Iowa Politics Roundup: Census Numbers Confirm That Iowa Will Lose Congressional Seat Print
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Friday, 24 December 2010 05:21

It’s confirmed: New U.S. Census Bureau numbers show that Iowa will go from having five congressional seats to four.

Iowa is one of 10 states that will see a loss of congressional seats. Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania will also lose one seat apiece. Two states – New York and Ohio – will each lose two seats.

The big winner was Texas, which will gain four seats. Florida will gain two seats, while Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Utah, Washington, and South Carolina will all gain one.

The changes will take effect for the 2012 election, and the reapportioned Congress will convene in January 2013. Beginning in February and wrapping up by March 31, the Census Bureau will release demographic data to the states on a rolling basis so state governments can start the redistricting process.

According to the Census, Iowa’s population broke 3 million in the past decade. The state had 3,046,355 residents as of April 1, up 120,031 or 4.1 percent from the April 1, 2000, population. The state ranked 36th in its numeric growth of population and 40th based on its percentage change.

Meanwhile, the U.S. population grew 9.7 percent in the past decade, to 308,745,538.

Branstad’s Inauguration Expected to Double Attendance

Governor-elect Terry Branstad’s January 14 inauguration and ball will continue with the tradition of his previous ones, but they are expected to be much more highly attended, his inaugural director said.

The event is expected to draw thousands of Iowans and many big-name Republicans – including potential 2012 presidential candidates, although none has officially confirmed plans to attend. Between 2,000 and 3,000 individuals are expected to attend the inaugural ball; more than 1,000 attended in the past. Invitations to the inaugural ball will be sent out Monday, December 27.

“It will be the same [as previous inaugurations], but I think it’ll be more largely attended because of the recent election and all of the excitement,” said Margaret Hough, Branstad’s inaugural director who also served as his inaugural director in 1991 and 1995. “Again, this is a governor who has been out of office and going back in. There are the new supporters and those who have been involved a long time.”

Tickets to the inaugural ball are $75, but the total cost of the event has not been finalized because items are still being purchased and money is still being raised, Hough said. The inaugural committee pays for the event. Hough said other details for the inauguration and ball also are being finalized, such as the performers for the ball.

The event will be a two-day celebration that will start with a non-ecumenical “service of dedication” on January 13 at St. Ambrose Cathedral in Des Moines.

The inauguration will be January 14 at Hy-Vee Hall in downtown Des Moines. The day’s events include:

• The commissioning ceremony at 8 a.m. The Iowa National Guard and Iowa colonels will preside over the meeting in which about 30 longtime friends, neighbors, and others will receive a special pin for their service and a certificate that deems them honorary colonels. Those individuals “have gone above and beyond the call of duty,” Hough said. “This has been a big year, and he’s had a terrible schedule, and these people have always been willing to help.”

• A joint session of the Iowa Senate and House of Representatives immediately following the ceremony. Then, Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady will give the oath of office to Branstad and Lieutenant Governor-elect Kim Reynolds, a Republican from Osceola. The Heartland Youth Choir will sing. Linda Juckette, a longtime friend of the Branstads, will sing the National Anthem.

• An open house at Terrace Hill from noon to 2 p.m. Branstad and Reynolds will not be present. There will be no admission to the governor’s mansion. “It’s just a chance for people who are in town who have never been there to walk through,” Hough said.

• An open house at the Iowa Capitol from 2 to 4 p.m. Several musical groups will perform, including the fifth- and sixth-grade choirs from Lake Mills, Branstad’s hometown. Some state offices will be open for tours. Branstad and wife, Chris, will attend at 3:30 p.m.

• A salute to the Iowa National Guard at 4 p.m. in the Capitol rotunda. Branstad will give a special message to families of deployed service members and thank soldiers for their service.

• The inaugural ball from 7:30 p.m. to midnight at Hy-Vee Hall. The event is open to the public with the purchase of a $75 ticket. The Iowa State Patrol will provide security at the event.

Branstad and Reynolds have formed the Branstad-Reynolds Inaugural Scholarship Committee, and a portion of ticket sales for the inaugural ball will go toward the scholarship. The annual scholarships will be awarded in three areas: for agriculture, for medical and health-related fields, and for the children of service members who have died on active duty since September 11, 2001.

Culver Makes Plans for Life After Governor’s Office

Governor Chet Culver says he hopes to continue to live in Iowa and work in the renewable-energy field after he leaves office January 14.

