the Iowa Democratic Party’s two newest constituency caucuses on the State Central Committee.

According to a letter from outgoing state party chair Ross Wilburn, the Iowa Democratic Party’s attorney and co-chairs of the Rules and Nominations Committee Co-Chairs “all reached the same conclusion”: there is no legal mechanism for the Arab-American Caucus and Climate Change & Environmental Caucus to elect representatives to the State Central Committee.

However, the State Convention of 2022, which is the party’s supreme governing body, officially recognized both new constituency caucuses last July. In the interest of transparency, these leaders have chosen to make this letter publicly available.

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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2023

The Iowa House opened its 2023 session on January 9 with 64 Republicans and 36 Democrats, a four-seat gain for the GOP compared to last year.

Thirty-eight representatives (24 Republicans and fourteen Democrats) were just elected to the chamber for the first time in November. Two Republicans previously held other legislative offices: Craig Johnson served one and a half terms in the Iowa Senate, and David Young served two terms in Congress.

The House members include 71 men and 29 women (sixteen Democrats and thirteen Republicans), down from 31 women who served for the last two years. The record for women’s representation in the Iowa House was 34 female lawmakers in 2019.

Six African Americans (Democrats Ako Abdul-Samad, Jerome Amos, Jr., Ruth Ann Gaines, Mary Madison, and Ross Wilburn, and Republican Eddie Andrews) serve in the legislature’s lower chamber. As Abdul-Samad began his seventeenth year at the capitol, he surpassed Helen Miller as Iowa’s longest-serving Black state legislator.

Republican Mark Cisneros was the first Latino elected to the Iowa legislature in 2020, and Democrat Adam Zabner is now the second Latino serving in the chamber. Republican Henry Stone became only the second Asian American to serve in the House after the 2020 election, and Democrat Megan Srinivas was also elected in November. The other 92 state representatives are white.

Democrat Elinor Levin is the only out LGBTQ member of the Iowa House. She and Zabner are also the first Jews to serve in the chamber for more than three decades. Abdul-Samad is the only Muslim member of the House, and Srinivas is Hindu.

I’ve posted details below 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 changes since last year’s session. The biggest change is that House Speaker Pat Grassley created an Education Reform Committee to consider the governor’s school voucher plan and other controversial education bills. The House also eliminated the Information Technology Committee.

Some non-political trivia: the 100 Iowa House members include two with the surname Meyer (a Democrat and a Republican) and two Thompsons and a Thomson (all Republicans). As for popular first names, there are four men named David or Dave, four named Thomas or Tom, three Roberts (a Robert, a Bob, and a Bobby), three Brians, three men named Michael (two go by Mike), a Jon and two Johns, two named Charles (a Chuck and a Charley), and two men each named Jeff, Ken, Steve, Matt, Austin, and Josh or Joshua. There are also two Elizabeths (one goes by Beth), an Ann and an Anne, and two women each named Heather, Megan, and Shannon. As recently as 2020, four women named Mary served in the Iowa House, but just one was sworn in this week.

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How Iowa Democrats can follow state law and DNC rules

John Deeth has volunteered for the Johnson County Democrats and been involved in caucus planning since 2004. He was the lead organizer for the Johnson County caucuses in 2016 and 2020. Deeth has also worked in the Johnson County Auditor’s Office since 1997.

As Iowa Democratic Party leaders struggle through the denial stage of the grieving process, they are clinging to a state law that supposedly privileges Iowa’s historic first place on the presidential nomination calendar.

In an email sent to party activists on the evening of December 1, soon after President Joe Biden announced his support for a Democratic nomination calendar that does not include Iowa among the early states, party chair Ross WIlburn wrote:

Our state law requires us to hold a caucus before the last Tuesday in February, and before any other contest. When we submit our delegate selection plan to the Rules and Bylaws Committee early next year, we will adhere to the State of Iowa’s legal requirements, and address compliance with DNC rules in subsequent meetings and hearings.

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Don't lose sight of what's important, Iowa Democrats

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

Judging from the furrowed brows and dire predictions in Iowa, you might have thought a national Democratic Party committee had voted to eliminate motherhood and apple pie last week.

Actually, what the committee eliminated was Iowa’s first-in-the-nation spot for the Democratic precinct caucuses, a coveted kick-off role for Iowans in the party’s presidential nomination process every four years since 1972.

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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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Kim Reynolds race-baits in new tv ad

Nothing happens in a campaign commercial by accident. Strategists plan every word and image, with the candidate’s approval. Directors may film many takes to get the perfect cadence for every line.

So Iowans should understand: the racist tropes in Governor Kim Reynolds’ latest tv ad are deliberate.

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Statewide candidates deserved better from Iowa Democratic Party

Democratic candidates for U.S. House, U.S Senate, and governor were given speaking time at the Iowa Democratic Party’s annual Liberty and Justice Celebration on April 30.

