Iowa Politics Roundup: Social Issues Quickly Divide Democrats, Republicans at the Capitol Print
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Friday, 21 January 2011 14:45

The emergence of a number of socially divisive issues has quickly set up a battle between Democrats and Republicans, and between the Iowa House and Senate, just two weeks into the 2011 legislative session.

“Our fear is … we’re going to be moving from one socially divisive issue to another,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (D-Des Moines) said Thursday.

Fresh off the debate to end a state-funded preschool program created by Democrats, House Republicans this week either introduced or began moving forward on legislation that would ban late-term abortions; call for constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnerships; and define a right to life from the beginning of biological development.

McCarthy said Democrats have been told to prepare for committee work next week and House floor debate the following week on some of these issues. He said a return to the ban on stem-cell research will also be revisited.

“I understand that the new majority needs to do some things for their base, but the concern globally is if we spend the next several weeks, we are ... already 10 percent done with the session,” McCarthy said. “We’ll have spent the bulk of the session doing socially divisive issues that just tear our society apart, and I think away from what most voters want us to focus on, and that’s basic bread-and-butter issues: education and health care and environmental issues.”

But House Speaker Kraig Paulsen (R-Hiawatha) said there’s still plenty of time in the 110-day session (scheduled to end April 29) to address many different issues.

“Our calendar is that we’re going to address the budget and what Iowans’ government looks like,” Paulsen said. “We began that discussion last night. We’re going to talk on jobs and the economy. Committees are starting to do that work. We’re going to pass a marriage resolution at some point in time as Leader Upmeyer said when it gets out of committee.”

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs) has stood firmly against a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and confirmed that position again on Thursday. The bill would be dead-on-arrival in the Iowa Senate, despite a push by Senate Republicans to vote on it.

“Have I left any doubt?” Gronstal said when asked again Thursday about his position on the issue.

Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley (R-Chariton) said voters delivered a mandate for issues being brought forward by Republicans. He urged the majority party in the Senate to allow debate on bills such as budget cuts and the marriage amendment.

“The people spoke pretty loudly last November, and they said they wanted smaller, more responsible government; they believe that we spend too much money,” McKinley said. “The House voted overwhelmingly for the spending-reduction bill. We’re very pleased to see our colleagues on the other side of the rotunda vote for that.”

Dems Promise Big Changes to Budget-Cutting Bill

A bill that aims to cut $500 million out of the state budget over three years and end the state-funded preschool program may have easily cleared the Republican-controlled Iowa House this week on a 60-40 vote, but Senate Democrats say they have the votes needed to continue the preschool program.

The bill would eliminate Iowa’s state-funded preschool program for four-year-olds, the Iowa Power Fund, the Grow Iowa Values Fund, the Iowa core curriculum, smoking-cessation programs such as Just Eliminate Lies and Quitline Iowa, and money for passenger rail. Area Education Agencies would be cut by $10 million. State workers would be charged $100 a month for health-insurance premiums; the Iowa Communications Network would be sold or leased; and a Tax Relief Fund would be created that would direct any general-fund surplus toward tax relief.

“We will put up a significant battle in the Senate to keep early-childhood education in the state of Iowa,” Gronstal said Thursday. “What part of world-class education is doing away with preschool? That, in my view, is just absurd.”

Gronstal said Thursday that Democrats, who hold a 26-24 majority in the Senate, have not yet decided whether the bill will be taken up or whether they’ll move forward with an entirely different bill.

“They passed a bill, and it’s got a lot of stuff in it,” he said. “Maybe we’ll take that bill up, maybe we’ll start our own because they didn’t consult with us about starting that bill. That’s not a great road to go down. I’m trying to discourage that and get people to the table to talk about these issues.”

But House Speaker Paulsen contended that Republicans and Democrats have been working together. He said appropriations committee chairs Representative Scott Raecker (R-Urbandale) and Senator Bob Dvorsky (D-Coralville) have met along with ranking members of their committees to talk about the budget cuts proposed in House File 45.

Paulsen acknowledged that the Iowa Senate will make changes to the bill.

“I’m confident that preschool as it exists today is going to change,” Paulsen said. “What the final change looks like, I don’t know. I know that’s something we’re going to have to work on together. I think the Senate is going to have one opinion, the House is going to have another opinion, and my expectation is the governor will have another one. From conversations with the governor’s office, I think probably the House and the governor are the closest. We’ll have those discussions.”

A separate budget-reform package will move forward next week that is expected to be more bipartisan. That legislation includes restrictions on the governor’s transfer authority, as well as a government-transparency section that includes a searchable database on state expenditures and tax rates.

Judge Dismisses Challenge to Judicial-Selection System

U.S. District Judge Robert W. Pratt on Wednesday granted Attorney General Tom Miller’s request to dismiss a legal challenge to Iowa’s judicial-selection and -retention system, which Iowans adopted through a constitutional amendment.

“Today Judge Pratt very soundly upheld the will of the people of Iowa,” Miller said. “This is a significant ruling that affirms our right as Iowa citizens to choose how we select our Supreme Court justices.”

Four Iowa plaintiffs, through the Indiana-based James Madison Center for Free Speech, filed a December 8 request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa. Miller replied with a motion to dismiss.

