Today is State Representative Curt Hanson’s birthday. Six years ago at this time, he was in the thick of the first state legislative campaign following the Iowa Supreme Court’s Varnum v Brien ruling on marriage equality. Hanson’s win in a highly competitive House district was probably the second most important special election in recent Iowa history (after Liz Mathis’s victory in November 2011, which protected the Democratic Iowa Senate majority).
Kicking off an occasional “throwback Thursday” series, Bleeding Heartland takes a look at Hanson’s first campaign for the Iowa House.
Notably, Hanson built up a strong advantage in early voting and beat Burgmeier in Jefferson County by about 600 votes. In addition, two social conservatives ran as third-party candidates, and the 282 combined votes they received was greater than Hanson’s 127-vote margin over Burgmeier. The spoiler candidates were unhappy that Burgmeier didn’t talk much about abortion and gay marriage during the campaign.
House district 90 is likely to be one of the most competitive races in the state. If you living within striking distance of the area, please consider volunteering for Hanson’s campaign this summer and fall. That said, I like Hanson’s chances of holding the seat this November. Burgmeier couldn’t win a low-turnout special election during a severe recession when the GOP base was all fired up about the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage. Despite having been elected three times as a supervisor, Burgmeier lost his own county by a sizable margin.
This week Hanson, a retired driving instructor, co-chaired a conference committee to resolve differences between the Iowa House and Senate bills to restrict texting while driving.
Hot topics on this blog during the second half of the year included the governor’s race, the special election in Iowa House district 90, candidates announcing plans to run for the state legislature next year, the growing number of Republicans ready to challenge Representative Leonard Boswell, state budget constraints, and a scandal involving the tax credit for film-making.
I expected 2009 to be a relatively quiet year in Iowa politics, but was I ever wrong.
The governor’s race heated up, state revenues melted down, key bills lived and died during the legislative session, and the Iowa Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in Varnum v Brien became one of this state’s major events of the decade.
After the jump I’ve posted links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of Iowa politics from January through June 2009. Any comments about the year that passed are welcome in this thread.
Although I wrote a lot of posts last year, there were many important stories I didn’t manage to cover. I recommend reading Iowa Independent’s compilation of “Iowa’s most overlooked and under reported stories of 2009,” as well as that blog’s review of “stories that will continue to impact Iowa in 2010.”
A group opposed to same-sex marriages failed to secure victory for Republicans in Iowa this week, but the massive injection of out-of-state money on the issue foreshadows what’s to come in next year’s elections, political scholars said Wednesday.
Despite the loss, the National Organization for Marriage succeeded in making gay marriage an issue, the head of the group said Wednesday. He vowed that its “Reclaim Iowa Project” will remain active in the 2010 state elections.
I’m sure “making gay marriage an issue” was just the kind of success the NOM’s generous donors (whoever they are) were looking for. Why, Iowans in House district 90 might never have realized same-sex couples could marry if not for the NOM’s major ad campaign.
The marriage group did not lose the race for Burgmeier, said Chuck Hurley, a former Republican legislator and now president of the Iowa Family Policy Center, a group against gay marriage. He said the issue will be a major topic in the 2010 elections.
“Marriage won the day,” Hurley said of the election. “I think it was a huge issue in the campaign.”
I don’t want to get too cocky. Tuesday’s election could have gone the other way if not for the outstanding GOTV effort by organizers supporting Hanson. But the fact is, a special election a few months after the Iowa Supreme Court ruling went into effect is exactly the kind of race likely to be disproportionately influenced by same-sex marriage. In Vermont and Massachusetts, the electoral backlash against supporters of marriage equality was short-lived. If the Iowa Family Policy Center (which designated a staffer to work on Burgmeier’s campaign) and nearly $90,000 worth of NOM tv ads couldn’t leverage this issue into a victory on Tuesday, I don’t think Republicans will get far running against gay marriage 14 months from now.
Today’s the big day in Iowa House district 90. Latest news from the race:
Beth Dalbey wrote a good feature on the campaign for Iowa Independent. I didn’t realize that Republican candidate Stephen Burgmeier ran for Jefferson County supervisor as a Democrat and later as an independent before switching to the Republican Party.
One Iowa and the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa Action Fund filed a formal ethics complaint against the National Organization for Marriage with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board.
Post any thoughts or election predictions in this thread. I am having trouble making a prediction. This race “should” go to Burgmeier because low-turnout special elections favor the opposition party, and because conservative interest groups have advertised much more heavily in the district. On the other hand, I hear field organizers supporting Curt Hanson on the ground have been doing a tremendous job. I will update this post with my final prediction this afternoon.