But the party’s three statewide elected officials and candidates for other statewide offices were relegated to pre-recorded videos. Even worse, those videos seemed designed for comic relief, rather than as a way for candidates to connect with hundreds of activists who attended the Des Moines fundraiser.

The missed opportunity was especially regrettable for Joel Miller and Eric Van Lancker, who are competing against each other in the June 7 primary for secretary of state.

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Iowa Democrats won't speak truth to ethanol power

The biofuels industry got a big win in the Iowa legislature this week, as the state House and Senate approved a bill requiring most gas stations in the state to dispense a higher ethanol blend known as E15 from at least half of their pumps.

All but a handful of Democratic legislators voted for the bill, and no Democrat spoke against the proposal during Senate or House floor debate.

It was the latest example of how Iowa Democratic politicians have embraced biofuels industry talking points and avoided challenging any policies seen as supporting ethanol.

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Iowa legislature may be more diverse after 2022 election

Iowans may elect more people from under-represented populations to the state legislature in 2022, Bleeding Heartland’s analysis of the primary and general election candidate filings indicates.

One barrier will certainly be broken: as the only candidate to file in House district 78, Democrat Sami Scheetz will become the first Arab American to serve in our state legislature.

The lawmakers who convene at the statehouse next January may also include Iowa’s first Jewish legislator in nearly three decades as well as more people of color, more LGBTQ people, and the first Paralympian.

A forthcoming post will discuss prospects for electing more women to the Iowa House and Senate.

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Iowa reaction to Russia's invasion of Ukraine

Like many, I’ve been consumed this week by the horrifying news of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Although Vladimir Putin and his hostility to democracy occupied a lot of my head space in my “past life” covering Russian politics, I never imagined all those years ago that he would go so far as to annex Crimea, let alone launch a full-scale assault on Ukraine.

Foreign policy and military strategy are not my areas of expertise, so I have no insight on how Putin imagines he could benefit from this invasion. Even if he manages to install a puppet government in Kyiv, how will Russian forces maintain control of Ukraine, and how will the Russian economy weather the crushing sanctions? What’s his endgame?

I reported extensively on Putin’s rise to power in late 1999. Russian President Boris Yeltsin had appointed the virtually unknown security official as prime minister that August. But Putin didn’t become popular until a few months later, through a military campaign in the breakaway Republic of Chechnya. The Russian people broadly supported that war, in part due to slanted media coverage, and also because of apartment bombings (that may have been instigated by Russian security forces) and widespread racist attitudes toward Chechens.

Perhaps Putin hopes to replicate that formula for his political benefit. But I find it hard to believe that any significant share of the Russian population support all-out war against Ukraine. Who really believes that a country with a democratically-elected Jewish president needs to be “denazified” by force?

It’s been more than 30 years since I visited Ukraine’s beautiful capital city and the Black Sea resort town of Sochi. For that matter, I haven’t visited Russia in more than two decades. Even so, I’m heartbroken to see the avoidable loss of life on both sides. Please spare a thought for the citizens of Ukraine—whether they are Ukrainian- or Russian-speaking—because I don’t think anyone outside the Kremlin wants this war.

Most of Iowa’s leading politicians reacted to the invasion on February 24. I’ve compiled their comments after the jump.

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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2022

The Iowa House opened its 2022 session on January 10 with 60 Republicans and 40 Democrats, a one-seat gain for the GOP compared to last year, thanks to a special election last fall.

The House members include 69 men and 31 women (21 Democrats and ten Republicans), down from a record 34 women in 2019 and 33 women in 2020.

Six African Americans (Democrats Ako Abdul-Samad, Ruth Ann Gaines, Ras Smith, Phyllis Thede, and Ross Wilburn, and Republican Eddie Andrews) serve in the legislature’s lower chamber. Republican Mark Cisneros is the first Latino elected to the Iowa legislature, and Republican Henry Stone is only the second Asian American to serve in the House. The other 92 state representatives are white.

Democrat Liz Bennett is the only out LGBTQ member of the Iowa House. To my knowledge, Abdul-Samad (who is Muslim) is the only lawmaker in either chamber to practice a religion other than Christianity.

I’ve posted details below 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 changes since last year’s session. The most significant: Republican Mike Bousselot won a September special election following the death of Republican John Landon, and Republican Jon Dunwell won an October special election after Democrat Wes Breckenridge left the legislature for another job.

Some non-political trivia: the Iowa House has two members with the surname Meyer (a Democrat and a Republican). As for popular first names, there are six Davids (three go by Dave), three Roberts (a Rob, a Bob, and a Bobby), three men named Tom or Thomas, three named Steve or Steven, three named Charles (a Chuck and two Charlies), three Brians, three men named Michael (two go by Mike), three Jons and two Johns, and two men each named Gary, Dennis, and Ross. There are also two Elizabeths (a Beth and a Liz), two Shannons, an Ann and an Anne, and two women named Mary (down from four in 2020).

