Six themes from the Iowa legislature's opening day in 2021

The Iowa legislature’s 2021 session began on January 11 with the usual appeals to work together for the good of Iowans. But potential for bipartisan work on high-profile issues appears limited, as the Republicans who enjoy large majorities in the state House and Senate have quite different priorities from their Democratic counterparts.

At the end of this post, I’ve posted the substantive portions of all opening remarks from legislative leaders, as prepared for delivery. The speakers focused on the following matters:

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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2021

The Iowa House opened its 2021 session on January 11 with 59 Republicans and 41 Democrats, a big improvement for the GOP from last year’s 53-47 split.

The House members include 69 men and 31 women (21 Democrats and ten Republicans), down from a record 34 women in 2019 and 33 women last year.

Six African Americans (Democrats Ako Abdul-Samad, Ruth Ann Gaines, Ras Smith, Phyllis Thede, and Ross Wilburn, and Republican Eddie Andrews) will serve in the legislature’s lower chamber. Republican Mark Cisneros is the first Latino elected to the Iowa legislature, and Republican Henry Stone is only the second Asian American to serve in the House. The other 92 state representatives are white.

Democrat Liz Bennett is the only out LGBTQ member of the Iowa House. To my knowledge, Abdul-Samad (who is Muslim) is the only lawmaker in either chamber to practice a religion other than Christianity.

I’ve posted details below on the Iowa House majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing House committees. Where relevant, I’ve noted changes since last year.

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Top Iowa Republicans won't rule out gerrymandering next political map

Iowa Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver and House Speaker Pat Grassley declined on January 7 to rule out any partisan amendment to Iowa’s next map of political boundaries.

During a forum organized by the Iowa Capitol Press Association, both GOP leaders promised to follow the law that has governed Iowa’s redistricting process since 1980. Under that law, the state House and Senate cannot amend the first map of Congressional and legislative boundaries produced by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, or the second map if the first is rejected.

However, the third map is subject to amendment, sparking fears among many Democrats that Republicans could vote down the first two proposals, then change the nonpartisan third map to a gerrymander. Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls highlighted that “loophole” during the forum and asked the GOP leaders to commit to not amending a third map.

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Final look at the 2020 Iowa House landscape, with ratings

Politics watchers from around the country are watching Iowa’s U.S. Senate race today, but arguably the battle for the Iowa House is more important for our state’s future. Democrats need a net gain of four seats for a majority or three seats for a 50-50 chamber that would block the worst excesses of the Republican trifecta.

The 2020 playing field is even larger than usual, in part because Democrats finally have the resources to compete with Republicans in the battleground House districts.

I enclose below a brief final look at each House district, with the latest voter registration figures (as of November 2), absentee ballot totals (as of November 3), campaign spending by both parties, and recent voting history. This post from early October has more background on each campaign, which influenced my ratings.

Democrats have good prospects to win control of the chamber, with many potential targets. If Republicans cling to a majority, it will probably be with only 51 seats.

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A clear choice: Todd Prichard over Craig Clark in Iowa House district 52

Floyd County Democrat Susan Nelson reviews the campaign in the Iowa House minority leader’s district. -promoted by Laura Belin

An election is an opportunity for the two dominant political parties to show us their visions for the future, explain the policies they hope to enact, and present us with two competent people to choose from. In theory, the candidates representing the Republicans and the Democrats should be the best the parties can come up with for the districts they will represent.

That is the ideal, but then there is the real world. In the race for Iowa House District 52 Representative, the Republican candidate is so far from ideal that his own party tried to keep him off the ballot.

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