The plaintiffs challenged the composition of the 15-member Iowa Judicial Nominating Commission, whose members must be chosen without reference to their political affiliation. The commission is composed of the most senior Iowa Supreme Court Justice other than the chief justice; seven members chosen by the governor; and seven lawyer members elected by Iowa attorneys. The commission submits three finalists for an open Iowa Supreme Court seat to the governor, who appoints the Supreme Court Justice.

In his 35-page ruling, Pratt called the plaintiffs’ arguments “fatally flawed.” In granting the state’s motion to dismiss, the judge wrote that the plaintiffs “may prefer that Iowa had a different method of judicial selection, but absent a violation of a clearly established constitutional right, the people of Iowa are entitled to retain the judicial-selection system they chose in 1962.”

Pawlenty, Romney Each Report $100K in Iowa Spending in Final 2010 Report

Two potential 2012 presidential candidates – former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney – reported more than $100,000 in expenditures from their Iowa political action committees in the final fundraising report of 2010. Romney’s state PAC ended the year with a significant cash advantage, however, reporting more than $108,000 in cash on hand, compared to $1,950 for Pawlenty.

Another potential candidate, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, reported less spending – roughly $30,000 – and ended the year with a cash balance of more than $32,000.

The reports were filed this week with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board:

Pawlenty’s Freedom First PAC-Iowa raised $81,000 between October and December last year, spent $109,936, and had $1,950 left at the end of the year.

Of the three potential 2012 presidential candidates with Iowa PACs, Pawlenty donated to the most Iowa candidates and groups in the last quarter of 2010. He made 19 political contributions including $7,500 to the American Family Association’s AFA Action Inc. of West Des Moines, $7,000 to House Speaker Kraig Paulsen (R-Hiawatha), $5,000 to the Iowans for Tax Relief PAC, $1,500 to the Iowa Family Policy Center, and $1,000 or $500 to other legislative candidates.

Romney’s Free & Strong America PAC-Iowa raised $87,500 between October and December of last year, spent $108,037, and had $108,639 left at the end of the year.

Contributions came from only seven people, including a total of $70,000 from Eldon and Regina Roth of Dakota Dunes, South Dakota – the founders of Beef Products Inc. who were also top contributors to the campaign of Governor Terry Branstad.

Expenditures include a $10,000 contribution to the Branstad campaign on October 16, $1,000 contributions to State Auditor David Vaudt and Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey, a $1,500 contribution to Iowa Senate candidate Andrew Naeve of Clinton, and a $2,500 contribution to Senate candidate Joni Ernst of Red Oak.

Santorum’s Iowa Keystone PAC raised $37,000 from October through December, spent $30,402, and had $32,148 left at the end of the year.

The money came from only four sources, including $25,000 from Foster Friess of Jackson, Wyoming, and $10,000 from the Pennsylvania Keystone PAC.

However, Santorum made nearly a dozen contributions to Iowa candidates in the final quarter of last year. They included $5,000 each to Governor Terry Branstad, attorney-general candidate Brenna Findley, Secretary of State Matt Schultz, and state-treasurer candidate Dave Jamison. He gave Schultz another $2,500 on December 17, after the election.

Santorum gave $1,000 to Iowa Senate candidates Kent Sorenson of Indianola and Rick Bertrand of Sioux City. He also gave $500 contributions to Iowa House candidates Jeff Kaufmann of Wilton, Paul Kern of Dubuque, and Kim Pearson of Pleasant Hill. A $250 contribution went to state Representative Chris Hagenow (R-Windsor Heights).

Cain Speaks on Economy, Political Ambitions in Cedar Rapids

Potential Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain visited Cedar Rapids recently as part of an exploratory visit through Iowa.

Cain, a radio host, writer, and former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza who now is based out of Atlanta, has formed a presidential search committee to test his financial and political viability for the upcoming presidential election, with a decision on whether he will formally run for president coming later this year.

Cain told the small group of Republicans who gathered to see him at the Longbranch Hotel & Convention Center that he if he runs, his strategy for winning the Republican nomination and the presidency includes securing victories in states where Senator John McCain underperformed in the previous election.

“We have a lot of conservatives out there who haven’t gotten off the sofa and voted yet, and those are the people who I am going to go after,” Cain said.

Cain, 65, said his decision to potentially run for president is motivated both by the direction of the country and factors in his own life, including recently beating stage-four liver and colon cancer. He said his main priority is to leave the world better for his grandchildren.

“This ain’t about us. What I’m doing here isn’t about me. It’s about helping our grandkids have a better life,” Cain said. “There are simple enough ideas for all of the issues that we face that we can put this country back on the right track.”

Through his introductory speech and a question-and-answer session with the audience afterward, Cain’s focus was on the economy and energy independence.

Cain said his experience at problem-solving and saving a nearly bankrupt Godfather’s Pizza company during his time there will help him deal with the problems that America’s economy faces.

“America is bankrupt; we’re broke; we just don’t want to face up to the solutions for these problems,” Cain said. “It’s my approach to problem-solving that will get us to where we need to get to.”

Republican Whitver Wins Senate Special Election

Republican Jack Whitver of Ankeny, the owner of three local fitness facilities who is attending law school at Drake University, is Iowa’s newest state senator.

Whitver won a special election Tuesday in Senate District 35 against Democrat John Calhoun of Polk City, 63 to 36 percent, according to unofficial results from the Polk County Election Office. The seat in northern Polk County was vacated by Senator Larry Noble, who resigned to become Iowa’s public safety commissioner.

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

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