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Ras Smith's departure raises tough questions for Iowa Democrats

State Representative Ras Smith suspended his campaign for governor on January 5, saying he had reached “the heartbreaking conclusion that there are barriers that one campaign cannot overcome, no matter how hard we work or how faithfully we represent the majority of hardworking Iowans.”

In a written statement and recorded video message, Smith thanked Iowans who welcomed him a candidate for governor, saying the campaign “has reaffirmed for me the magnitude of mission-driven work that lies ahead.” He added, “Unfortunately, this process has also exposed a drastic disconnect between the current political system and the people.”

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Cedar Rapids mayoral race offers contrast in values, priorities

Cedar Rapids residents will elect either Amara Andrews or Tiffany O’Donnell to be city’s third woman mayor on November 30. O’Donnell received about 42 percent of the votes cast in the November 2 general election. Andrews advanced to the runoff with about 28 percent of the vote, just 41 votes ahead of outgoing Mayor Brad Hart, who endorsed O’Donnell the following week.

While O’Donnell has to be considered the favorite going into Tuesday, the general election leader has lost Cedar Rapids runoff elections at least two times in the recent past. Anything can happen in a low-turnout race, and voter participation usually drops in runoffs.

Although Iowa’s local elections are nonpartisan, some candidates have revealed their party affiliations as one way of expressing their values. Andrews has been campaigning as a progressive Democrat who will make the city more equitable and fair. In contrast, O’Donnell has downplayed her Republican affiliation and presented herself as a candidate for “all of Cedar Rapids.”

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Why did so many Democrats vote for Iowa's COVID-19 vaccine law?

Governor Kim Reynolds was “proud” to sign a bill designed to make it easier for Iowans to get around COVID-19 vaccination mandates in the workplace. State Representative Henry Stone, who floor managed the bill in the House, said Republicans worked on this legislation for months, seeking ways to lessen the impact of the Biden administration’s expected rules requiring large employers to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations or frequent testing of employees.

Democrats had no input on the proposal and did not see the bill text until hours before lawmakers debated House File 902 on October 28. Nevertheless, both chambers approved the bill by surprisingly large margins: 68 votes to 27 in the House and 45 votes to 4 in the Senate.

Why did so many Democrats vote for a bill that one supporter described as “a joke” during debate?

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First look at Iowa's new House, Senate maps in cities, suburbs

Now that Iowa’s political maps for the next decade have been finalized, it’s time to look more closely at the district lines in and near larger metro areas. Although most districts anchored in cities are safe for Democrats, these metros will include quite a few battleground Iowa House and Senate races over the next two election cycles. Several “micropolitan” districts containing mid-sized cities remain competitive as well, and a forthcoming post will cover those maps.

I’ll write more about the political landscape of individual House or Senate districts once lawmakers and other contenders have confirmed their plans for next year. Several incumbent match-ups have already been worked out, and I’m continuing to update this post. (Please send tips on candidate announcements.)

I’ve grouped each Iowa Senate district with the two state House districts it wholly contains.

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Iowa Democrats back Deere workers, Republicans mostly silent

Prominent Iowa Democrats were quick to express solidarity with United Auto Workers members who went on strike at midnight on October 14. But Republican officials were mostly silent as Iowa’s largest strike in decades began.

The work stoppage affects some 10,000 UAW members, of whom about 6,500 are employed at John Deere facilities in Waterloo, Ankeny, Davenport, Dubuque, and Ottumwa. Earlier this week, about 90 percent of UAW members voted to reject the company’s contract offer—a remarkable consensus, given that more than 90 percent of workers participated in the vote. Although Deere’s profits have increased by 61 percent in recent years, and CEO John May’s salary increased by about 160 percent from 2019 to 2020, the company offered workers only a 5 percent to 6 percent raise, with additional 3 percent raises in 2023 and 2025. Proposed changes to pensions also weren’t acceptable to most workers.

The last strike at John Deere plants began in 1986 and lasted for about five months. According to the Des Moines Register, the largest strikes anywhere in Iowa during the past three decades were a 1995 stoppage at Amana Refrigeration in Cedar Rapids, which involved about 2,000 workers, and a 2004 strike at Newton-based Maytag, involving about 1,600 workers.

The Iowa Democratic Party issued a statement supporting the Deere workers a few minutes after midnight, and many well-known Democrats added their voices throughout the day. I’ve enclosed many of those comments below.

Meanwhile, Governor Kim Reynolds, Senator Joni Ernst, and U.S. Representatives Ashley Hinson (IA-01), Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02), and Randy Feenstra (IA-04) said nothing about the event directly affecting thousands of their constituents. Staff for Reynolds, Hinson, and Miller-Meeks did not respond to Bleeding Heartland’s inquiries.

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Iowa Senate primary has new front-runner, more level playing field

Former U.S. Representative Abby Finkenauer made it official on July 22: she’s running for the U.S. Senate. And even though signs point to long-serving Senator Chuck Grassley seeking another term in 2022, at least two other people are poised to compete against Finkenauer and Dave Muhlbauer for the Democratic nomination.

