Monday, June 08, 2009

Iowa House District 90 May See Competitive Election

Iowa House District 90 May See Competitive Election

The first competitive state legislative special election in a few years is likely to happen soon in Jefferson and Van Buren counties, as four-term Rep. John Whitaker has reportedly been tapped for an Obama Administration appointment as State Director of the Iowa Farm Service Agency.

If the weak tool of memory serves me correctly, this will be the first legislative special since December 2006, when Republican Rep. Mary Sue Freeman died before the general election. But that was a heavily GOP district; the last real fight was in the summer of 2003 when Paul Shomshor picked up a previously Republican seat in Council Bluffs.

I've survived a couple of these hurry-up specials; the entire political infrastructure of the state descends on your district. Your doorknocking partner is likely to be a legislator. And that's what the Fairfield area has to look forward to.

Jefferson is the larger part of the district, but the last two Democratic representatives have both been from Van Buren County. The district was the scene of hot House battles after long-time Republican Rep. Bob Kistler stepped down in 1994. Democrat Rebecca Reynolds-Knight narrowly knocked off one-term Republican Jerry Main in `96 and held on until 2002. The area was also the scene of key Senate races in 2002, when Republican Dave Miller narrowly beat Democrat Mark Shearer in a redistricting pair race, and in 2006 when Democrat Becky Schmitz knocked off Miller.

The transition to Whitaker was interesting. In mid-2001, soon after the new districts came out, Whitaker was expressing interest in a second run against U.S. Rep. Jim Leach (he'd tried in 1986). But the DC types had already settled on Cedar Rapids pediatrician Julie Thomas, who was better able to self-finance. So Whitaker was squeezed out and a job shuffle ensued. Reynolds-Knight stepped down from the legislature and, after Whitaker won, she ran in the special for the county supervisor seat he gave up.

But she lost, and Thomas of course had lost, so Whitaker came out of it the only one with a job. And he settled into it well enough that the GOP didn't try in 2008 and his only opponent was from the "4th of July Party." But with the personally popular Whitaker out of the picture, this could get interesting.

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