Iowa Senate district 14 preview: Sarah Trone Garriott vs. Jake Chapman

Democratic State Senator Sarah Trone Garriott confirmed on December 1 that she will move to Dallas County and seek re-election in the new Iowa Senate district 14. Her decision sets up a potential 2022 race against Iowa Senate President Jake Chapman, the second-ranking Republican.

Chapman has not confirmed his plans. But in a December 2 Facebook post, he hinted that he will stay in the suburban swing district where he now lives. (I expected him to move to a nearby district that is safe for the GOP, as Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver is doing.)

A race between Chapman and Trone Garriott would likely be one of next year’s most expensive Iowa legislative campaigns, and would be closely watched for signs of political change in the suburbs.

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Top Iowa Senate Republican afraid to run in swing district

Iowa Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver announced on November 29 that he will seek re-election in 2022, but not in the Ankeny-based district he has represented since 2011.

In a news release, Whitver bragged about keeping his promises “to implement conservative budgets, reduce taxes and put pro-growth policies into place,” while “funding education” and supporting law enforcement “with bold reforms.”

But the top Senate Republican isn’t confident enough to let the Iowans who know him best judge his record. Instead of running in the new Senate district 21, where he now lives, Whitver will flee to safer GOP territory in Senate district 23.

Whitver’s decision closes one door for the second-ranking Senate Republican, Jake Chapman, who was also placed in a swing suburban district following redistricting.

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Four ways to resolve Iowa Senate district 16 incumbent pairing

Iowa’s new legislative maps create many more match-ups between Republican incumbents than Democrats. But two first-term Democratic senators, Claire Celsi and Sarah Trone Garriott, live in the new Iowa Senate district 16. Celsi announced in early November she’ll seek re-election in the district, which covers a blue-trending portion of Des Moines’ western suburbs.

Trone Garriott hasn’t decided how to proceed and told Bleeding Heartland in a recent telephone interview that she hasn’t ruled anything out. She has “lots of options,” she said, but “none of them are easy.”

Trone Garriott’s choice may depend in part on how Iowa Senate President Jake Chapman responds to being placed in a competitive district for the first time. Will the chamber’s second-ranking Republican stay in a district Joe Biden carried, or flee to safer nearby territory?

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Branstad vetoes will stand: not enough support for Iowa legislative special session

Governor Terry Branstad’s vetoes of education and mental health funding will stand, as the two-thirds majority needed to call a special legislative session has failed to materialize in either the Iowa House or Senate.

A special session always looked like a long-shot, given that Iowa House Republican leaders didn’t want to spend extra money on education and only reluctantly agreed to extend funding for mental health institutions. In addition, 23 of the 24 Iowa Senate Republicans voted against the supplemental spending bill. They had no stake in the compromise the governor blew apart.

Still, the outcry over school funding (including dozens of normally non-political superintendents speaking out) created an opening for Republican lawmakers. Even if they didn’t believe in the substantive value of additional education or mental health funding, they could have taken a big issue off the table for next year’s statehouse elections. So far, very few Republicans seem worried about the political fallout from not overriding Branstad’s vetoes. Democrats appear ready to remind voters at every opportunity who created the holes local education leaders are scrambling to fill.  

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Iowa Senate, House approve gas tax increase

A bill that would raise Iowa’s gasoline tax by 10 cents a gallon is on its way to Governor Terry Branstad’s desk after approval today by both chambers in the Iowa legislature. The Iowa Senate passed Senate File 257 this morning by 28 votes to 21. Sixteen Democrats and twelve Republicans voted for the bill, while ten Democrats and eleven Republicans opposed it. Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal had reportedly insisted on at least half the GOP caucus supporting a gas tax increase as a condition for bringing the bill to the floor.

A few hours later, the Iowa House took up the Senate bill (rather than the bill that cleared two House committees last week). Thirty Republicans and 23 Democrats voted yes, while 26 Republicans and 20 Democrats voted no.

Only two state legislators missed today’s votes: Republican State Senator Mark Chelgren and Republican State Representative Chip Baltimore. Baltimore voted against the House version of this bill in committee last week, while Chelgren doesn’t serve on the committees that approved the bill in the Senate. Chelgren appears to have been absent for all of today’s votes, while Baltimore was at the Capitol but left the chamber when the gas tax bill came up. Speaking to reporters later, he tried to make a virtue out of his absence: “I refuse to legitimize either the bill or the process with a vote.” Weak sauce from a guy who is widely expected to seek higher office someday.

Conservative groups are urging Branstad to veto Senate File 257, but that seems unlikely, given the governor’s recent comments on road funding. Branstad’s spokesman said today that the governor will carefully review the final bill before deciding whether to sign it.  

After the jump I’ve enclosed the roll call votes in both chambers, as well as Senate Transportation Committee Chair Tod Bowman’s opening remarks this morning, which summarize key points in Senate File 257.

Final note: several of the “no” votes came from lawmakers who may face competitive re-election campaigns in 2016. Those include Democrats Chris Brase (Senate district 46), Steve Sodders (Senate district 36), and Mary Jo Wilhelm (Senate district 26), and Republicans Dennis Guth (Senate district 4) and Amy Sinclair (Senate district 14).

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Vander Plaats group on radio in two races, conspicuously absent in one

Three-time candidate for Iowa governor Bob Vander Plaats has made news this fall primarily on the “No Wiggins” campaign trail. However, the social conservative group he runs is supporting some Republican Iowa Senate candidates as well.

Last week the FAMiLY Leader launched radio advertising campaigns in two competitive Senate races–but notably, not in the district where Vander Plaats’ longtime right-hand man Matt Reisetter is running.  

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