Finkenauer will carry several advantages into the primary campaign. But compared to Iowa’s last Democratic race for U.S. Senate, the contenders will be playing on a much more level field.

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Historic new leadership for Iowa Democrats

For the first time, a person of color will lead one of Iowa’s major political parties. The Iowa Democratic Party’s State Central Committee on January 23 chose Ross Wilburn to serve as state party chair for the coming election cycle. Wilburn won on the first ballot in a field of four candidates after Brett Copeland withdrew his candidacy during the committee’s meeting.

The two candidates with a strong base of support among the 50-plus State Central Committee members were Wilburn, who received just under 65 percent of the votes, and Jodi Clemens, who received 33 percent. Clemens is a former Iowa House candidate and former staffer on Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign as well as Kimberly Graham’s 2020 U.S. Senate campaign. At last year’s state convention, she was elected to represent Iowa on the Democratic National Committee. She will continue in that role.

Wilburn has represented Iowa House district 46, covering part of Ames, since September 2019 and will keep serving in the state legislature. However, in order to focus his full-time efforts on leading the Democratic Party, he will quit his other job as diversity officer and associate director for community economic development at Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2021

The Iowa House opened its 2021 session on January 11 with 59 Republicans and 41 Democrats, a big improvement for the GOP from last year’s 53-47 split.

The House members include 69 men and 31 women (21 Democrats and ten Republicans), down from a record 34 women in 2019 and 33 women last year.

Six African Americans (Democrats Ako Abdul-Samad, Ruth Ann Gaines, Ras Smith, Phyllis Thede, and Ross Wilburn, and Republican Eddie Andrews) will serve in the legislature’s lower chamber. Republican Mark Cisneros is the first Latino elected to the Iowa legislature, and Republican Henry Stone is only the second Asian American to serve in the House. The other 92 state representatives are white.

Democrat Liz Bennett is the only out LGBTQ member of the Iowa House. To my knowledge, Abdul-Samad (who is Muslim) is the only lawmaker in either chamber to practice a religion other than Christianity.

I’ve posted details below 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 changes since last year.

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Barriers broken as Iowans elect more people of color to state House

Fourth in a series interpreting the results of Iowa’s 2020 state and federal elections.

More people of color than ever ran for the Iowa House in 2020. As a result, a more diverse group of state representatives will be sworn in next year.

Not only will the state House have a record number of members who are not white, people of color serving in the Iowa legislature will include some Republicans for the first time since the 1960s.

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Iowa lawmakers had their chance. Now governor should issue voting rights order

“Let them vote! Let them vote!” Black Lives Matter protesters chanted a few minutes after Governor Kim Reynolds signed a police reform bill on June 12. Reynolds did not acknowledge hearing them, continuing to pass out pens to advocates of the legislation, which the Iowa House and Senate had unanimously approved the night before.

The protesters want the governor to sign an executive order automatically restoring voting rights to Iowans who have completed felony sentences. Iowa has the country’s strictest felon voting ban, which disproportionately disenfranchises African Americans. Reynolds has resisted calls to issue an executive order, saying she wants the legislature to approve a state constitutional amendment on felon voting instead.

The Iowa legislature adjourned for the year on June 14 without the constitutional amendment clearing the Senate.

For many thousands of Iowans with felony convictions, an order from Reynolds provides the only path to voting before 2024. She should issue one as soon as possible.

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Six inspiring speeches on Iowa's "first step" to address police violence

Most bills lawmakers introduced this year to address Iowa’s notorious racial disparities didn’t get far before the Iowa House and Senate suspended their work in mid-March, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. By the time the legislature got back to work on June 3, large protests were underway daily in Iowa and across the country, in response to the horrific killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Democratic lawmakers unveiled a “More Perfect Union plan” designed to prevent “violent conflicts between law enforcement and Iowa residents” on June 4. A bill incorporating their proposals sailed through both chambers unanimously a week later, with a group of Black Lives Matter protesters watching from the public gallery.

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More people of color running for Iowa legislature in 2020 (updated)

UPDATE: As of August, people of color who will appear on the general election ballot as candidates for the Iowa legislature include nine Democrats, seven Republicans, one Libertarian, and one independent. I’ve added details in the original post, which follows.

After a decade of little change in the racial breakdown of the Iowa House and Senate, more people of color are running for the state legislature this year.

Candidates appearing on today’s primary ballot include eight Democrats and seven eight Republicans, which to my knowledge is a record for the Iowa GOP.

In addition, three people of color representing minor parties have filed as general election candidates in state legislative districts.

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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2020

The Iowa House opened its 2020 session on January 13 with 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats, a change from last year’s 54-46 split due to State Representative Andy McKean’s party switch shortly before lawmakers adjourned last year.

The House members include 67 men and 33 women (23 Democrats and ten Republicans). Although 34 women were elected to the chamber in 2018 (a record number), State Representative Lisa Heddens stepped down last summer, and Ross Wilburn won the special election to serve out her term in House district 46.

