While the Donald Trump presidency disintegrates before the nation’s eyes in non-stop breaking news stories, local politics marches on in Iowa. Let’s do a quick round-up of recent news.
Des Moines City Council
The race for Des Moines City Council Ward 3 originally promised to be a closely-watched battle between longtime Republican incumbent Christine Hensley and Democratic environmental attorney Josh Mandelbaum. Hensley decided to retire from the seat instead a few weeks ago, and now the matchup will be between two well-known Des Moines Democrats (for now, anyway).
Former IDP Chair Michael Kiernan officially entered the race yesterday, focusing his candidacy on public safety.
“The safety of our neighbors and families must be our number one priority,” Kiernan said in a press release, referencing recent murders and noting that his car was broken into while in his driveway and that his neighbors have had bullets shot through their windows. “We hear a lot about which candidate has the most endorsements or largest fundraising effort. That’s not what is important to me in this campaign. The safety of our residents is what drives this effort.”
Kiernan was an at-large city councilman from 2004 to 2010 and has a long history of community and civic involvement in Des Moines. He’s married to Erin Kiernan of WHO-TV.
It sets up a fascinating campaign between two well-known Des Moines Democrats. Mandelbaum locked in a very significant amount of local support from activists, donors and elected officials early on, and has built a serious campaign operation. But Kiernan is already well-known to voters, has won municipal races before, and will have plenty of friends from his days at the state party to draw from.
Polk County municipal races are all technically non-partisan, though people usually know which party each candidate belongs to. A well-connected Republican could still vie for the seat, but the political winds of the day don’t seem to be favorable for one to win this heavily Democratic district, even if two Democrats split some of their own vote.
Some local political leaders are questioning whether it’s all necessary from a broader party standpoint – Democrats were already poised to pick up a Republican-held with Hensley’s retirement with Mandelbaum. However, city councils deal with plenty of issues that don’t fall along typical ideological lines, so competing visions for the future of the city don’t always boil down to a two-party contest.
Johnson County Supervisor Mike Carberry withdrew his name from consideration for the Democratic primary yesterday. He had been mulling over a run for a few months and spoke at some party events around the state. He was positioning himself as the most progressive candidate in the race and looked to mobilize Bernie Sanders supporters.
“Statewide issues affect Johnson County, but at this time I want to continue to address these issues on the county level,” Carberry said in a statement. “My work in Johnson County is unfinished and I want to put my energy toward continuing the progress we have made in several areas. The momentum started in raising the minimum wage can be sustained in other projects to address income inequality.”
He also noted the daunting task of raising enough money to put together a competitive campaign. Some other candidates have complained about the difficulty of fundraising for a statewide bid, but have gone forward anyway without a real plan of how to overcome it. Carberry seems to have taken the more realistic route.
“I did not look forward to having to raise over $2 million just to be competitive in a gubernatorial primary and another 2 to 3 million dollars in a general election,” he said. “That is an obscene amount of money and may indicate that the Governor’s race may go to the highest bidder.”
Meanwhile, rumors continue to percolate up that a different Iowa City resident may soon join the race: Cathy Glasson. The president of SEIU 199, Glasson has been deeply involved in Iowa politics, particularly in Eastern Iowa, for a very long time. SEIU has several thousand members in Iowa – not as large as the healthcare union is in other states, but still plenty influential. Their main base of membership is at the University of Iowa hospital system.
Glasson has worked on many progressive social and economic justice issues during her career, and could emerge as a favorite of the party’s left-leaning primary voters. Democrats have also been concerned about how few female candidates are considering statewide office, so Glasson could help in that area as well.
Secretary Of State
A little over a week ago Nathan Blake confirmed that he will not be running for Secretary of State, instead focusing on his work in the Attorney General’s office. No one has officially declared for the race, though Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert has an exploratory committee. Other Democratic county auditors, including Clinton County’s Eric Van Lancker, Scott County’s Roxanna Mortiz and Polk County’s Jamie Fitzgerald have been mentioned as potential candidates, but none have been making any major moves in that direction.
With Blake out of the picture, many party activists and leaders will encourage State Representative Chris Hall of Sioux City to consider the race. He had floated his name a few times this year for the governor’s race. Many want to see Hall – a well-respected legislator, thoughtful speaker and proven fundraiser – move up to higher office at some point. With the gubernatorial field extremely crowded, some will see this race as a good fit for Hall, which could also add a Western Iowa Democrat to a potential statewide ticket.
The Finkenauer District
In Dubuque two young leaders are facing off in the race to replace Abby Finkenauer, who is running for Congress. Lindsay James and Brad Cavanagh have both announced their campaigns – Starting Line will do a longer post on that later. The heavily-Democratic district was highly sought after in 2014 when Pat Murphy ran for the 1st District, and could see even more contenders jump in.
by Pat Rynard