“I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to find a full-time position in the renewable-energy sector,” Culver said. “That’s really my top preference. I also prefer being a CEO. I really have enjoyed running a large, $6-billion entity.”

Culver said he’s had a number of discussions with individuals in the renewable-energy sector, and he’s excited about pursuing his other dreams outside of being an elected official. He also said he didn’t know if he’ll ever return to politics.

“We’ll see what the future holds,” he said. “Number one, I want to be the best father in America. I have two incredible kids. Family is first, and everything else beyond that will take care of itself.”

Culver said he wants to be remembered for his work on renewable energy during his time in office, noting that over the past four years Iowa has gone from generating 5 percent to 20 percent of its energy from wind.


Lawmakers, Branstad Show No Appetite for Gas-Tax Increase

An increase in the gas tax next legislative session seems unlikely given the state’s current political and economic state of affairs.

Both Republicans and Democrats concede that there is a growing gap between the revenue produced by the state each year for road and bridge maintenance and what is needed by the Iowa Department of Transportation to complete several much-needed infrastructure projects. However, it would be an unpopular idea to raise the gas tax in the midst of a stagnant economy.

“I do not anticipate there will be any movement on a gas tax this session just because of the economic situation that exists in Iowa,” said Representative Dave Tjepkes (R-Gowrie), a retired state trooper who will chair the House Transportation Committee next session.

Tim Albrecht, a spokesperson for Branstad, said the governor would not be in favor of a gas tax increase. “The governor does not believe we need a fuel-tax increase and does not support raising taxes during a recession,” Albrecht said.

Albrecht said Branstad still believes road projects are a priority, but he wants to fund them by finding efficiencies in the current state budget, freeing up funds for use.

Scott Newhard, executive vice president of the Associated General Contractors of Iowa, said he and his organization will push for an increase in the gas tax this year, but he is realistic about the likely results.

“I would say that the climate of the electorate in November was one that was not supportive of tax increases in general, and very skeptical of government spending,” Newhard said. “I absolutely feel that the needs of highway-infrastructure funding will be discussed, but I don’t know if they will pass a gas-tax increase this year."

The gas tax in Iowa has stayed the same since 1989. Iowa’s tax on regular gasoline is 21 cents per gallon, and its tax on ethanol-blended gasoline is 19 cents per gallon, according to the Iowa Department of Revenue. After federal taxes are figured in, Iowans currently pay 40.4 cents per gallon of gasoline, the 32nd-highest gas-tax rate in the nation, according to October figures from the American Petroleum Institute.

According to Time-21 projections submitted in 2008, there will be $3.5 billion a year in public-roadway maintenance needs in the state through the year 2026. According to the same study, Iowa is projected to generate $2 billion a year in revenues available for projects. The DOT has also found that gas-tax revenues are flattening, as the economic conditions lead motorists to drive less and as vehicles become more fuel-efficient.

Tjepkes’ counterpart on the Senate Transportation Committee, Senator Tom Rielly (D-Oskaloosa), said this revenue gap has many sources. A large part of it, however, is that gas-tax numbers have remained at a late-1980s level while construction costs have gone up over time.

Rielly said he and Tjepkes have a “great working relationship,” and that he’s hopeful they will be able to work in a bipartisan manner to improve the state’s roads. He said it’s too early for him to tell how serious discussions will be about any gas-tax increase this session due to the economy and the high turnover from November’s elections, but he wants the discussions to happen.

“I want to keep everything on the table, I want to keep the dialogue going,” said Rielly, who backed a gas-tax increase last session. “We need to have a good, solid conversation on how we get these roads fixed. We have to find out how we can do it the most efficiently with the least financial impact on Iowans.”

Suit on Retention Ballots Now Aimed at Future Elections

A move in court aimed at preventing three Iowa Supreme Court justices from leaving when their terms end Dececember 31 has been withdrawn.

“Nothing is being done that will affect the status of the anticipated vacancies in office on January 1,” Polk County District Court Judge Michael Huppert said after a court hearing. “Bottom line is: There’s nothing from my office that’s going to prevent that vacancy from taking place.”

Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Justices Michael Streit and David Baker were ousted from office in the November 2 judicial-retention election. Attorneys Thomas W. George, John P. Roehrick, and Carlton Salmons filed a lawsuit in Polk County District Court contending that the retention vote was illegal because the Iowa Constitution mandates the votes for judges be on a separate ballot.