Five African Americans (Democrats Ako Abdul-Samad, Ruth Ann Gaines, Ras Smith, Phyllis Thede, and Wilburn) will 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 state Senate following the 2008 election. Democratic State Representative Liz Bennett is the only out LGBTQ member of the lower chamber. To my knowledge, Abdul-Samad (who is Muslim) is the only lawmaker in either chamber to practice a religion other than Christianity.

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.

Some non-political trivia: the Iowa House includes two Smiths (both Democrats), while the other 98 members have different surnames. As for popular first names, there are six Davids (four go by Dave), four Marys (one goes by Mary Ann), three Roberts (a Rob, a Bob, and a Bobby), three men named Thomas (two go by Tom), three Johns and two Jons, and three men each named Gary and Brian. There are also two Elizabeths (a Beth and a Liz) and two men each named Bruce, Chris, Jeff, Michael (one goes by Mike), Ross, and Charles (a Chuck and a Charlie).

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Newest Iowa House member Ross Wilburn on his work, inspiration

State Representative Ross Wilburn took the oath of office on September 6 to represent Iowa House district 46, covering part of Ames in Story County. Republicans did not field a candidate against him in the August 6 special election to fill the seat vacated by Story County Supervisor Lisa Heddens.

In a September 6 telephone interview, Wilburn said he hasn’t been assigned to committees yet and probably will not know those assignments until November. He’s interested in many aspects of the legislature’s work, including human services (he has a master’s degree in social work), local government or transportation (he’s a former Iowa City mayor and city council member), and veterans’ affairs (he served in the Army National Guard). Education is also a high priority for Wilburn and of great importance to his constituents. Iowa State University is the dominant employer and community presence in Ames. Wilburn is diversity officer and associate director for community economic development at ISU Extension and Outreach.

Wilburn told me he’s looking forward to returning to public service and getting to work for constituents. The issues that came up most often during his conversations with voters this summer were mental health care, Medicaid privatization, public employee collective bargaining rights, and adequate funding for K-12 as well as higher education.

During his swearing-in ceremony, Wilburn recalled that when he first decided to run for city council, he was visiting the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC and was near the marker where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Reflecting today on the Iowa legislators who came before him, Wilburn recalled the example set by Willie Stevenson Glanton. The second African-American woman admitted to the Iowa bar, Glanton was the first woman to serve as assistant Polk County attorney and in 1964 (the year of Wilburn’s birth) became the first African-American woman elected to the Iowa House. Wilburn had the opportunity to meet Glanton during his time on Iowa City’s council and was inspired by her.

The Iowa House now has a full complement of 100 members again: 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats. Wilburn is one of five African Americans serving in the chamber, along with fellow Democrats Ako Abdul-Samad, Ruth Ann Gaines, Ras Smith, and Phyllis Thede. This year’s House Democratic caucus was the first in Iowa legislative history to have a majority of women, but Andy McKean’s party switch in April, Heddens’ retirement, and Wilburn’s election shifts the balance back to 24 men and 23 women. (Ten women and 43 men are part of the Iowa House Republican caucus.)

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Kim Reynolds thumbed her nose at ISU students for nothing

Democrat Ross Wilburn will be unopposed in the August 6 special election to represent Iowa House district 46. The deadline to file nominating papers was on July 12 at 5:00 pm, and Wilburn is the only name on the Iowa Secretary of State’s candidate list.

A spokesperson for the Republican Party of Iowa told the Des Moines Register’s Stephen Gruber-Miller that the GOP would not field a candidate for the special election, but did not indicate why. The Libertarian Party of Iowa also declined to compete for this district; Libertarians have occasionally nominated candidates in House district 45, covering other Ames neighborhoods.

In all likelihood, Wilburn would have won this election regardless of the timing or the competition, given the political layout of House district 46. The strongest potential GOP candidate, Ames City Council member Tim Gartin, took himself out of the running early, and several Democratic presidential candidates have either headlined events for Wilburn or had their staff help knock doors for him.

If Republicans weren’t planning to play for this seat, it was exceptionally foolish for Governor Kim Reynolds to set the election on the first Tuesday allowed under state law. She could have scheduled the vote for late August or September, when most Iowa State University students would be back in Ames.

All Reynolds accomplished by picking August 6 was reinforcing the narrative that she doesn’t care about constituents who don’t politically align with her. She could have shown her commitment to fair play by picking a day that would give more House district 46 residents a voice. Instead, she used the levers of power to depress Democratic turnout–for nothing.

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Ross Wilburn nominated for Iowa House district 46 special

Ross Wilburn will be the Democratic candidate in the August 6 election to represent Iowa House district 46. Delegates to a special nominating convention in Ames on June 29 chose Wilburn on the second ballot.

