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Civic Skinny

What it all means in 1,636 (or so) words

11/14/2012

Mike Gronstal is more powerful than ever.

Gay marriage is a dead issue.

Bob Vander Plaats is irrelevant.

Bruce Rastetter has wasted a lot of money.

Tom Harkin now has to decide whether to run.  

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Steve King is in Congress for life. 

Leonard Boswell peaked the night he was robbed.

Christie Vilsack has some chits to cash.

Matt Schultz has some explaining to do.

Ann Selzer is never, ever to be doubted.

And newspaper endorsements are meaningless.

That’s what Iowa politics looks like a week after the election.

                 

Senate Majority Leader Gronstal kept telling the faithful and the doubtful that Democrats would maintain their edge in the Iowa Senate. Many, including some staunch supporters, doubted that. Some thought Gronstal himself might lose; it was the No. 1 worry among Democrats interested in state issues, particularly labor unions.                

Tuesday night, Gronstal won easily, and he ended with a 26-23 majority in the senate — stunning Republicans — and the possibility of a 27-23 edge after the Dec. 11 special election to fill the seat of the late Pat Ward in the western suburbs. Democrat Desmund Adams has registration against him — he was, after all, beaten by a dead woman on Tuesday — but he has a fighting chance against West Des Moines councilman Charles Schneider, who Thursday night was chosen as the Republican candidate by party leaders.                

With Gronstal back, opponents of gay marriage have zero chance of passing legislation to put the issue on the ballot as a constitutional amendment. He stopped it last time — with political skill and oratorical eloquence — and while there still are Republicans who want it on the ballot there’s decreasing opposition to gay marriage in the state. The anti-marriage crowd now has less than 50 percent state-wide support, and it’s now an awkward issue for Republicans. Bob Vander Plaats, who had made a good living (he just bought a $400,000 house in the suburbs) opposing gay marriage, now is marginalized. He needs a new cause.                

Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins’ retention, with 55 percent support, is the best evidence of that. But private polling before the election showed there’s been a sea-change in Iowa on the issue. One reason: There have been an estimated 4,500 gay marriages in Iowa since the 2009 Supreme Court ruling, and the neighbors are discovering that these folks aren’t proselytizing the neighborhood children but rather are concerned about the same things the other neighbors are concerned about: taxes and schools and jobs and mortgages. It’s a non-issue to young people and, increasingly, to their parents as well.               

One indication that a lot of Iowans just don’t care about the issue: Last week, 1,553,143 Iowans voted for president, but around 325,000 of those people didn’t even bother to vote yes or no for Wiggins — twice the drop-off from two years ago. And an additional 100,000 didn’t bother to vote yes or no for Justices Ed Mansfield, Tom Waterman and Bruce Zager, who were appointed to the court a year ago after voters refused to retain Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Justices Michael Streit and David Baker, three of the seven judges who unanimously ruled that, based on the Iowa constitution, it is discriminatory not to allow gays to marry one another in this state. One thing is clear: Chief Justice Mark Cady and Justices Brent Appel and Daryl Hecht needn’t worry about retention when they come up in four years. It will be a non-issue by then.                

It’s all but impossible to tell how much money was thrown against Gronstal by supporters of challenger Al Ringgenberg, but it was more than $300,000, including about $75,000 in the final days for television and radio ads and two particularly nasty mailers from Vander Plaats’ “Family Leader” group. (“A vote for Mike Gronstal is a vote for late-term abortions in Iowa.”) But Gronstal, one of the great door-knockers of all time, got 55 percent of the vote in his Council Bluffs district. Anyway, abortion scare tactics don’t work in this state. Iowa is about 25 percent Catholic, and exit polls showed that 47 percent of the Catholics voted for Obama — one point higher than the 46 percent of Protestants who backed him — despite the winks and nods from Catholic pulpits and the blatant GOP political messages posted in some churches. (About 16 percent of Iowans say they never go to church, and three-quarters of those people backed Obama. Another 40 percent say they go only occasionally, and 55 percent of them voted for the President.)                

One big contributor to Ringgenberg was the Team Iowa political action committee, generally known as Bruce Rastetter’s PAC. Rastetter, the agriculture and ethanol millionaire who is de facto head of the Board of Regents, gave $125,000 to the PAC between May and October of this year. It was uncanny at picking Republican senate losers. (A $5,000 contributor to the PAC: Mary Ferentz, wife of Kirk.)                

