Lykam wins Senate special election
BY ED TIBBETTS
DAVENPORT - Iowa Rep. Jim Lykam won a convincing victory Tuesday in the special election to fill the vacant state Senate seat in District 45.
The longtime Davenport Democrat defeated Republican Mike Gonzales and Libertarian Severin Gilbert in the contest to succeed Joe Seng, who died in September.
With all 20 precincts counted, as well as absentees, the unofficial tally from the Scott County Auditor’s Office showed Lykam getting 3,788 votes, or 73.2 percent, while Gonzales got 1,310, or 25.3 percent. Gilbert received 76 votes, or 1.5 percent.
The district covers much of west Davenport, along with the town of Buffalo.
Lykam’s win was not unexpected. He’s represented half the district in the Iowa House since 2003, and the Senate district has twice the number of Democrats as Republicans.
Lykam campaigned as a pragmatic Democrat working for the middle class who was seeking to carry on Seng’s legacy. Gonzales, a LeClaire police officer who lives in west Davenport, said he wanted to shrink government, help small business but also maintain education funding. Gilbert expressed an interest in taking part in fixing Iowa’s medicinal marijuana laws.
Lykam and his party vastly outspent their rivals. Lykam estimated their expenditures would hit about $100,000. A chunk of that went toward soliciting absentee ballots.
At Scott County Democratic headquarters Tuesday night, Lykam was appreciative of the victory.
“It was a team effort. We worked hard at it. I’m very happy the voters will allow me the privilege of representing them in Des Moines,” he said.
Lykam said that even with the Democratic advantage, he took nothing for granted. “You never know, especially two days after Christmas.”
Lykam’s victory is a bright spot for the Democrats in the aftermath of a disastrous Nov. 8 election. In fact, Democrats have sought to portray the special election here as the first step back for the party. A number of Democratic senators journeyed to the district to help Lykam solicit and collect absentee ballots.
Lykam’s win will give Democrats their 20th seat in the Senate, but Republicans still will hold a solid majority with 29 members. Republicans also control the House.
Now that Lykam will move to the state Senate, a new special election will be needed to fill his 89th House District seat. Local party leaders said last week that they would wait until after Tuesday’s election before working on setting a date for nominating conventions. First, Gov. Terry Branstad will need to set a date for the special election.
Since Lykam’s vacancy will come within 45 days of the start of the next legislative session, the law says that it should be held “at the earliest practical time.”
The governor must give at least 18 days’ notice, however. The governor’s office last week did not give any indication when a special election might be held.
Turnout at Tuesday’s special election was light. The auditor’s office said 5,178 voters cast ballots, or 11.75 percent of the district’s registered voters. Nearly half of those ballots were absentees, where Lykam had a 5-1 advantage.
The date of the special election, coming just two days after Christmas, was a bit of a surprise. Back in September, Branstad had initially sought to hold the election on Nov. 8, saying it would save money and increase turnout. But Scott County Auditor Roxanna Moritz objected. Her office said that ballots already had been printed and holding the election then would have forced it to miss the deadline for overseas ballots.
The governor settled on Dec. 27, pointing to the required six-week blackout period surrounding the general election. The date prompted objections from Democrats who said that Branstad could have set it earlier in December and that he was trying to depress turnout. But the governor’s office said the date was aimed at giving the auditor’s office the maximum amount of time to prepare and distribute ballots.