The former Iowa City mayor, who has worked for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach since 2014, recently told Bleeding Heartland that if elected to the state House, he wants to address problems with privatized Medicaid, climate change, and gun violence. Other priorities for Wilburn are strengthening public school districts, restoring collective bargaining rights for public workers, and making Iowa more welcoming and inclusive for marginalized groups such as the LGBTQ community, people of color, veterans, and people with disabilities.

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IA-Gov: First speeches by the Hubbell-Hart ticket (audio, transcripts)

“Whether it’s her own story or distorting facts about my story, one thing is clear: Governor Reynolds is running a campaign about yesterday,” Fred Hubbell told Iowa Democratic Party state convention delegates on June 16. “We’re running a campaign about tomorrow. We are running to get Iowa growing the right way.”

Hubbell’s first speech to a large crowd since his decisive victory in the high-turnout June 5 primary served several purposes:

• Preview the main themes of his general election campaign;

• Reassure Democratic activists (many of whom had been strongly committed to other candidates) that he shares their values and goals;

• Address and reframe early attacks from Governor Kim Reynolds; and

• Introduce his running mate State Senator Rita Hart, who’s not well-known outside Clinton and Scott counties.

For those who weren’t able to attend the convention, I enclose below audio and full transcripts of the speeches by Hubbell and Hart.

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2018 Iowa primary results: Early wins for Hubbell, Finkenauer, Axne

Good news for Iowa political junkies who value sleep: there’s no need for an all-nighter to follow this year’s primary results. In the most closely-watched races, it was clear less than an hour after polls closed that Fred Hubbell will be the Democratic nominee against Governor Kim Reynolds, Abby Finkenauer will face off against Representative Rod Blum in Iowa’s first Congressional district, and Cindy Axne will challenge Representative David Young in the third Congressional district.

I’ll update this post frequently throughout the evening as results are reported.

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Where Iowa's statewide candidates stand financially before primary

Many Iowa candidates filed their last financial disclosures before the June 5 primary on Friday. Those reports were required for anyone running for governor who raised $10,000 or more between May 15 and 29, for those seeking other statewide offices who raised at least $5,000 during the same time frame, and for state legislative candidates who raised at least $1,000.

Follow me after the jump for highlights on fundraising and spending by all the Democratic and Republican Iowa candidates for governor, state auditor, secretary of state, secretary of agriculture, attorney general, and state treasurer. Bleeding Heartland discussed the previous financial reports on the governor’s race here. Those covered campaign activity from January 1 through May 14.

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Boulton's conduct was unacceptable. His response is not credible

Three women have described in detail incidents of non-consensual touching by State Senator Nate Boulton, Brianne Pfannenstiel reported today for the Des Moines Register. Boulton did not deny the women’s accounts but said they did not match his recollection. He also asserted his alleged behavior “in social settings” was not comparable to harassment or assault in the workplace.

Boulton’s alleged conduct was unacceptable. His distinction is not credible. His political career is no longer tenable.

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IA-Gov: Highlights from candidates' new fundraising reports

With three weeks to go before Iowa’s June 5 primary, Democrat Fred Hubbell had already spent nearly twice as much on his gubernatorial campaign as Terry Branstad did to win the Republican nomination in 2010.

Follow me after the jump for highlights from campaign finance disclosures by Governor Kim Reynolds and her Democratic challengers. Posts in progress will cover newsworthy details about other Iowa candidates’ fundraising and spending. All the latest reports, which were due May 21, are available here.

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Des Moines Register poll: Bad news for Hubbell, worse news for everyone else

After spending millions of dollars more than his closest competitor, Fred Hubbell leads the Democratic field of gubernatorial contenders, the latest Selzer poll for the Des Moines Register and Mediacom finds. But Hubbell hasn’t locked up the race: this snapshot suggests his support is below the 35 percent level needed to win the June 5 primary outright, and three-quarters of respondents said they are open to changing their minds.

While other candidates have an opportunity to gain ground, they likely lack the capacity to reach as many Iowans as Hubbell will during the home stretch. And no one is in a position to make a case against the front-runner that large numbers of voters will see.

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More women managing Iowa campaigns

Iowa hasn’t been the most friendly state for women in politics, to put it mildly. We didn’t elect a woman to Congress until 2014. We have not elected a woman governor. Just 22.7 percent of our state lawmakers are women, below the pitiful national average of 25.3 percent. Only two women have ever been Iowa Supreme Court justices, and we are currently the only state in the country to have no women serving on our highest court.

But Iowa has not escaped the national trend of more women becoming politically involved in the wake of the 2016 election. Not only will a record number of female candidates appear on Iowa ballots in 2018, more women than ever before are leading campaigns for high-level offices.

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John Norris for governor

I’ve been undecided on the governor’s race for the better part of a year. The six remaining Democrats–Nate Boulton, Cathy Glasson, Fred Hubbell, Andy McGuire, John Norris, and Ross Wilburn–agree on many core issues. All would invest more in education and other public services, reverse Medicaid privatization, restore collective bargaining rights, and stand up for reproductive rights and LGBTQ equality. All bring important life experiences to the table, as you can see from stump speeches Bleeding Heartland posted here, here, and here. Not only would I happily vote for any of them in November, I would knock doors for any of them this fall.

