Throwback Thursday: When a computer malfunction may have robbed Ronald Reagan of a 1980 Iowa caucus victory

Steve Roberts is a walking encyclopedia of Iowa GOP politics since the 1970s. The Des Moines-based attorney is a past state chair of the Republican Party of Iowa as well as a longtime Republican National Committeeman. In 2008, state lawmaker Sandy Greiner suggested Roberts should be declared “king of Des Moines” after he helped beat back an effort within the RNC to take away Iowa’s first in the nation spot for the 2012 election cycle. Someone needs to persuade Roberts to write his memoirs or let a video archivist capture his entertaining stories.

I called Roberts on March 3 to ask about events at the 1980 state Republican convention, which I plan to cover in a future Throwback Thursday post. Roberts was the top Iowa GOP official at that time. While answering one of my questions, he mentioned in passing,

[George H.W.] Bush won the Iowa caucuses, but I’ll tell you now, in looking back on it, our computers broke down. We didn’t get to count a number of rural counties, and very possibly [Ronald] Reagan won.

Wait, what?

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2016 RAGBRAI route announced: A short ride across southern Iowa

After two straight years of taking bicyclists across northern parts of the state, the Des Moines Register announced this evening that the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) will cross southern Iowa from July 24 to 30. The route starting in Glenwood and ending in Muscatine will take riders “419.9 miles (third-shortest in the event’s 44-year history), with a total climb of 18,488 feet (making it the 24th flattest).”

Full details on the 2016 route are on the official RAGBRAI website. After the jump I’ve listed the overnight stops, along with daily mileage totals and feet of climb and some political trivia about places riders will visit this summer.

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Fewer women will serve in the Iowa Senate, more in Iowa House

For the past two years, ten women have served in the Iowa Senate (20 percent of the chamber’s membership). That number will fall to seven or eight by the time the newly-elected legislature begins its 2015 session.

However, the number of women who will serve in the Iowa House will grow from 25 to 27 for the next two years. Follow me after the jump for details and a full list of Democratic and Republican women who will serve in the newly-elected Iowa legislature.

Following up on prospects for increasing racial and ethnic diversity in the Iowa legislature, all five African-American state representatives were re-elected to the Iowa House this week: Helen Miller (House district 9), Ruth Ann Gaines (House district 32), Ako Abdul-Samad (House district 35), Deborah Berry (House district 62), and Phyllis Thede (House district 93). Neither party nominated any African-American candidates for the Iowa Senate, which remains all-white.  

Iowans have yet to elect a Latino candidate to the state legislature. Democrats nominated Karyn Finn in House district 60 and Maria Bribriesco in Senate district 47, but both lost to Republican incumbents on Tuesday.

As has been the case since Swati Dandekar left the Iowa Senate in 2011, the Iowa legislature includes no Asian-American lawmakers. Neither party nominated any Asian-American candidates in 2014.

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Prospects for increasing diversity in the Iowa legislature

Forty men and ten women currently serve in the Iowa Senate. No senators are African-American, Latino, or Asian-American.

Seventy-five men and 25 women currently serve in the Iowa House. Five state representatives are African-American and none are Latino or Asian-American.

Time for a look at how those numbers might change after the November election, now that primaries have determined the major-party nominees in all state legislative districts. Click here for the June 3 unofficial election results and here for the full list of candidates who filed to run in the primaries.

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Highlights from this year's Iowa Senate votes on Branstad nominees

During the 2014 legislative session, the Iowa Senate confirmed all but a handful of Governor Terry Branstad’s more than 200 nominees for state boards and commissions. It’s not unusual for senators to vote down one or two appointees, but this year the Senate confirmed everyone who came up for a vote on the floor.

The only close call was former Iowa House Republican Nick Wagner, confirmed to the Iowa Utilities Board last month with just one vote to spare. Branstad originally named Wagner to the three-member utilities board in 2013 but pulled his nomination when it became clear that senators would not confirm him. Branstad named Wagner to that board anyway, right after the Senate adjourned for the year in 2013. By the time his nomination came up for consideration this year, a couple of factors that worked against him were no longer relevant. Former State Senator Swati Dandekar had resigned from the board to run for Congress, so there would no longer be two of three members from Marion (a Cedar Rapids suburb). Furthermore, Branstad named attorney Sheila Tipton to replace Dandekar, so senators could no longer object to the lack of a lawyer on the Iowa Utilities Board.

