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Iowa Politics Roundup: 2009 in Review PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Wednesday, 30 December 2009 14:55


January 10: Matt Strawn becomes chair of the Republican Party of Iowa, defeating former State Representative Danny Carroll of Grinnell by a vote of 10-7 to replace Stewart Iverson. Strawn, the Iowa Barnstormers co-owner and former state director for John McCain, takes his dark-horse candidacy on the road in the months after the November election. Members of the Republican State Central Committee attributed Strawn's win to his ability to use fresh approaches to bring in new members and said his state listening tour helped him gain credibility in his quest for the position.

January 20: The U.S. Senate confirms former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack as the new U.S. secretary of agriculture on the same day that about 1,800 Iowa ticket-holders were among an estimated 4 million people in Washington, D.C., to see Barack Obama sworn in as the 44th president of the United States. Iowa Governor Chet Culver and Iowa's congressional delegation were among those who had front-row seats to the inauguration on the west steps of the U.S. Capitol.

January 31: Michael Kiernan, 33, is elected as the new chair of the Iowa Democratic Party -- unanimously on a voice vote by members of the 55-member State Central Committee. There was no one else nominated as chair to replace Scott Brennan. That puts the fate of Culver's re-election in 2010 in the hands of Kiernan, a Des Moines city-council member and lifelong Democrat who led Culver to victory in his first statewide race in 1998.


February 7: A bunkhouse in Atalissa operated by Henry's Turkey Service is closed by the state fire marshal for unsafe conditions, and a state investigation is launched for labor-law violations. Twenty-one adult men with mental retardation who worked for West Liberty Foods were housed in the "bunkhouse" for the past 20 years and were only paid $65 a month. The place had boarded-up windows and no heating system. The state became aware of the situation through a tip on the Department of Human Services' abuse and neglect hotline.

February 11: State Representative Kerry Burt (D-Waterloo), a firefighter and former University of Iowa star football player, is arrested at 2:34 a.m. by Ankeny police on suspicion of drunk driving, hours after attending a legislative reception in downtown Des Moines. The 2004 Lexus SUV that Burt was driving sustained an estimated $10,000 in damage after it struck a concrete barrier on Interstate 35. Burt apologized in a written statement for the incident leading to his arrest.

February 23: In what officials called the longest vote in Iowa statehouse history, House Speaker Pat Murphy at 1:09 p.m. closes the voting machine on the prevailing-wage bill after two days, 19 hours, and 14 minutes, declaring that the bill had lost. The vote was 50-48, one vote short of passage. In an unprecedented move, Murphy decided at about 5:45 p.m. on a Friday to leave the voting machine open all weekend after Democrats fell one vote shy of passing a bill that would require contractors to pay workers the same hourly wages and benefits on public projects as they would on private-sector projects in the area.


March 20: The three-member Revenue Estimating Conference lowers estimates of state revenues by $129.7 million this fiscal year and $269.9 million next fiscal year. Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal calls the 10-percent decline in state revenues "the worst I've ever seen" in his 27 years in the legislature and said everything is at risk of being cut. "It's going to be difficult and it's going to be painful," he said.

March 31: About an hour into a public hearing at the Iowa Capitol over a proposal to eliminate federal deductibility, Murphy orders state troopers to clear the four House galleries after hundreds of opponents refused to stop applauding, booing, and hissing. More than 500 people packed the Iowa Capitol and the House galleries, largely in opposition to a plan that would eliminate the ability of Iowans to deduct their federal tax payments when calculating state tax liability. The crowd booed and hissed supporters of the legislation, and applauded opponents. They were reprimanded several times by House Ways & Means Chair Paul Shomshor, but the boos and applause continued.


April 3: In a unanimous decision, the Iowa Supreme Court upholds a district-court decision in Varnum V. Brien legalizing same-sex marriages, making Iowa the third state in the nation and the first in the Midwest to legalize same-sex marriages. Republicans call for the legislature to move quickly with a constitutional amendment specifying that marriage between one man and one woman is the only legal union valid or recognized in the state. The following week, hundreds of opponents and supporters of same-sex marriage descend on the Iowa Capitol and watch as Murphy declines twice to call up the constitutional amendment. The ruling takes effect April 27.

April 15: Senate Republicans flex their muscle in denying confirmation of Gene Gessow as director of the Department of Human Services on a 31-19 vote. Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley (R-Chariton) says Senate Republicans have concerns about Gessow stemming "from a failure of him to be forthright on the Atalissa issue." The Senate also denies confirmation of Carrie LaSeur to the Iowa Power Fund Board and Shearon Elderkin to the Environmental Protection Commission.

April 26: Iowa lawmakers spend the final hours of the 2009 session hashing out final details of the state's $6-billion-plus budget after passage earlier of sweeping sex-offender legislation and a $765-million plan to bond for infrastructure. Iowa lawmakers begin their marathon push to adjourn on a Friday morning and work almost around-the-clock for the 48 hours that followed, breaking only for five and a half hours early Saturday morning. The House adjourns at 5:04 a.m. Sunday; the Senate adjourns at 5:55 a.m. Key to the state budget for fiscal year 2010 is the spending of about $680 million of Iowa's $831.6-million share of federal stimulus money for Medicaid, education, and government stabilization.


May 14: Culver signs his $830-million I-JOBS bonding package for infrastructure into law, paving the way for hundreds of infrastructure projects across the state. The plan is controversial and opposed by Republicans. Part of the plan authorizes $650 million in bonds to pay for infrastructure statewide, including $22.5 million in improvements to the Iowa Veterans Home. Culver also signs a bill to allow for $115 million in bonding for Iowa's regents institutions, including $100 million for the University of Iowa.

May 21: Culver signs the Adam Walsh Act into law, officially changing Iowa's controversial residency rule for sex offenders. Law-enforcement officials and lawmakers said the new law will be more effective. The 2,000-foot rule would only apply to offenders who committed the worst crimes against minors. The law also creates 300-foot "exclusionary zones" -- areas such as schools, child-care centers, and playgrounds -- that sex offenders will not be allowed near. Sex offenders will be prohibited from working in those places frequented by kids as well.


June 2: U.S. Senator from Nevada John Ensign denies during a visit to Iowa that he is a potential presidential contender in 2012. "I'm not running for president," said Ensign, who was the head of the Republican Policy Committee at the time. "What I'm doing is raising my profile. I believe we need new voices and fresh voices in the Republican Party who can articulate a message of our core Republican principles." Two weeks later Ensign acknowledged an extramarital affair with a campaign staffer and resigned from his position as head of the committee.

June 9: The U.S. House votes 298-119 for H.R. 2751, the Consumer Assistance to Recycle & Save Act, which established a "Cash for Clunkers" program providing vouchers to consumers who traded in old, fuel-inefficient vehicles for new, fuel-efficient ones. The CARS Act was introduced by U.S. Representatives Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) and Betty Sutton (D-Ohio). It provided consumers with incentives of $3,500 or $4,500 to purchase new, fuel-efficient vehicles, depending on the improvement in fuel economy of the new vehicle. The program was later extended.