The PAC gave $35,000 to Ringgenberg, who lost to Gronstal; $26,000 to Jane Jech of Marshalltown, who lost a state senate election to Steve Sodders; $27,000 to Matt Reisetter, who lost a senate challenge to incumbent Jeff Danielson in the Cedar Valley; $12,500 to Cindy Golding, who lost a special election to Democrat Liz Mathis in Cedar Rapids; $12,000 to Andrew Naeve, who lost to Rita Hart in Clinton County; $11,500 to Larry Kruse, who lost to Rich Taylor in southeast Iowa. Not to mention the $2,000 to Pat Ward, who died before the election. (She did win, though.) He did give $25,000 to senate minority leader Jerry Behn of Boone, who won easily but then was replaced as minority leader by Bill Dix, and $17,000 to Mike Breitbach of Strawberry Point, who won by 43 votes over John Beard.                

The PAC’s other biggest outlay was about $60,000 to Global Intermediate LLC, which is the political consulting firm of Nick Ryan, a longtime Rastetter pal. Global Intermediate helps Republican candidates with calls and mailers. And it gave $53,000 to legislator Annette Sweeney in her primary fight against Chuck Grassley’s grandson, but Pat Grassley beat her. That doesn’t make Rastetter particularly popular with Grassley.                

None of this is likely to sit well with those who beat the Rastetter-financed senate candidates, which could spill over into how those winners view funding requests from the Board of Regents in the coming session, some legislators and lobbyists say. But Rastetter directly gave $25,000 to House Speaker Kraig Paulsen on Oct. 16 and $10,000 to House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer on Oct. 12, so he’ll still get his calls returned in the House. He gave each $10,000 earlier in the campaign, too.                

Democrats, all but giddy about delivering Iowa to President Obama, keeping control of the Iowa senate and gaining seven seats in the house, now must wait to see if Tom Harkin is going to go for a sixth term in 2014. If the answer is “yes,” he’ll be spending the next two years raising up to $15 million for the election. If the answer is “no,” Harkin can play with his grandchildren, and Bruce Braley and others will have to raise the money. Braley, who just won his fourth term in Congress from Waterloo, is the heir apparent, but there are other princelings who think the nomination should be theirs. The Democrats never make anything easy.                

Harkin, meanwhile, now gets to send to the White House the name or names of persons he’d like to see appointed to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, where Iowan Michael Melloy is stepping down at the end of January. Harkin was quietly interviewing potential candidates before the election, though a victory by Romney would have made the interviews moot and given Chuck Grassley the power to send names to the White House. Late Wednesday, Harkin recommended either of two women — Jane Kelly, the federal defender for the Northern District in Cedar Rapids, and Mary Tabor, a judge on the Iowa Court of Appeals.

Democrats, too, will have to name a new president of the Iowa senate, replacing the retired Jack Kibbe. Names mentioned: Jeff Danielson, Pam Jochum, Tom Courtney and Bob Dvorsky.                

Democrats are mad and sad about Leonard Boswell. Some say he should have stepped aside and let Christie Vilsack take on Tom Latham, but the aging Democrat wouldn’t budge. So Latham, a Republican incumbent who moved into the district when Iowa lost a seat, did him in. Boswell barely carried Polk County and lost every other county in the district, including those in his old neighborhoods in southern Iowa.                

Vilsack put up a strong fight despite overwhelming registration numbers against her, but she went down to Steve King by eight points. If she couldn’t beat him, no one will be able to, so keep expecting bizarre statements out of the Fourth District. If Vilsack decides to stay in politics — going after Harkin’s seat if he steps down or seeking the governorship in two years — she’ll be formidable. She took one for the party by taking on King; now the party owes her.                

Meantime, it turns out that Republican Secretary of State Matt Schultz, who has been going around hiring DCI agents to find voter fraud that doesn’t exist, should have been hiring IT folks. His computer system crashed on Election Night, totally screwing up things, and he tried to blame it on the Iowa Communication Network, which had nothing to do with it. The quick-witted Gary Dickey got off the best tweet: “Iowa Secretary of State website says I must show photo ID to get election results. That’s taking it a little too far don’t you think?”                

And for the record, pollster Ann Selzer was right on the money again with her Iowa Poll two days before the election. Why does anyone — friend or client — ever bother to doubt her?                

And for the record, Mitt Romney was endorsed by The Des Moines Register, the Cedar Rapids Gazette, the Quad City Times and the Sioux City Journal.                

And for the record, Mitt Romney got 727,928 votes in Iowa. Barack Obama got 816,429. CV

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