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Senate File 2078 addresses a problem that exists within both major political parties. However, it exploded in the 2019 city elections in Polk County.
The Polk County Democrats put out a mailer that Republicans say attacked candidates in nonpartisan races simply because of their voter registrations.
Sen. Zach Nunn, who filed the bill, said there’s great history in Iowa of nonpartisan elections among school board and city council elections.
“This time they got tagged because the letter that came after their name on their voting registration,” Nunn said. “It became a definition of who they were. So, we took national-level politics and crammed it down into school board and city elections in a way that I think is just really unIowan.”
Nunn said there was a survey that revealed concerns Americans have about the division between the two political parties. In that survey, 73 percent of Americans said the two parties don’t only disagree about politics and policies, they cannot agree on basic facts.
“I don’t want my city council or my board of trustees or my school board to be in a position where you have to take a blood oath to a party to serve your local community,” Nunn said.
Polk County Democrats put money into the nonpartisan races. Senator Claire Celsi, though, said she’s concerned it is a free speech issue.
Senator Jason Schultz said it is, but the research he’s done shows political speech can be curbed if there is an appearance of corruption.
“Both machines probably do it,” Schultz said. “But I’m not going to allege corruption. But I do think there is a fair perception from those looking from outside of this Capitol. when ideological money goes through a political party and goes to somebody who doesn’t claim to be of a political party, it’s possible undue influence. I think the citizen on the street could say it looks like an impropriety when partisan money is donated for a purpose that goes to a position in which that label does not follow.”
Celsi said the bill would likely get caught up in the courts. Nunn said if Celsi wanted to use Citizens United as her standard, then OK.
Nunn pointed to attack ads from elections in Windsor Heights, Urbandale and Johnston. All had postcards come out that showcased people of a certain political party affiliated with President Donald Trump.
“That’s an attack ad,” Celsi asked.
“Really? Is that what we want to do,” Nunn asked.
“I thought (Republicans) are proud to be affiliated with President Trump,” Celsi quipped.
“If you want to take Citizens United as your argument, that’s fair,” Nunn said. “If this is where we want to go with our nonpartisan races, then I’d like to see an amendment that nonpartisan races should be Republican or Democrat.”
Celsi quickly said she had no interest in supporting that idea.
“You want it both ways,” Nunn said.
Schultz suggested people should perhaps just run under a party.
“That would provide more transparency,” he said. “The other end of that spectrum is, what if we took party labels off the general election ballot from the President on down.”
“That’s what Nebraska does,” Nunn said. “That would be consistent.”
“A step too far,” Celsi said. “I think a lot of people would be very lost, especially old people who would be very lost if that happened. That’s just going one step too far I think. How many people actually pay attention to elections or even walk into the booth not knowing who to vote for.”
“That’s my job to get my name and message to them,” Schultz said. “It’s the duty of citizens to know what they’re doing.”
Nunn said the same rules should apply — either races are nonpartisan and party politics stay out or it is a partisan race and the parties can do whatever they want.