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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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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What the Iowa Democratic Party needs to do ASAP

Amber Gustafson is a progressive activist and was the 2018 Democratic candidate in Iowa Senate district 19. -promoted by Laura Belin

Dear Fellow Iowa Democrats,

It’s a new year and with that comes new perspectives and new outlooks.

In November of 2020, I put my name forward to run for Iowa Democratic Party chair and with it I shared a plan to help our party regain our footing in our state. It was with determination and optimism that I stepped forward to offer my services to our party. But since my initial announcement, my family’s circumstances have come to bear on my plans for 2021.

It is with great regret that I have chosen to withdraw my name for consideration as chair of the Iowa Democratic Party.

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Iowa Senate Democrats' wrongheaded thinking

Jon Green is a former mayor of Lone Tree, where he resides. He works in information technology. -promoted by Laura Belin

The Iowa Senate Democratic caucus has penis problems.

To wit: State Senator Nate Boulton. During his 2018 gubernatorial bid, Boulton was credibly accused of sexually assaulting three women. Brianne Pfannenstiel of the Des Moines Register broke the story. Pfannenstiel, quoting Boulton:

“I don’t have the same recollection,” he told the Register. “But I am not going to offer any additional context to this, other than to say if someone’s perspective is that it was inappropriate and I crossed a line and I misread a situation in a social setting, I do apologize.”

He declined to comment on or discuss the specific incidents, saying, “I think if I add context it quickly becomes victim-blaming, and I don’t want to go down that path.”

Only a lawyer could find that statement satisfying. While Boulton did drop out of the governor’s race soon after, he retained his Iowa Senate seat.

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Iowa elections director misstates law in warning to county auditors

A showdown is brewing between the Iowa Secretary of State’s office and county auditors planning to make it easier for voters to submit accurate and complete absentee ballot request forms for the 2020 general election.

A top deputy to Secretary of State Paul Pate warned county auditors this week not to mail absentee ballot request forms with the voter personal identification number (PIN) field filled in.

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A last-minute Republican double-cross on absentee voting in Iowa

UPDATE: Governor Kim Reynolds signed this legislation on June 30.

Iowa Republicans have perfected the art of sneaking attacks on constitutional rights or the rule of law into budget bills shortly before adjourning for the year.

Last-minute budget amendments in 2019 sought to shorten the Iowa Supreme Court chief justice’s term, increase the governor’s influence over selecting judges, restrict medical care for transgender Iowans, and stop Planned Parenthood from obtaining sex education grants. Those measures spawned four lawsuits.

Judges will surely hear challenges to legislation Republicans enacted while burning the midnight oil this past weekend. A forthcoming post will address a 24-hour waiting period for abortion, approved during the session’s closing hours.

This post focuses on provisions that would make it harder for Iowans to vote by mail. Marc Elias, one of the country’s most prominent Democratic election lawyers, promised on June 14, “This will not stand. We will sue.”

Don’t bet against him. A Polk County District Court already struck down similar language in an administrative rule as “irrational, illogical, and wholly unjustifiable.”

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