# Tom Miller



Governor's plan would gut independence of Iowa Consumer Advocate

First in a series analyzing Governor Kim Reynolds’ plan to restructure state government.

Attorney General Brenna Bird would gain direct control over the office charged with representing Iowa consumers on issues related to utilities, under Governor Kim Reynolds’ proposed restructuring of state government.

House Study Bill 126, which lays out the governor’s plan over more than 1,500 pages, contains several provisions undermining the independence of the Office of Consumer Advocate. Iowa House State Government Committee chair Jane Bloomingdale introduced the legislation on February 1.

The Office of Consumer Advocate’s mission is to represent consumers on issues relating to gas and electric utilities and telecommunications services, “with the goal of maintaining safe, reliable, reasonably-priced, and nondiscriminatory utility services.” Much of the office’s work involves matters before the Iowa Utilities Board, which regulates the state’s investor-owned utilities, Alliant Energy and MidAmerican Energy.

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Rita Hart has her work cut out for her

Seventh in a series interpreting the results of Iowa’s 2022 state and federal elections.

The Iowa Democratic Party’s State Central Committee elected Rita Hart as the next party chair on January 28 by 34 votes to fourteen for Brittany Ruland and one for Bob Krause.

Hart promised to focus “squarely on helping our party begin winning elections again,” and had submitted a detailed plan (enclosed in full below) to make that happen. She touted her experience as a former state senator who had won two races in a district Donald Trump carried, raised $5 million as a 2020 Congressional candidate, and outperformed Joe Biden by more than Iowa’s other three Democrats running for U.S. House that year.

When outlining her vision for Iowa Democrats, Hart acknowledged, “We cannot fix everything in one two-year cycle. We need to be realistic about what can be achieved in two-year and four-year time frames.”

She and the rest of the state party’s new leadership team—first vice chair Gregory Christensen, secretary Paula Martinez, and treasurer Samantha Groark—take over as the Iowa Democratic Party is at its lowest ebb in decades. The party has no representation in either chamber of Congress for the first time since 1956, no representation in the U.S. House for the first time since 1996, only one statewide elected official for the first time since 1982, and its smallest contingents in the Iowa House and Senate since the 1960s.

A quick review of the most pressing problems:

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Iowa Democrats can win again—and soon

Zach Meunier is the previous campaign manager of Rob Sand for Iowa, Rita Hart for Iowa, and Dave Loebsack for Congress.

Enough with the doom-and-gloom.

Campaign managers are not optimists by nature. One of my professional mentors described a campaign manager’s job as “thinking of all the ways you can lose, then working every day to stop that from happening.” So I have found myself in a very strange position in the last month, as the guy arguing that joy cometh in the morning for Iowa Democrats.

Yes, it has been a brutal decade for Iowa Democrats. 2022 was the culmination. Two historical trends that favored the GOP converged in the same year. For the first time since 1986, Republicans had an incumbent governor and U.S. senator running for re-election together, a powerful combination. For the first time since 1962, it was a midterm for a Democratic president who had not won Iowa.

Those factors contributed to a red wave cresting in Iowa when it failed to materialize in most other states. But what lies ahead?

After spending a few weeks looking under the hood of the election data we have available, I have reached one inescapable conclusion. There is a clear path for Democrats to win again in Iowa at all levels: statewide, Congressional, and legislative. In important ways, Iowa still bucks national trends of partisan voting, and the makeup of the Iowa electorate is not locked in stone.

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Did low turnout sink Iowa Democratic candidates?

Fourth in a series interpreting the results of Iowa’s 2022 state and federal elections.

Many people have asked why Iowa experienced the red wave that didn’t materialize across most of the country. While no one factor can account for the result, early signs point to turnout problems among groups that favor Democratic candidates.

Although this year’s turnout was the second-highest in absolute numbers for an Iowa midterm, participation was down about 8 percent compared to the 2018 general election. The number of Iowans who cast ballots this year (1,230,416) was closer to the 2014 level (1,142,311) than to the high-water mark of 1,334,279, reached four years ago.

My impression is that the decline in turnout was not evenly distributed, but was more pronounced among registered Democrats than among Republicans, who have long been more reliable midterm voters in Iowa.

That alone could account for the narrow defeats of U.S. Representative Cindy Axne (who lost to Zach Nunn in the third Congressional district by 2,145 votes, a margin of 50.3 percent to 49.6 percent), Attorney General Tom Miller (lost to Brenna Bird by 20,542 votes, 50.8 percent to 49.1 percent), and State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald (lost to Roby Smith by 30,922 votes, or 51.3 percent to 48.7 percent).

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Self-governance: It could be worse. It should be better

Herb Strentz was dean of the Drake School of Journalism from 1975 to 1988 and professor there until retirement in 2004. He was executive secretary of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council from its founding in 1976 to 2000.

“It could be worse.”

At the start of 2022, friends may have uttered those four words to console or comfort us.

As the midterm elections approach, those four words may be prophetic.

Every election in a democracy —from township to presidency — is threatened by voters who are ill-informed, misinformed, and/or uninformed.

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