This is primarily a local race. So what will the outcome say about the larger political landscape? Republicans have the most to gain and the least to lose. If Burgmeier fails, they can point to the Democratic advantage in the district. If he wins, it will be another boost for GOP voters. It’ll look like a rejection of Culver and the Democrats’ policies.
Still, another State Fair will have come and gone before the general election. Both parties will have a chance to learn from any mistakes in this race, and voters will have long forgotten them. Victory will be as sweet as cotton candy and probably just as long-lasting.
The state of the economy next fall will be much more important for the 2010 Iowa legislative races than whatever happens in House district 90 today.
UPDATE: Trying to be optimistic, but unfortunately I think Burgmeier will win this narrowly (53-47).
Speaking of gay marriage, the National Organization for Marriage has spent nearly $90,000 trying to get Republican Stephen Burgmeier elected. It’s an astronomical sum to spend on advertising in a rural Iowa House district. The group will have to do things differently if they want to get involved in our statehouse races next year:
An out-of-state anti-gay marriage group will likely need to form its own Political Action Committee and disclose its donors if it continues its Iowa activities, a state official warned today. […]
NOM will likely need to disclose future donors if it continues its Iowa activities, Charlie Smithson, the head of the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, warned NOM in a letter today.
“I’m not as much concerned with this particular race as I am that Iowa is not going to become a dumping ground for undisclosed campaign contributions,” Smithson said in an interview. “Anyone can play the game here, but they are going to play within the rules.”
If you live in or near House district 90, let us know what you’ve seen in terms of advertising, yard signs, or door hangers for either candidate. I’m also interested to know whether either party has been aggressively contacting the large number of Green and Libertarian voters in the Fairfield area. The Greens would be more inclined to support Democrat Curt Hanson, while I could see Libertarians going either way in this race.
Neither Republican Stephen Burgmeier nor Democrat Curt Hanson has highlighted same-sex marriage rights during the campaign for the September 1 special election in Iowa House district 90. However, a group opposing marriage equality is funding an intense advertising campaign in the district.
Chase Martyn of Iowa Independent noticed that the “National Organization for Marriage has purchased $86,060 worth of television and radio ads” to help Burgmeier. That is a major ad buy for an Iowa legislative election. Martyn uploaded an independent expenditure report (pdf file) that the group filed with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, but that didn’t include information about the content or placement of the ads.
If you have seen or heard any advertising paid for by National Organization for Marriage, please post a comment in this thread or e-mail me at desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com with as much detail as possible about the message. How many different versions of the ads are running? Do the commercials mention any issues besides overturning the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage? Do they mainly support Burgmeier, who is under attack from a right-wing candidate? Or do they also attack Hanson, and if so, using what kind of language?
This year Republican leaders in the legislature and the state party apparatus have talked much more about economic and fiscal issues than about the religious right’s agenda. Even in the weeks following the Iowa Supreme Court’s Varnum v Brien ruling, the state party said little about gay marriage.
“[Burgmeier] has avoided the words pro-life in everything he says. He’s avoided the fact that he’s a Catholic and belongs to a faith community. I take exception to that. His handlers are telling him to do that.” […]
“The [Republican] party told me they don’t want to focus on pro-life,” he said. “So I either run again as a third party or shut up. Shut up and let a coward run as a Democrat and someone I consider a sellout run as a Republican. I stood up and said I will run.”
The Iowa GOP will likely repeat the district 90 playbook across the state next year, especially if Burgmeier wins on September 1. Social conservatives won’t appreciate being marginalized. If Democratic candidate Curt Hanson prevails in district 90, the religious right-wingers will probably be even more angry, claiming that social issues could have won the day.
This argument is sure to continue during the Republican gubernatorial primary, which will come down to Bob Vander Plaats against someone backed by the business wing (Terry Branstad, Chris Rants or Christian Fong). Vander Plaats believes the GOP can win by embracing “core principles” and “bold-color conservatism that inspires faith, family and freedom.”
Two and a half weeks before the September 1 special election in Iowa House district 90, Republican Stephen Burgmeier’s campaign launched its first television commercial:
The producers fit quite a few misleading statements into one 30-second ad. The visual suggests Iowa has taken on “a billion dollar debt,” and the voice-over emphasizes the word “billion,” even though the I-JOBS infrastructure bonding initiative was for $830 million.
