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Politics Watch

Matt Ballard, who is challenging incumbent Rep. Geri Huser, is being denied access to some computer software programs.

By Jason Hancock

Incumbency has its perks

Challengers to Democratic legislative candidates face an uphill battle in 2008

Those who dare to challenge Democratic incumbents for statewide office can expect no help from their party this year, as access to some computer software programs has been denied to anyone but incumbents or those running unopposed.

Matt Ballard, who is challenging incumbent Rep. Geri Huser for the District 42 seat in the Iowa House of Representatives, discovered that his campaign would not get access to a database of potential voters called the Voter Activation Network (VAN).

“I didn’t find out that I would be denied this resource until after I decided to run,” Ballard said. “It doesn’t seem like there is a very consistent policy within the party, which bothers me.”

Ballard said he was able to get a list of people who attended the Democratic Caucuses from the county auditor’s office, but that list was far less convenient than the one the party would have provided, and many believe it could also be less thorough.

“I am asking that the party adopt measures across the board and either allow or deny such resources to all primary challengers on a non-discriminatory basis,” he said. “We as a party have fought too long to bring equality and protection to all people to see that take a step backwards in our own ranks.”

Cityview made many attempts to contact Iowa Democratic Party officials to comment on this policy, but both Brooke Borkenhagen, the party’s press secretary, and Kevin Boyd, the party’s House Campaign Director, refused to comment for this story.

Republican Party of Iowa Communications Director Tim Albrecht said his party does not make such distinctions during the primaries, instead choosing to remain neutral.

“We don’t get involved, whether there is an incumbent running or not,” he said. “A challenger can have access to everything an incumbent would have access to. There is no favoritism.”

Albrecht said often times legislative leaders would speak out and work to support an incumbent, but the Republican Party has always maintained a neutral position.

For House Democrats, three incumbents are facing a challenger this year, including Huser in District 42, Rep. Wayne Ford in District 65 and Rep. Deborah Berry in District 22. The Republicans only have one House incumbent, Rep. Jim Van Engelenhoeven, facing a primary challenge.

For years, political scientists have researched and written about the “incumbent advantage” in congressional elections. Name recognition and money top the list, but now many point to the party itself as a mechanism to protect incumbents from challengers.

“It’s still early, but I’m out there talking to people and trying to get my name out,” Ballard said. “Of course, I’ll start to do more of that as the weather gets nicer.”

Notes: In February, five psychiatrists and the mental-health program director at Broadlawns Medical Center announced that they were resigning from Polk County’s public hospital over the administrators’ attempts to implement productivity standards, which they said could harm patients. Broadlawns spokeswoman Mikki Stier said the hospital is in the process of reviewing applications and is close to hiring replacements for all of the staff that left. An announcement on staffing levels will be made in mid-May. … Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa’s Spring Book Sale raised a record $197,000. Combined with proceeds from the fall sale, a total of $388,000 was raised during PPGI’s current fiscal year — the largest total in the sale’s 48-year history. CV

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