# Ross Wilburn



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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