Next, Burgmeier’s ad shows a man saying, “That’s money taxpayers are on the hook for,” implying that taxes will go up to repay the debt. In fact, existing gaming revenues will provide the approximately $43.2 million in annual payments on the bonds.
The ad begins with a voice-over asserting that “red ink is rising in Des Moines” and later shows a woman saying, “Stop the red ink.” Those statements, along with the cartoon of red ink drowning Culver and the capitol, wrongly suggest that the infrastructure borrowing is deficit spending.
The second part of the ad promises that Burgmeier will vote for a new budget law “to make it harder to waste tax dollars.” I’d like more details about how such a law would work, and I’d also like Burgmeier to specify which of these investments he considers wasteful.
The ad promises Burgmeier will “serve as a check and balance to Governor Culver’s runaway spending” and closes by saying Burgmeier will bring “balance and spending restraint back to our government.” Iowa Republicans may believe Culver is very unpopular in district 90, or they may have decided to run against him in order to rile up their base. It’s notable that the ad never uses the word “Republican” and doesn’t identify the candidate’s political party. I guess the outside interest groups running the Burgmeier campaign don’t have much confidence in the Republican brand to carry the day.
The Iowa GOP didn’t announce the size of the ad buy, which networks would run the ad or which programs have been targeted. If you live in the viewing area for this district, let us know whether you’ve seen the ad, and if so during which television shows. If you prefer not to post a comment here, you can send me a confidential e-mail at desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com. Please also report on any radio ads you’ve heard.
I’m curious to see whether this will be Burgmeier’s only television commercial or if his campaign will mention other issues, including same-sex marriage, in later ads.
Having spent no time in this district lately, I have no idea whether Burgmeier or Democrat Curt Hanson has an edge. Political scientists will tell you that as a general rule, the party out of power does well in low-turnout by-elections and special elections. Both Democrats and Republicans are working hard to get out the vote in district 90. State GOP Chairman Matt Strawn and some other Republicans view this race as a must-win.
When your party suffers a net loss of seats in the state House and Senate for four elections in a row, it’s time to try something different. In the case of the Republican Party of Iowa, that apparently means outsourcing operations for the September 1 special election in Iowa House district 90.
In a July 31 e-mail blast, Iowa GOP chairman Matt Strawn encouraged activists to contact “Matt Gronewald, our Legislative Majority Fund Director,” if they would like to volunteer for Stephen Burgmeier, the Republican candidate in district 90. However, Burgmeier’s campaign website tells the real story:
The special election in district 90 won’t change the balance of power in the Iowa House, but it is the first high-profile race since Republicans selected Strawn to be state chairman in January. Strawn can’t be too confident about the party’s ability to fund and manage a statehouse campaign if he is giving outside interest groups control over this race.
Born and raised on an Iowa family farm, Hanson has been living and teaching in Fairfield for over 43 years. He attended the University of Northern Iowa and received his masters from the University of Iowa. He and his wife, Diane, have two grown children. They are members of First United Methodist Church and Curt is also a member of the Fairfield Kiwanis Club.
“My parents taught me the importance of hard work, helping neighbors, and service to community. Those Iowa values will guide my work as the next State Representative for District 90,” said Hanson. “My priorities are simple: balance the state budget, create good-paying jobs in key industries like renewable energy, make health care more affordable for middle class families, and ensure our kids have the education and skills they need to get a job in these tough economic times.”
Hanson is a retired teacher and driver education instructor in Fairfield. He has been selected by his community as Fairfield Teacher of the Year and has been selected by his peers to serve those in the teaching profession at both the local and state levels. He was also runner-up National Driver Education Teacher of the Year and has served as President and Business Manager of the Iowa Association of Safety Education.
“As State Representative, I can promise the people of Jefferson, Van Buren, and Wapello Counties two things – I’ll work hard and I’ll always listen to you,” concluded Hanson.
Republicans would like to win this special election for many reasons, not least to fire up their base about the potential to demagogue against committed same-sex Iowa couples next year.
If you live in House district 90 or volunteer during this campaign, please consider posting diaries about your view from the ground. Scanning or transcribing campaign ads and fliers would be great material for a post. It only takes a minute to register for a Bleeding Heartland account. Or, you can e-mail me confidentially about what you’re seeing (desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com). I’m curious to know whether The Iowa Republican’s Al Swearengen was correct about Ed Failor’s staffers from Iowans for Tax Relief running Burgmeier’s campaign operation.