The consequences of now-former Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix’s relationship with a lobbyist did not end with just with his abrupt resignation. Ripple effects from the scandal that shook the Statehouse continue to be felt in the Capitol and beyond. Here’s what’s happening:
Top Senate Aide Steps Down
Ed Failor, the senior aide to former Senator Dix, announced late Tuesday afternoon that he was resigning from his position. He explained that he wanted the new Republican leader (who will be selected today) to be able to put together his own team in the office. Some members of the Republican caucus were reportedly frustrated with Failor for what they saw as his poor handling of the Kirsten Anderson sexual harassment issue, though it does sound like Failor’s decision on Tuesday was his own.
His departure, however, is not as simple as just some staffer resigning. Failor used to run the very influential Iowans For Tax Relief organization and he wielded significant power behind the scenes in the Legislature, which he joined on staff in 2012. Some Democrats who work up at the Statehouse saw him as a mastermind behind some of Senate Republicans’ most successful strategies and policy objectives. His resignation means that another power center has left the Capitol, one that others may try to quickly fill.
Legislative Agenda Thrown Into Chaos
Beyond the palace intrigue aspect of the Dix scandal fallout at the Capitol, the biggest real world impact for Iowans may be that a lot of Republicans’ most conservative and controversial bills will die in the turmoil this year. The Dix scandal came at a particularly inopportune time, as this is the week of the second funnel at the Statehouse, a time when a slew of bills need to cross more procedural hurdles in order to stay alive in the hopes of getting passed. It’s typically one of the busiest weeks of any session, but committee meetings were cancelled left and right on Monday as legislators reassessed where things stood.
While Republican senators put on a good face to reporters on Monday and Tuesday about how things would continue as “business as usual,” the chatter around the rotunda was much different. Many lobbyists predicted that large portions of the Republican agenda would be dropped in favor of simply getting the budget done and ending session in a quick and timely manner.
The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported that Senator Dennis Guth admitted the “Religious Freedom” legislation was dead for the year, specifically due to “yesterday’s flare-up,” as he put it. Many progressive organizations had that as a top priority to defeat, as it would likely allow forms of discrimination against LGBTQ individuals and others. And Senator Jason Shultz said the bill that would mandate drug testing Medicaid recipients on food stamps would no longer get to the floor for debate.
Lobbyists Lose Their Connections
On a more subtle level, other power dynamics at the Statehouse changed dramatically with Dix’s resignation. Many lobbyists lost a key ally when he stepped down on Monday, including some older ones who have made their careers off of close friendships with the leader. In a place where relationships matter, a new group of people may find their influence at the Capitol rising depending on which Republican senator takes Dix’s place.
Rick Bertrand Retiring From Senate
The other big piece of news from Tuesday was that Senator Rick Bertrand of Sioux City would not be running for reelection this year. There appears to be no Republican candidate waiting in the wings to jump into the race for the Democratic-leaning district. Though Democrats held the Sioux City district for decades before the Republican wave year of 2010, Bertrand proved an exceptionally skilled and resilient politician that was well-connected in the local business community in Northwest Iowa.
This district (SD 7) was already going to be a key battle ground, but Democrats may now pick it up with little resistance, a huge boon to their strategy for other districts in 2018. Jackie Smith, a well-respected local businesswoman and former county supervisor, has already announced her campaign for the seat as a Democrat.
It’s not clear if Bertrand’s decision was related to the latest news, but he had been at odds with Dix since last year when he called for the leader’s resignation after the jury in the sexual harassment lawsuit awarded Anderson $2.2 million. Perhaps he had planned all along to leave, or perhaps he had more tough words with his colleagues during the Monday caucus meeting that convinced him it was time to head home. He’s expected to run for mayor or another local office in the near-future.
Des Moines May Leave League of Cities Organization
The Des Moines Register reported that the city of Des Moines will likely end their membership with the League of Cities, which represents municipalities’ interests at the Statehouse. The lobbyist that Dix was having a relationship with worked for the League of Cities to push their interests at the Capitol. Des Moines had already had a host of concerns with the organization, and it appears this may push them over the edge to leave. The Register noted that Des Moines pays $32,315 in dues next year for their membership in the league.
Governor Kim Reynolds will have to decide by the end of the week what date to call a special election for Dix’s seat. Read more on that in our previous story.
There were few other legislators in the state who could bring in the big money like Bill Dix. Obviously, whoever is senate leader will have an easy time raising funds from top Republican donors, PACs and business interests, but it’s still not helpful to lose the guy who was already doing it. For comparison’s sake, here’s how much Dix and his potential replacements raised throughout the course of 2018 for their individual campaign accounts:
Bill Dix: $460,946
Jack Whitver: $168,407
Charles Schneider: $67,200
Randy Feenstra: $55,670
by Pat Rynard