Governor Terry Branstad’s deeply unpopular Medicaid privatization plan and Statehouse Republicans’ under-funding of Iowa’s public education is starting to take a toll on GOP unity. It’s rare nowadays to see dissension among the ranks on high-profile issues at the Capitol, but three Senate Republicans turned the vote to cancel the Medicaid contracts into a bipartisan affair on Thursday, joining the Democrats to reverse Branstad’s actions.
Republican Senators David Johnson, Jake Chapman and Tom Shipley all voted with Democrats on the bill. All three hail from districts west of I-35, none of which could be mistaken for a moderate. Speaker Linda Upmeyer vowed to not take up the measure in the House, which is unfortunate, as it would be fascinating to see how many House Republicans would break ranks on Medicaid.
Interestingly, you could tell the Democrats see this as a winning issue in the fall elections. The Senators that spoke on their side during floor debate were Chris Brase, Mary Jo Wilhelm, Rich Taylor, Liz Mathis and Amanda Ragan. Aside from Ragan, the first four all face targeted reelection bids in 2016.
Meanwhile, on the education front, Republicans once again blew past a deadline for the sixth year in a row to set education funding levels in the first 30 days of session, despite being mandated by law to do so. They did, however, release their budget targets yesterday, proposing a $7.32 billion budget for next year, a number below both Senate Democrats and Governor Branstad’s suggestion. It included a 2% increase for K-12 education, still under what many advocates say is necessary for schools to maintain a high level of quality education for students.
That continued intransigence on school funding seemed to claim another victim in the Republican House caucus. State Representative Josh Byrnes, considered the most moderate of Statehouse Republicans, announced last week that he won’t be seeking reelection this year to his northern Iowa district. That’s a big blow to Republicans’ effort to hold onto their majority, as Byrnes’ HD 51 is a Democratic-leaning seat that Barack Obama won with over 55% of the vote in 2012.
Byrnes, who used to be a high school teacher, now joins a number of other Republicans deciding not to seek reelection, all of whom have backgrounds in education careers. Representatives Quentin Stanerson, Brian Moore and Ron Jorgensen also declined to run. It’s been rumored that many of their decisions were a result of the bruising education funding battle last year, especially for Jorgensen, the chair of the education committee, who was instrumental in the funding compromise vetoed by Branstad.
Jorgensen’s seat will likely stay with the Republicans, but Brynes’, Stanerson’s and Moore’s districts all have Democratic voter registration advantages and provide three key pickup potentials, adding to the real possibility that Democrats could retake the House in 2016. Branstad may have gotten his way on meager education funding in 2015, but his actions may very well lose him and Republicans control of a chamber in the long run.
by Pat Rynard