Barring some outlandish or criminal behavior while in office, the sitting governor typically backs the sitting legislators in their own party during a primary election.
But after her much-touted school voucher bill failed to gain traction in the Iowa Legislature this year, Gov. Kim Reynolds took her ire out at several fellow Republicans in the Iowa House who called out the bill as not being supportive of public schools and ensured it wouldn’t pass.
With the unofficial election results coming in tonight, it looks like Reynolds got her way in many of the Republican primary contests.
Her bill, Senate File 2369, would have diverted $55 million from public school budgets for up to 10,000 scholarships to pay for students to attend private schools. Legislators, particularly in rural areas with no private schools, were hesitant on the bill, including up to 15 Republicans by some reports.
“I think many people in rural Iowa are very concerned that that could mean the end of their small school districts at some point — not today, not tomorrow but maybe five or 10 years down the road,” Rep. Jon Thorup (R-Knoxville), an assistant majority leader, told the Des Moines Register. “There’s just a lot of fear amongst even a lot of Republicans.”
Reynolds publicly began endorsing primary challengers to some of those legislators up for election this year, while out-of-state organizations that support vouchers have been pumping five-figure donations into their campaign coffers.
It’s unprecedented, Iowa political watchers say.
“Apparently a number of folks have tried to look back, in Iowa’s history at least, and couldn’t remember any instances where something like this has happened before,” University of Iowa political science professor Tim Hagle told CBS 2 News.
The American Federation for Children Action Fund put more than $25,000 toward Zachary Dieken’s campaign in May, according to campaign finance reports gathered by Iowa Capital Dispatch. Dieken of Granville ran against and defeaget tonight Rep. Dennis Bush (R-Cherokee) in House District 5.
“I might as well come out and say it: The governor is trying to use this election as a referendum for her voucher bill,” Bush told The N’West Iowa Review.
Barb Kniff McCulla of Pella, who is running against Thorup in House District 83, also received more than $10,000 from the Children Action Fund and more than $22,000 from Americans for Prosperity in May. The Family Leader has also poured in heavy dollars in opposition money, according to The Gazette.
Republicans who did not support Reynolds’ bill also received some funding from the Iowa State Educational Association, which is against the bill. But they received far less than their primary opponents: Dustin Hite of New Sharon received $2,500, and Jane Bloomingdale of Northwood got $500, for example, while the Children Action Fund pumped a whopping $36,000 into opposing the pair in the last week alone.
Was all that enough to knock these Republicans out of their seats? In most cases, the answer Tuesday night was yes.
House District 5
Current representative: Dennis Bush, a farmer from Cherokee
Reynolds’ primary pick: Zachary Dieken, an Iowa State trooper from Granville
The third wheel: Thomas Kuiper, a paralegal from Sibley, is also in the race.
The results: Dieken pulled off the upset easily, with nearly 56%, or 2,119 votes, in the three-way race. Bush languished with less than a quarter of the vote, or 919 votes, just ahead of Kuiper, who got nearly 20%, or 758 votes.
House District 37
Current representative: Assistant Majority Leader Jon Thorup, an Iowa State trooper from Knoxville
Reynolds’ primary pick: Barb Kniff McCulla, a construction company owner from Pella
The results: Kniff McCulla had no problem ousting Thorup, taking nearly 70% of the vote. She had 2,714 votes to his 1,150.
House District 53
A redistricting put two sitting GOP representatives together, one for and one against the bill.
The anti-voucher candidate: David Maxwell, a drainage contractor and farmer from Gibson
Reynolds’ primary pick: Dean Fisher, an engineer and farmer from Montour
The results: Fisher easily won the combined district with 62% of the vote, 1,420 to 856.
House District 88
Current representative: Dustin Hite, an attorney and chair of the House Education Committee from New Sharon
Reynolds’ primary pick: Helena Hayes, a stay-at-home mother from New Sharon
The results: Hayes bested Hite with more than 57% of the vote, 1,961 to 1,453.
House District 92
Current representative: Jarad Klein, who is not seeking re-election
Reynolds’ primary pick: Heather Hora, a farmer from Washington
The other Republican running, Washington Mayor Jaron Rosien, told The Gazette he would not oppose a voucher program, but does “oppose any legislation that would maim our public schools in the process.”
The results: Hora took the race with nearly 64% of the vote, 1,495 to 840.
And, though they weren’t official Reynolds endorsements…
House District 60
Current representative: Jane Bloomingdale, a retired accountant and former Mayor of Northwood
The pro-voucher candidate: Outside groups financially supported Deb Hild, a retired teacher from Clear Lake
The results: Bloomingdale is one of the lone anti-voucher Republicans to hold onto her seat despite pressure over her vote. Bloomingdale sneaked by with 54% of the vote, 1,592 to Hild’s 1,335, despite Hild taking 68% of the vote in her home county of Cerro Gordo.
House District 66
Another redistricting threw two representatives together.
The anti-voucher bill candidate: Rep. Lee Hein, a farmer from Monticello
The pro-voucher candidate: Rep. Steven Bradley, a dentist and flight instructor from Cascade
The results: Bradley won with more than 55% of the vote, 1,612 to 1,298.
By Amie Rivers
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