Since 2013 is coming to a close I wanted to take time to review news related to Iowa politics and cultural issues in the state.  This is not ranked in any particular order.

Tom Harkin’s retirement: U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (R-Iowa) announcing that he was not running for reelection in 2014 gave Iowa it’s first open U.S. Senate seat in 30 years.  That news certainly made 2014 more interesting in Iowa with a large slate of candidates in the Republican primary.

The Iowa GOP rift: There is no denying that there is a rift within the Republican Party of Iowa that grew (fair or not) upon the reelection of A.J. Spiker as party chair and election of David Fischer as co-chair.  The tension between the Branstad Administration/establishment wing and party leadership, but also exists between District Executive Committees/Some county party leadership and the State Central Committee.  Spiker’s reelection followed a disagreement between Spiker and Iowa Governor Terry Branstad over the future of the Iowa Straw Poll in the fall of 2012.  There have been complaints about fundraising and the tension spiked over the Iowa GOP State Convention date change dispute.  Four county central committees passed a resolution calling for Spiker’s resignation and least one county party passed a resolution in support.

Property Tax Reform passed:  Governor Branstad signed the largest tax cut in Iowa history when he signed Senate File 295 into law.  This comes with an estimated $4.4 Billion in property tax relief.  It was a good piece of bipartisan legislation.  Jennifer Crull wrote a good breakdown of this bill here.

Governor Branstad Speed/DCI-gate: Former DCI Agent Larry Hedlund clocked Governor Branstad’s SUV speeding.  Hedlund was later fired for unrelated reasons.  An independent review of Hedlund’s firing cleared Govenror Branstad of any wrongdoing.  It seemed unlikely to me that Governor Branstad would have been personally involved in a matter such as this.  He also does not seem like the type of person who would retaliate either and I wasn’t impressed with how former agent Hedlund conducted himself.  That said, Brian Myers wrote and I agree that the Governor’s excuse that his administration tries to keep an ambitious schedule was not appropriate (anyone else try to use that excuse when pulled over).  He should have just apologized.  He has since directed his drivers to stick to the speed limit and hopefully they will pursue a more realistic schedule.

Obamacare rollout in Iowa: Like everywhere else the rollout of Obamacare was a disaster.  With it initially being reported that only five Iowans signed up within the first week of the rollout to all 16,000 Iowans who applied through being told last Friday they need to reapply through the state’s website.

Iowa Board of Medicine Bans Webcam Abortions: The Iowa Board of Medicine voted 8-2 to pass a rule that would effectively ban telemed abortions in the state of Iowa.  The legislative rules committee approved.  Planned Parenthood of the Heartland succeeded in convincing a judge to place a stay on that decision pending a judicial review.

Education Liberty advanced in Education Reform Bill: When Governor Branstad signed HF 215 into law there was a major shift in Iowa’s homeschooling law.  The Iowa House Republicans passed an education reform bill that was considered to be a mixed bag.  It contained independent private instruction which enables homeschooling parents to not report to their school districts with a competent private instruction form if they so choose.  Those choosing that option do not have to turn in assessments, submit a portfolio or have a supervisory teacher which were options under Competent Private Instruction.  The bill also gave homeschooling parents the ability to teach drivers ed from home.  Private schools were also given the option of independent private accreditation through a 3rd party rather than having to go through the state.  Iowa House Republicans outmaneuvered the Iowa Senate Democrats during the conference committee to hash out differences between the House version and Senate version of the bills – they would approve 4% allowable growth in return for the educational liberty measures.  Senate Democrats approved and liberals and the Des Moines Register have since been howling about the change in homeschooling law.

Gas Tax Increase Sunk: Attempts to increase the gas tax in the state of Iowa was met with grassroots opposition and was soundly defeated.

Iowa Senate Democrats shameful treatment of Branstad Board of Regents appointees: Iowa Senate Democrats made it clear in their defeat of Robert Cramer’s appointment to the Iowa Board of Regents that you must favor homosexuality.  They also opposed Craig Lang.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland Clinic closings:  In the last year-and-a-half 10 clinics have been closed with four in November.  In December two additional clinics dropped their hours to zero.

Stop Common Core Battle in Iowa Heats Up: Last legislative session language that would have mandated the Smarter Balanced Assessment (Common Core aligned assessment) on Iowa public and accredited non-public schools was dropped putting the Common Core assessments on hold.  Since then Iowa Governor Terry Branstad under pressure from Common Core opponents issued an executive order related to the Common Core.  While it was a good first step, it does not accomplish what is needed.  The Republican Party of Iowa State Central Committee unanimously passed a resolution opposing the Common Core State Standards.  There will be several pieces of legislation introduced this coming legislative session.

David Vaudt resigns as State Auditor: David Vaudt served as State Auditor from 2002 until his resignation in 2013 after being appointed as the new chairman of the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB).  Vaudt won reelection in 2006 in an unfavorable year for Republicans.  He was reelected in again in 2010.  Governor Branstad appointed Mary Mosiman to replace Vaudt.  Mosiman is up for election in 2014.

State Senator Kent Sorenson resigns: Facing numerous ethics charges due to his affiliation with both the Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul presidential campaigns evidence was brought forward that validated many of the charges.  In light of that evidence and losing the support of Iowa Senate Republican leadership Sorenson resigned.  Then State Representative Julian Garrett won the special election for Sorenson’s seat in Iowa Senate District 13.

Congressman Tom Latham announces retirement: Congressman Tom Latham (R-Iowa) announced that he will not be seek reelection in Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District in 2014 and is retiring after serving 20 years in the U.S. House of Representatives.  This shakes up the 2014 elections as it will bring numerous Republicans out to seek this open seat.  It also turned what was considered a mostly safe seat for Republicans to a toss up.

IRS Scandal Hits Home: Upon news that the IRS was targeting conservative and Christian groups seeking 501(c)3 status it was discovered that a pro-life group in Iowa was targeted as well.  The Coalition of Life of Iowa was inappropriately asked by the IRS what they pray about.

Iowa Juvenile Home Isolation Cell Abuses: Inappropriate usage of the isolation cells at the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo came to light.  Governor Terry Branstad ordered higher standards to be implemented at the facility that houses girls who are adjudicated delinquents and youth who have been determined to be a “child in need of assistance” (CINA) who were ordered by juvenile court to be removed from their home.  The state decided to close the facility in January amidst opposition from facility staff, the community, and former residents.

Tyler Olson drops out of Gubernatorial Race: After announcing that he was getting a divorce, but planned to resume campaigning after the holidays State Representative Tyler Olson (D-Cedar Rapids) changed his mind and decided to drop out of the gubernatorial race.  This leaves State Senator Jack Hatch (D-Des Moines) as the only declared candidate seeking the Iowa Democratic Party nomination to challenge Governor Terry Branstad.  He likely won’t be alone for long as former Des Moines School Board member Jonathan Narcisse is exploring a gubernatorial campaign as a Democrat which will make that primary more interesting.

This review certainly isn’t exhaustive, what stories would you include?

Photo credit: Ashton B. Crew (CC-By-3.0)

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