Monday, June 20, 2011

District of the Day: Senate District 41, House Districts 81 and 82

District of the Day: Senate District 41, House Districts 81 and 82

Senate District 41

Registration: D 15367, R 11345, N 12211, total 38972, D+ 4022
Incumbent: Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa

Enjoy the ride, Chickenman; you won't be back in 2014.

Mark Chelgren, whose claim to fame was his party hardy RAGBRAI persona, was the fluke of the year, emerging from a recount with a ten vote win over Bloomfield Democrat Keith Kreiman. He rolled up the margin in three whole rural counties: Appanoose, Davis, and Wayne. Chelgren has cut an abrasive profile in his first session, but with Democrats in Senate control he's been noticed less that the House Crazy Caucus of Pearson, Massie and Shaw.

The most Democratic seat held by a Republican keeps a big Democratic edge. The district keeps Ottumwa and a slightly different portion of Wapello County; under the old lines within Wapello, Krieman was ahead by nearly 1000 votes. Davis County also stays in the district. But from there the district goes east, grabbing all of Van Buren and adding most of the population of blue-trending Jefferson County. The district line wraps around the east of Fairfield, bringing it into the district. Fairfield was home base for Democratic Senator Becky Schmitz, who won in a district that also included Van Buren in 2006. Schmitz, who lost to Sandy Greiner in 2010, is reportedly interested in a comeback, but it's not clear where she can try that in 2012. If she can wait a cycle, this looks like excellent turf.

House District 81

Registration: D 8765, R 4417, N 5452, total 18646, D+ 4348
Incumbent: Mary Gaskill, D-Ottumwa

The District Draws Itself: At 25,023, the city of Ottumwa is 82% of the size of a House district. Minor changes around the edges, of course. Instead of getting the townships south and west of the city, the district goes east to the county line, picking up Agency, Eldon, and the American Gothic house.

This seat was turbulent a decade ago; Republican Galen Davis took advantage of a local Democratic in-fight for a fluke 1998 win. He got knocked off by Democrat Mark Tremmel, who left after one term to run for county attorney.

In 2002 Gaskill, the former county auditor, won a close primary and settled in. She overwhelmingly won a bizarre primary last year over a former county supervisor (short version: the guy resigned, moved out of state, moved back soon after with no explanation). Republicans looked like there were making a serious effort last year with Jane Holody; even Mike Huckabee took an interest. But Gaskill earned a 57% win.

House District 82

Registration: D 6602, R 6928, N 6759, total 20326, R+ 326
Incumbent Curt Hanson, D-Fairfield (Kurt Swaim, D-Bloomfield, retiring)

A Democratic redistricting pair was resolved when Kurt Swaim of Bloomfield announced his retirement:
This decision is not of recent origin. I told some close friends and family members eighteen months ago that, if re-elected, the current term would, in all probability, be my last one.

I have been asked if the new redistricting had any effect on my decision. It really did not. My decision was largely decided before the maps were released. However, it is a far easier decision to make knowing that Curt Hanson, a colleague from Fairfield that I greatly respect and admire, has committed to run in the new district.
The Davis County based Swaim was first elected in 2002 in old House 94, which was Davis, Appanoose and Wayne counties. In redistricting, he was paired with Curt Hanson of Fairfield in new 82.

Swaim would have faced either a poor fit move to adjacent House 80 or a primary on Hanson's turf. The new district has all of Van Buren and most of Jefferson County, including Fairfield, from Hanson's old seat, and only Davis from Swaim's. The new district leans slightly Republican, with a GOP registration edge of 326. That's almost the same as Hanson's current district.

The Fairfield-based House seat flipped Democratic in 1996, first with Rebecca Reynolds then with John Whitaker in 2002.

When Whitaker resigned to take a federal Department of Agriculture job in the summer of 2009, Fairfield became the center of statewide attention. Anti-marriage equality groups pumped huge amounts of out of state money into Fairfield, and Democrats responded with an all-out effort as well. Hanson prevailed by just 127 votes over Republican Steve Burgmeier. Two independent conservative candidates, representing the Judean People's Front and the People's Front of Judea, were in the race, and they drew more votes than the difference.

The rematch in the fall of 2010 was just the two of them. Despite the lack of Splitters!, the annus horriblis for Democrats and the fact that he was now just one of 100 races instead of the only game in town, the popular retired driver's ed teacher increased his margin over Burgmeier to more than 1000 votes.

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