The attorneys initially filed for a temporary injunction to prevent the three justices from leaving office next week. But Roehrick withdrew that motion, noting that state attorneys representing Secretary of State Michael Mauro, Ternus, Streit, and Baker resisted the injunction.

“Basically, the Supreme Court justices in their official positions – not Ternus, Baker and Streit – but in their official positions as justices were resisting the application for an injunction to enjoin the election results from going forward,” Roehrick said. “Since the Supreme Court’s official position was to resist that, we saw no reason to go forward with an injunction keeping the judges in office, so we withdrew it.”

The lawsuit will now focus on whether judges should be on a separate ballot in future judicial-retention elections, and it no longer has the potential to affect 2010 election results.

“We still are leaving for future litigation the issue of the constitutionality of the separate ballot for judges – district, associate and Supreme Court,” Roehrick said. “That is still the primary issue: How do we conduct those elections in Iowa in the future?”

Placing judges on a separate ballot could affect the outcome of future judicial-retention elections.

“It possibly could,” Roehrick said. “It’s going to call attention to the positions of the judiciary and [how] they really are separate and independent from legislative and executive, which they’re supposed to be.”

The names of judges up for retention are currently placed on the back of the ballot. Roehrick said he and the other two plaintiffs are asking the courts to interpret the constitution, which calls for separate ballots.

“We believe that means two ballots,” he said.

Economy a Focus, Weather a Factor in Special Election for Senate District 48

Iowa Senate District 48 candidates Joni Ernst and Ruth Smith and party leaders say overcoming the election-season hangover will be the key to victory in the January 4 special election to fill the seat left open by Lieutenant Governor-elect Reynolds.

Smith, a Lamoni Democrat, and Ernst, a Red Oak Republican, both said this week that it will be a struggle to get their messages out in the state’s largest district, especially with winter weather and the holiday season looming.

Ernst, the Montgomery County auditor, said she’s running radio and newspaper ads to spread her message in the shortened campaign period, but she will still focus mostly on person-to-person contact in the district with more than 40,000 registered voters.

“It will be difficult and what I’m relying on very heavily is personal phone calls out to the Republican constituents and voters in the district and encouraging them to go to the polls and vote,” Ernst said. “We’re sending fliers out, and I’m hoping to do some door-knocking, but because of the condensed time frame, we don’t have time to get out to all the communities.”

Ernst said she’s also expecting help from activists outside of the district. “It’s been overwhelming and wonderful,” Ernst said. “I have a lot of support from the Republican party from the local level all the way to the state level and from elected officials.”

Smith is also expected to receive support from outside the district, although she downplayed it. Iowa Democratic Party Chair Sue Dvorsky said her organization will be supporting Smith with whatever resources she needs.

“I believe the local supporters, regardless of party affiliation, matter the most,” Smith said. “My run for the state Senate is not about the Democratic party or the Democratic platform. My run is about making changes that work for southern Iowa. I do have support from the state party, but it is not the predominant factor in my campaign.”

Smith’s message is economically focused. She said property taxes are too high, government regulation is out-of-touch, and infrastructure is inadequate in southern Iowa. She also said she’d also like to propose pieces of legislation to manage the deer population, to expand the rights of dependent elders, and to create an unbiased resource for reliable candidate information.

Smith ran against Reynolds in 2008 and received 43 percent of the vote, despite Democrats accounting for just 26 percent of registered voters in the district.

The economy will also be Ernst’s focus during the campaign. She noted that Montgomery County has the second-highest unemployment rate in the state, and she’s concerned about opportunities being there for her 11-year-old daughter.

“We have really hard-working people here and they want to work,” Ernst said. “They have their families here, they don’t want to leave the area, and I’m hoping if we see a change in the economy they’ll continue to raise their family here.”

Despite the Republican edge – 38 percent of voters in the district are registered Republicans – Ernst isn’t putting herself in the victory column yet.

“I would love to say that yes, it will be mine, but I will not take anything for granted so I will be campaigning very heavily, and this is a seat I have to earn,” Ernst said. “I don’t want to think that just because we are a heavily Republican district, it’s mine. It’s not a done deal until when the polls close on January 4.”

This weekly summary comes from IowaPolitics.com, an online government and politics news service. Reporter Andrew Duffelmeyer and other correspondents contributed to this report.