Campaigning in Carroll last week, Jim Mowrer is seeking the Democratic Party nomination to run for Iowa secretary of state. The primary election is June 5.
Campaigning in Carroll last week, Jim Mowrer is seeking the Democratic Party nomination to run for Iowa secretary of state. The primary election is June 5.

May 1, 2018

Alarmed by what he sees as politically motivated changes in election laws that pose a “full-frontal assault on our democracy,” Jim Mower is campaigning for elective office in Iowa for the third time in the last four years.

Mowrer, who ran successfully for the U.S. House of Representatives against Republican incumbents Steve King in the 4th District in 2014 and David Young in the 3rd District in 2016, is now seeking the Democratic Party nomination for Iowa secretary of state and the opportunity to challenge GOP incumbent Paul Pate. He’s vying with Deirdre DeJear in the June 5 Democratic primary.

His bid for secretary of state, who serves as Iowa’s chief elections officer, stems from a long-held concern, said Mowrer, who visited the Daily Times Herald last week following a campaign stop at MC’s Country Cafe in Carroll.

Mowrer, who grew up in central Iowa and served in the Iowa National Guard, said, “It started when I was in Iraq in 2006 and was quoted in a New York Times front-page story about the challenges of voting from a war zone and I organized the voting from my unit. And a lot of the soldiers in my unit, their absentee ballots never showed up or they never showed up back in the United States.

“To imagine the very defenders of our democracy were not able to participate in that democracy was very troubling to me. ... It’s something I’ve been very concerned about for a long time.”

Under current Secretary of State Pate and with Republicans also controlling the Legislature and governor’s office, Mowrer said, a number of new election rules — such as voter-identification requirement and reduced early-voting period — have been approved and those will discourage many Iowans from voting.

Mowrer said election changes in Iowa and other states where Republicans are in control of the government are politically motivated. Supporters of the new laws counter that they’re needed in order to prevent voter fraud and guarantee the integrity of elections.

Mowrer said, however, “What we’re seeing here is an attack on our democracy. It’s an attempt to rig elections in favor of one party over another. When you look at the voters who are impacted by these changes, they’re disproportionately college students, minorities, seniors.”

He added, “When you look at the other states that have implemented these same changes, the motivation has been the same. What this attempt is in Iowa is exactly the attempt by Republican secretaries of state in other states. It’s part of an overall scheme to try to turn things in favor of one party over the other.

I started my career in the military, and the first oath of office I ever took was to defend our democracy. And I think it is unconscionable to see this direct attack on the foundation of what our democracy is, which is fair elections. Every single citizen in the state of Iowa should have an equal opportunity to cast their ballot and to be assured that vote is counted. That means one candidate is going to win fair and square. It may not be the candidate you like, it may not be the candidate you voted for, but that’s how democracy works. This is a full-frontal assault on our democracy.”

With Republicans currently in control of the Iowa Legislature and governor’s seat, Mowrer acknowledges his ability to reverse the election laws would be limited, however, he said he could still take some key actions.

“When you look at the implementation options that are available, you can take a lot of these burdens away — these unnecessary burdens through the interpretation,” he said. “In the long run you have to go to the legislators and say as the chief elections officer in the state that these policies are not working, they’re creating unnecessary barriers. But internally through the office there’s relief you can provide to voters through the interpretation and implementation of the law. ... I think there are a lot of pieces to this that can be rolled back unilaterally to provide relief to voters to make sure they can participate.”

Mowrer said the secretary of state will play a vital role in trying to protect Iowa elections from foreign hackers. He said his experience makes him “uniquely qualified” to deal with that issue.

Mowrer’s campaign biography says he received a degree from American Military University and then a master’s degree in public policy from George Mason University. In 2010 he was asked to serve as special assistant to the undersecretary of the Army. At the Pentagon, he helped start and oversee the Army Office of Business Transformation, which was asked to make the Army more effective while saving tax dollars. At the Pentagon, he also served as the Army’s lead representative to the Council of Governors, where he worked with governors to help coordinate Army bases and operations in states across the country.

“I know a lot about cybersecurity, so securing Iowa’s elections data bases and systems will be a top priority of mine,” he said.

Mowrer targeted Pate, who narrowly won election in 2014 and also served as secretary of state from 1995-99, on several other fronts:

— Failure to count nearly 6,000 absentee votes in Dallas County in the November 2016 election.

As the state’s chief elections officer, Pate was the one ultimately responsible, said Mowrer.

“Six thousand absentee ballots were counted by the Dallas County auditor but for whatever reason they never made it to the state and somehow the secretary of state failed to notice that he was missing 6,000 votes,” Mowrer said. “So he certified the election, and once an election is certified it’s over. And it wasn’t discovered until February of 2017 that they failed to count nearly 6,000 votes. He tries to shift the blame and says that’s not his fault. But I think if you’re the chief elections officer in the state, it’s your responsibility to ensure that every single vote is counted.”

— Failure to report on his financial disclosure his role in a new corporation that has spent around $2 million to recently open a storage rental business and purchase a strip mall.

An Associated Press story revealed the transaction, although Pate disputed the findings. Pate responded that he was confident his disclosure form was accurate. He said he didn’t have to list the corporation because he mentioned elsewhere in the form that he had received rental income from unspecified real estate properties.

Mowrer said, “He’s conducting shady real-estate transactions he’s not disclosing days before elections.”

— A 42-percent attendance rate at Iowa Executive Council meetings.

The Executive Council — made up of the secretary of state, governor, state treasurer, state secretary of agriculture and state auditor — meets to conduct a variety of state business.

Mowrer said Pate’s attendance record “is by far the worst. The second-worst attendance is 63 percent.”

Mowrer said the secretary of state position “is probably the most important job in our state that most people just don’t know a lot about.”

Besides serving as chief elections officer, the secretary of state maintains corporations’ records, registers trademarks, commissions notaries public and preserves original documents.

“I think there’s a lot of progress that needs to be made on that (business licensing and registration) front,” Mowrer said, “because we need to modernize that piece. Other states have instant online registrations. Iowa is way behind other states. ... Right now there is quite a burden on small businesses to go through the process, and it’s a timely process and an undue burden on someone who’s trying to start a business in our state.”