Greene retiring, Goodwin running in top-targeted Iowa Senate district 44

Ending months of speculation and conflicting rumors about his plans, Republican State Senator Tom Greene confirmed on February 12 that he will not seek re-election this year. His victory over long-serving incumbent Tom Courtney in Iowa Senate district 44 was one of the biggest upsets of the 2016 legislative races.

Tim Goodwin posted on Facebook on February 12 that he will seek the GOP nomination for this Senate seat. He said he’d had an “outpouring of support and encouragement to run from local, state and national officials.” A news release touted Goodwin’s past work as an educator, experience in private business, and commitment to “lower the tax burden on working families.”

Goodwin challenged long-serving Democratic State Representative Dennis Cohoon in Iowa House district 87 in 2018. He received about 43.4 percent of the vote in that race, which covered the Burlington area (the more Democratic half of the Senate district).

Former Burlington school board vice president Bryan Bross did not respond to Bleeding Heartland’s inquiries about whether he would consider running in this district as a Republican.

Of the 32 GOP-held Iowa Senate seats, this one has the best numbers for Democrats on paper: 13,176 active registered Democrats, 10,480 Republicans, and 14,366 no-party voters, according to the latest official figures. Although Senate district 44 swung heavily from a 15-point advantage for Barack Obama in 2012 to a 10-point edge for Donald Trump in 2016, voters here supported Fred Hubbell in the 2018 governor’s race by 50.0 percent to 48.1 percent.

It’s usually harder for a party to defend an open seat than to get an incumbent re-elected. However, outgoing Senator Greene is on record voting for every extreme bill the GOP-controlled legislature has approved since 2017. Goodwin will be a mostly blank slate. In that respect, it may be more challenging for the Democratic nominee to make the case against him.

Three Democrats have been campaigning in Senate district 44 since late last summer: former Senator Courtney, Rex Troute, and Kevin Warth. All confirmed on February 12 and 13 that they will compete in the Democratic primary. You can find more background on those candidates here and here.

UPDATE: Matt Rinker announced plans to seek the Republican nomination here as well. As of March 11, he had not filed nominating papers. The deadline is 5:00 pm on March 13.

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Is door closing for other Republican candidates in IA-02?

State Senator Mariannette Miller-Meeks announced on October 7 that former Governor Terry Branstad has endorsed her candidacy in Iowa’s second Congressional district. A statement quoting the former governor and his son Eric Branstad is at the end of this post. Branstad named Miller-Meeks to lead the Iowa Department of Public Health when he took office in 2011, and she served in that role for a little more than three years.

Miller-Meeks, who was the Republican nominee in IA-02 three times previously, has been unofficially campaigning for months but only formally launched last week. The other declared GOP candidate is former U.S. Representative Bobby Schilling.

Although there is plenty of time for other contenders to announce–Miller-Meeks kicked off her 2014 campaign less than a month before the filing deadline–the signal from Branstad could discourage other Republicans from seeking this seat.

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Democrats have candidates in all top Iowa Senate targets

Fifteen months before the 2020 election, Democrats have at least one declared candidate in each of the four most vulnerable Republican-held Iowa Senate districts. That’s good news for a party that needs to start making up ground in the upper chamber, where Republicans hold 32 of the 50 seats.

Bleeding Heartland will publish a fuller review of the Iowa Senate landscape (comparable to this first look at 2020 state House races) when the field is set in more competitive districts. For now, here’s where things stand in the top Democratic targets:

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Where things stand with MidAmerican's bad solar bill

As state lawmakers wrap up their work for 2019, one of the biggest question marks surrounds MidAmerican Energy’s push to make future solar development unaffordable for most Iowa homeowners and small businesses.

Four weeks after the bill cleared the Iowa Senate, it is still hung up in the House, where a group of Republicans recently took an unusual step to signal their opposition.

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Who's who in the Iowa Senate for 2019

The Iowa Senate convened for its 2019 session on January 14 with 32 Republicans and 18 Democrats. A record eleven senators are women (six Democrats and five Republicans), up from six women in the chamber at the start of the last legislature’s work.

I enclose below details on the majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing Iowa Senate committees. Where relevant, I’ve mentioned changes since last year’s legislative session. Note that Democratic Senator Nate Boulton will serve on committees after all. Minority Leader Janet Petersen had declined to assign him to any committees last month.

A few words about demographics: all current state senators are white. To my knowledge, the only African American ever to serve in the Iowa Senate was Tom Mann, elected to two terms during the 1980s. No Latino has ever served in the Iowa legislature; in 2014, Nathan Blake fell 18 votes short of becoming the first. No Asian American has served in the Iowa Senate since Swati Dandekar resigned in 2011.

Some non-political trivia: the 50 Iowa senators include two Smiths (a Democrat and a Republican) and two Taylors (both Democrats). As for first names, there are three Marks, three Zachs, and two men each named Dan, Jim, Tim, Tom, and Jeff.

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Report highlights Iowa Medicaid horror stories; oversight bill languishes

Complaints to the Iowa Office of Ombudsman regarding privatized Medicaid increased by 157 percent last year, reflecting “systemic frustration” over cuts to health services for patients and unpaid bills for providers. Ombudsman Kristie Hirschman has “yet to be convinced” that the Department of Human Services is providing “adequate oversight” of the private insurance companies that control access to care and reimbursements, she wrote in a report released on April 2. The three outrageous examples she recounted resemble too many other tragic cases since Iowa shifted to a managed-care model for more than half a million Medicaid recipients.

Hirschman has assigned a full-time staffer to handle Medicaid-related complaints. The same issues come up again and again, more than a year after she, the state’s Long Term Care Ombudsman, and the advocacy group Disability Rights Iowa informed the DHS director about recurring problems with Medicaid managed-care organizations.

Although the ombudsman praised the legislature for “taking steps to correct some of the problems we and others have identified,” Senate Republican leaders haven’t brought up a Medicaid oversight bill that passed the Iowa House unanimously last month.

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