Republicans virtually guaranteed to pick up Iowa Senate district 1

State Senator David Johnson, the only independent to serve in the Iowa legislature in recent decades, announced today he will not seek re-election in November. He had won four previous state Senate races as a Republican and indicated last year that he planned to run for another term. However, Johnson had neither raised nor spent any money from his campaign account since January 1.

The retirement gives the GOP, which already holds 29 of the 50 seats in the upper chamber, a clear shot at picking up Senate district 1 in the state’s northwest corner. According to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, this district contains 7,304 active registered Democrats, 20,589 Republicans, and 13,333 no-party voters. Only one seat (nearby Senate district 2) is more heavily skewed toward the GOP. Brad Price, Zach Whiting, and Jesse Wolfe are competing for the GOP nomination in Johnson’s district. Democrats did not field a candidate here.

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David Johnson to seek re-election as independent in Iowa Senate district 1

Declaring the two-party system “badly broken,” State Senator David Johnson announced this morning that he will seek re-election as an independent in Iowa Senate district 1 next year. The former Republican won his first state House race in 1998 and was a successful candidate for the state Senate four times, serving for a decade as an assistant leader of the GOP caucus. He left the party in June 2016 to protest the nomination of Donald Trump as president.

In a statement enclosed in full below, Johnson said, “Politics in Des Moines has reached a bitterly partisan tipping point. Principle must come before party.” He added that “constituents of all political stripes have encouraged him to run again,” and that the “storied history of the House and Senate includes legislators who have not been affiliated with major parties.” According to Johnson, the last candidate to win an Iowa Senate race as an independent was William Schmedika in 1923.

Johnson didn’t face an opponent in his last two Senate races, but next year’s campaign is sure to be a hard-fought battle.

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Iowa Democrats face incredibly difficult path back to legislative majorities (part 1)

Many Iowa Democrats expect to have the wind at their backs for the 2018 elections, due to surging progressive activism, an unpopular Republican president, and backlash against GOP lawmakers who used their power this year to take rights away from hundreds of thousands of workers, lower wages for tens of thousands more, and undermine protections for those who suffer workplace injuries.

It’s too early to predict the political climate next fall, but Democrats need to hope for favorable external conditions as well as strong recruits and well-run campaigns. New calculations of last year’s presidential election results by state legislative district point to a very steep climb back to 51 seats in the Iowa House and 26 seats in the Senate. This post will survey the terrain in the upper chamber.

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Iowa Senate Democrats give David Johnson seat on Natural Resources

Former Republican State Senator David Johnson will remain an independent during the Iowa legislature’s 2017 session, but he will not be entirely shut out of committee work. William Petroski reported for the Des Moines Register this weekend that Democrats offered Johnson one of their positions on the Natural Resources Committee, recognizing his work on issues in that committee’s jurisdiction. In recent years, Johnson has been the leading Republican advocate for increasing conservation spending in the state budget as well as for raising the sales tax to fill the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund.

Johnson quit the Republican Party in June to protest the nomination of Donald Trump for president. He had occasionally found himself at odds with this GOP colleagues before then. For instance, he supported the unsuccessful Democratic effort to stop Medicaid privatization and later voted for a Democratic bill on stronger Medicaid oversight.

First elected to the Iowa House in 1998 and to the Senate in 2002, Johnson told Petroski he hasn’t decided whether to run for re-election in Senate district 1 next year. Zach Whiting, a staffer for U.S. Representative Steve King, announced in August that he will run in Johnson’s district, which is the GOP’s second-safest seat in the state. The latest figures from the Secretary of State’s office show Senate district 1 contains just 7,900 active registered Democrats, 21,374 Republicans, and 13,574 no-party voters. The five counties in the district voted for Trump by wide margins in November. The GOP nominee received 81.4 percent in Lyon, 78.8 percent in Osceola, 68.2 percent in Clay, 65.5 percent in Palo Alto, and 65.2 percent in Dickinson.

Despite having only one committee assignment for the coming legislative session, Johnson sounds content with his new independent status:

“I have made some votes in the past that I wasn’t comfortable with, and I don’t believe really represented the district that I am honored to represent,” Johnson told The Des Moines Register. “I am free now to really follow my conscience and my constituents. We always talk about how you should put your district first. Well, I can now because I represent everybody. I don’t represent Republicans here. That has created quite a furor among some Republican leaders, and that’s fine.”

According to legislative records cited by Petroski, an independent hasn’t served in the Iowa Senate since 1925 or in the Iowa House since 1972.

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Double payback: Steve King staffer will challenge GOP Senator David Johnson

Zach Whiting, a staffer for U.S. Representative Steve King, will run for the Iowa Senate in 2018 against Republican State Senator David Johnson, Tom Lawrence reported today for nwestiowa.com. Whiting told Lawrence, “David Johnson’s decision to leave the Republican Party has left his constituents without a representative, without an effective representative.” Johnson announced on June 7 that he was changing his registration to no-party because of Donald Trump’s “racist remarks and judicial jihad.” I assume he will rejoin the GOP soon after the November election, though he has not promised to do so.

Lawrence’s article did not mention another likely motivation for Whiting’s bid: Johnson supported and donated to Iowa Senate colleague Rick Bertrand’s challenge to King in the fourth Congressional district this year. King won just under 65 percent of the Republican primary vote. Johnson later told the Sioux City Journal he would support Bertrand for Congress again, adding, “There is too much blind loyalty to Steve King.”

Follow me after the jump for more about the political make-up of Iowa Senate district 1, background on both candidates, and first thoughts on Whiting’s chances.

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