Still, most of the Democratic caucus opposed Wagner’s nomination. State Senator Rob Hogg cited the nominee’s support for a bad nuclear power bill that the legislature considered a few years back. Meanwhile, State Senator Matt McCoy (who incidentally wanted to pass the nuclear bill) noted that as a key Iowa House Republican on budget matters, Wagner “was not willing to listen” and “took very difficult and very hard-line positions.” After the jump I’ve posted the roll call on the Wagner nomination; 11 Democrats joined all 24 Republicans to confirm him.

As in recent years, the governor withdrew a handful of nominees who were not likely to gain at least 34 votes (a two-thirds majority) in the upper chamber. A few nominees for low-profile boards had to go because of party imbalance issues. Chet Hollingshead, one of seven Branstad appointees to the Mental Health and Disability Services Commission, never came up for a vote, presumably because of a theft incident Bleeding Heartland user Iowa_native described here.

I am not sure why Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal informed Branstad that Jason Carlstrom was unlikely to be confirmed as chair of the Iowa Board of Parole. The governor first appointed Carlstrom to that position in the summer of 2012, to fill out the remainder of someone else’s term. The Iowa Senate unanimously confirmed him during the 2013 legislative session. When Branstad reappointed Carlstrom to the parole board this year, I didn’t expect him to run into any trouble. I will update this post if I learn more details.

The highest-profile nominee withdrawn by Branstad was former Iowa House Republican Jamie Van Fossen, whom the governor wanted to chair the Public Employment Relations Board. Cityview’s Civic Skinny described the backstory well; I’ve posted excerpts after the jump. Van Fossen still serves on that board, having been confirmed to a full term in 2012. But the new chair will be Mike Cormack, a Republican who served four terms in the Iowa House and later worked for the State Department of Education. Senators unanimously confirmed Cormack last month. The outgoing Public Employment Relations Board chair, Jim Riordan, has alleged that the board faced political pressure from Branstad staffers to hire an employer-friendly administrative law judge.

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Iowa Senate approves cannabis oil bill

Yesterday the Iowa Senate approved by 36 votes to 12 a bill to legalize the use of medical cannabis oil for treating certain seizure conditions. You can read the full text of Senate File 2360 here. After the jump I’ve posted State Senator Joe Bolkcom’s floor statements in support of the bill, which summarize its key points and limited scope. An Iowa Senate Democratic research staffer provided a more detailed analysis of the bill here (pdf).

The roll call in the Senate Journal shows that all 26 Iowa Senate Democrats voted for the cannabis oil bill, joined by the following ten Republicans: Mike Breitbach, Mark Chelgren, Minority Leader Bill Dix, Joni Ernst, Hubert Houser, David Johnson, Tim Kapucian, Charles Schneider, Amy Sinclair, and Brad Zaun. The twelve Republicans who voted no were Bill Anderson, Jerry Behn, Rick Bertrand, Nancy Boettger, Jake Chapman, Randy Feenstra, Julian Garrett, Sandy Greiner, Dennis Guth, Ken Rozenboom, Roby Smith, and Jack Whitver. Republicans Mark Segebart and Dan Zumbach were absent.

During the floor debate, several Republicans warned that passing the bill would send the wrong message to teenagers, leading to more recreational use of marijuana. That’s hard to fathom, since the bill does not legalize smoking marijuana, even for terminally or chronically ill Iowans who could benefit from medical cannabis in that form.

Key Iowa House Republicans and Governor Terry Branstad have made clear that for now, they would consider only a bill to allow access to medical cannabis oil. I hope a study committee on broader use of medical marijuana will go forward. Senate File 2360 is a step in the right direction and will give families like this one options other than moving to Colorado. However, the bill leaves out too many suffering people.

P.S.- A sign of how far the political ground has shifted in the medical marijuana debate: Joni Ernst and Brad Zaun are in fiercely competitive GOP primaries (for U.S. Senate and IA-03, respectively). Both of them voted for this bill.

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