I didn’t expect to commit to a candidate for governor until shortly before the June 5 primary. But as a Polk County convention delegate, part of my job today will be electing district and state delegates. If no gubernatorial candidate receives at least 35 percent of the vote in the primary, a state convention will select our nominee.

Here’s why I believe John Norris should be that candidate.

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IA-Gov: Jon Neiderbach ends campaign, endorses John Norris

Jon Neiderbach will not file nominating papers for governor and will support John Norris in the Democratic primary, he told Bleeding Heartland by telephone this morning. On Monday, following a long drive back from an event in Jackson County over the weekend, Neiderbach determined he was unlikely to break through in a field with “lots of good candidates.” (He raised far less money in 2017 than did five other Democratic contenders.)

Asked whether he planned to endorse before the June 5 primary, Neiderbach said,

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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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Read more messages Fred Hubbell is testing with Iowa Democrats

Are Iowa Democrats more impressed by Fred Hubbell’s work in business and government, or by his long history as a donor and community leader? How bothered are they by criticism of Hubbell’s stances on labor issues, or by hearing that he is a wealthy former corporate executive? Are they reassured after learning more about his beliefs, philanthropy, treatment of employees, or commitment to creating jobs in Iowa?

Whereas the Hubbell campaign’s first message-testing poll last August focused on voters’ priorities and reasons to support the candidate, a lengthy survey in the field this week explores potentially damaging cases against the candidate as well as points in his favor.

A Bleeding Heartland reader recorded the nearly 20-minute call and shared the sound file. Follow me after the jump for the full questionnaire, which did not include any positive or negative statements about other candidates for governor.

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IA-Gov: Kim Reynolds below 45 percent against every Democrat

Governor Kim Reynolds leads five Democratic challengers but gains less than 45 percent support in every head to head matchup, according to the latest statewide poll by Selzer & Co. for the Des Moines Register and Mediacom. Reynolds leads State Senator Nate Boulton by 41 percent to 37 percent, with 11 percent of respondents unsure and the rest saying they would not vote or would support some other candidate. She leads Fred Hubbell by 42 percent to 37 percent, John Norris by 41 percent to 30 percent, Andy McGuire by 42 percent to 30 percent, and Cathy Glasson by 44 percent to 31 percent.

I would have expected larger leads for Reynolds, since she has much higher name recognition than the Democratic candidates, and she receives substantial news coverage for free. The governor is in positive territory on job performance (47 percent of respondents approve of her work, 33 percent disapprove, 20 percent unsure) and favorability (48 percent vies her favorably, 32 percent unfavorably, and 20 percent unsure). In addition, the Selzer poll found 49 percent of Iowans see the state moving in the right direction, just 39 percent on the wrong track. Those are decent numbers for an incumbent.

Another plus for Reynolds: she had $4.14 million in her campaign’s bank account at the end of 2017, and she’s hasn’t spent much of it so far. While Hubbell, Boulton, and Glasson have been running television commercials in the Des Moines and Cedar Rapids markets, Reynolds and acting Lieutenant Governor Adam Gregg have been touring the state, earning local media coverage while holding campaign-style events to tout their administration’s accomplishments. That “Unleashing Opportunity” tour–all billed to the state as part of the governor’s “official” duties–has stopped in Mason City, Marion, Muscatine, Davenport, Maquoketa, Ames, Fort Dodge, Storm Lake, Pella, Oskaloosa, Ottumwa, Newton, and Cedar Falls. None of those visits cost the Reynolds/Gregg campaign a dime.

Selzer surveyed 801 Iowa adults between January 28 and 31, producing a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. The respondents were not necessarily registered voters, let alone likely midterm election voters. So this representative sample of Iowa adults may or may not reflect the universe of Iowans who will cast ballots in November. CORRECTION: The gubernatorial race numbers were drawn from “the subset of 555 respondents who say they’re likely to vote in 2018. Those numbers have a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points,” Jason Noble reported. Figuring out who will vote is one of the biggest challenges for any pollster. Self-reported intentions are a common screen, but not always an accurate one.

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Kim Reynolds should have made one clean break from Terry Branstad

Governor Kim Reynolds made a strategic error by not distinguishing herself from her predecessor in any meaningful way, judging by the new Iowa poll by Selzer & Co for the Des Moines Register and Mediacom.

Changing course on even one high-profile policy could have demonstrated strong critical thinking and leadership skills. Instead, Reynolds is in effect running for a seventh Terry Branstad term. Unfortunately for her, Iowans are inclined to think it’s “time for someone new” in the governor’s office.

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"Make America America again": photos, highlights from Iowa Democrats' fall gala

Everyone could have guessed Alec Baldwin would get Iowa Democrats laughing with jokes at President Donald Trump’s expense.

