Fascinating Iowa SupCo ruling in dispute over candidate’s eligibility

The Iowa Supreme Court this afternoon ruled former state Senator Tony Bisignano, a Democrat from Des Moines, can run for the state senate seat currently held by Jack Hatch, the Democrat from Des Moines who is running for governor.  Here’s the quick Radio Iowa story.

Bisignano faces two opponents in the Democratic Primary in June.  One of those opponents — former state Representative Ned Chiodo, a Democrat from Des Moines — had challenged Bisignano’s eligibility to be on the ballot. Chiodo argued Bisignano’s conviction of second offense OWI (Operating While Intoxicated), which is an aggravated misdemeanor, was an “infamous crime” and therefore made him ineligible to serve in public office.  The state’s constitution bars those guilty of “infamous crimes” from serving in public office (and from voting).

The court’s ruling was written by Chief Justice Mark Cady.  Justice Edward Mansfield wrote a concurring opinion and Justice David Wiggins wrote a dissent. It’s all interesting reading and you can find it here.  Mansfield, who was appointed to the court in 2011 by Republican Governor Terry Branstad to replace one of the justices voted off the court in November of 2010, offered this interesting passage:

“I believe that convicted felons who have served their sentence and paid their debt to society ought to be able to vote, without requiring dispensation from the governor. By permanently disenfranchising convicted felons, Iowa puts itself in a small minority of three states. But my personal views do not carry weight when it comes to interpreting the Iowa Constitution.”

If you’re just joining us and don’t get the backstory here, former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack issued an executive order which restored voting rights to all felons who had completed their prison sentences and probation.  Chet Culver, a Democrat, continued that policy when he was governor.  Branstad undid it when he came back into office in 2011 and now requires felons to submit an application to him to get their voting rights restored. The released-from-prison-and-probation felon has to prove they’re current in paying any court fees, fines and restitution.

Mansfield also outlined a different set of reasons for concluding Bisignano should be eligible to run, serve in the senate and vote. Mansfield wrote the Cady decision was a “welcome mat” to other litigation on the issue of felon voting rights.

Wiggins, the dissenter, argued the Cady opinion rewrote “nearly 100 years of case law” and  he concluded today’s decision “adds considerable uncertainty as to who can and who cannot vote” in Iowa.

As for the primary combatants in this case — Bisignano and Chiodo — Bisignano issued the following statement:

“I am pleased by the decision of the Supreme Court. This will protect the voting rights of 50,000 Iowans. We expected this ruling, and I have been campaigning every day in the district, talking to voters about the real issues affecting working families.

“Ned Chiodo would rather risk the voting rights of 50,000 Iowans than talk about the issues with working people. ‘Negative Ned’ will continue to only focus on attacking me. The people I speak with every day are not concerned about negative personal attacks. They are concerned with educating their children, finding quality jobs, and taking care of their parents. The people of this district know that I will represent them at the State Capitol. Ned Chiodo will not. He represented corporations over working families, time and time again as a corporate lobbyist for almost 30 years.”

I did not receive a statement from Chiodo.  Nathan Blake, the other person in this three-way primary, did email the following statement:

“Now that the ballot is set, we can get back to focusing on the issues that matter to working families: good jobs, great schools, safe streets, and clean drinking water. We need a government that works for all of us, not special interests, and that’s what I will be fighting for in the Iowa Senate.”


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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.