But who would have predicted the serious part of the actor’s speech would evoke an even stronger response from the crowd?

Follow me after the jump for audio and highlights from Baldwin’s remarks and those of the seven Democratic candidates for governor, along with Stefanie Running‘s photographs from a memorable evening in Des Moines.

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IA-Gov: Fred Hubbell has big edge in name ID

Unusually early and extensive statewide advertising has paid off for Fred Hubbell’s gubernatorial campaign, a recent survey commissioned by Iowa Starting Line suggests. While about half the respondents said they are unsure how they will vote in the June 2018 primary, Hubbell was by far the best-known candidate among seven Democrats running for governor and had the most early support on a ballot test.

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Seven more pitches for seven Iowa Democratic candidates for governor

To all the Democrats who want to hear directly from each contender in the Iowa governor’s race before deciding how to vote next June: this post’s for you.

Since Bleeding Heartland published seven pitches for gubernatorial candidates from a major party event this summer, Todd Prichard has left the race and Ross Wilburn has joined the field.

All seven Democrats running for governor appeared at the Progress Iowa Corn Feed in Des Moines on September 10, speaking in the following order: Cathy Glasson, Fred Hubbell, John Norris, Ross Wilburn, Jon Neiderbach, Andy McGuire, and Nate Boulton. I enclose below the audio clips, for those who like to hear a candidate’s speaking style. I’ve also transcribed every speech in full, for those who would rather read than listen.

As a bonus, you can find a sound file of Brent Roske’s speech to the Progress Iowa event at the end of this post. With his focus on single-payer health care and water quality, Roske should be running in the Democratic primary. Instead, he plans to qualify for the general election ballot as an independent candidate, a path that can only help Republicans by splitting the progressive vote.

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Iowa political opinion is shifting against corporate tax giveaways

The Apple corporation’s plan to build a “state-of-the-art data center” in Waukee is attracting national attention and ridicule for a state and local incentives package worth more than $4 million to the country’s most profitable company for every long-term job created.

While Governor Kim Reynolds celebrated yet another deal to fleece taxpayers, one encouraging sign emerged last week: more Iowa politicians are willing to say out loud that this approach to economic development doesn’t pay for itself.

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IA-Gov: Prichard's exit points to challenges for others in field

State Representative Todd Prichard suspended his campaign for governor yesterday, saying “my responsibilities to my family, the Army, my constituents, as well as my small business must take priority over the many hours a day it takes to raise the sums of money required to run successfully.”

Fundraising difficulties were also a key reason Rich Leopold, the first declared Democratic candidate for governor, ended his campaign in June. The same challenge may lead one or more of the remaining seven Democrats in the field to leave the race before the filing deadline next March.

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Ross Wilburn makes eight Iowa Democratic candidates for governor

Ross Wilburn joined the field of Democratic candidates for governor today, promising to focus on health, education, and economic opportunity. In a news release enclosed in full below, the former Iowa City mayor and city council member said he would govern in an inclusive way, drawing on skills gained through community work and service in local government. He pledged to listen and build consensus, “bringing together sometimes disparate interests,” as opposed to the “fighting” and “divisions” often seen in Iowa politics at the state level.

Wilburn’s campaign is on the web at justbeiowa.com, on Twitter @letsbeiowa, and on Facebook at Ross Wilburn for Governor.

In alphabetical order, the other Democratic candidates for Iowa governor are:

Nate Boulton (website, Twitter, Facebook)
Cathy Glasson (website, Twitter, Facebook)
Fred Hubbell (website, Twitter, Facebook)
Andy McGuire (website, Twitter, Facebook)
Jon Neiderbach (website, Twitter, Facebook)
John Norris (website, Twitter, Facebook)
Todd Prichard (website, Twitter, Facebook)

Glasson is technically still in the exploratory phase, but she has hired campaign staff and spoken to audiences around the state this summer, including the Iowa Democratic Party’s Hall of Fame event last month.

Supporters are welcome to submit commentaries here advocating for candidates in Democratic primaries. Please read Bleeding Heartland’s guidelines for guest authors before writing.

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Congratulations are in order

To everyone who worked hard toward the passage of a law expanding health insurance coverage for Iowa children, which Chet Culver signed yesterday.

To the Iowa Council for International Understanding, which has posted translations of Iowa voter registration documents on its website in light of a court ruling that bars the Secretary of State’s office from providing information in any language other than English.

To Senator Chuck Grassley for looking into the spending practices of six tax-exempt “media-based ministries,” despite a large-scale public relations campaign accusing him of “religious McCarthyism.”

To Iowa Independent blogger Dien Judge, who was just appointed to the Monroe County board of supervisors, a position he will hold for the next six months.

And to Iowa City Council member Ross Wilburn, the bicyclist who won Johnson County’s annual Bike-to-Work Week Bike-Bus-Car race.

Put up a comment if you know of someone else who deserves congratulations this week.

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