We are less than two months away from the 2012 primaries. Although there are no statewide elections on the ticket this year, there are plenty of reasons for GOP voters to head to the polls on June 5. This year’s GOP primaries include two GOP congressional races, 10 state senate races and 25 Iowa House matchups. Over the next several weeks, TheIowaRepublican.com will preview many of these contests. We start our “Primary Preview” series in House District 10, where freshman legislator Tom Shaw faces 25-year old Maison Bleam.
Redistricting placed Shaw in the same district as veteran House Republican David Tjepkes. However, Tjepkes had decided long ago to retire following this session. The new HD 10 combines part of Shaw’s current district with part of Tjepkes’. It includes all of Pocahontas, Humboldt, and Calhoun counties, along with western Webster County. Shaw is from Pocahontas County and he currently represents Humboldt. The rest of the new HD 10 comes from Tjepkes’ district.
Some of the primaries feature a Tea Party-type challenger trying to remove an incumbent. This race is the opposite. Tom Shaw swept into office riding the Tea Party wave of 2010. A decorated Navy veteran and the police chief of Laurens, Shaw bested Stephen Richards in a GOP primary. Then he cruised to victory in the general election.
Since then, Shaw has created headaches for some of his fellow House Republicans. Along with fellow freshmen Glen Massie and Kim Pearson, Shaw often battles with his colleagues. However, he has strong support from conservatives in his home district.
“I’ve been out quite a bit and I’ve been receiving a very positive response,” Shaw said regarding his 2012 campaign. “I continue to hear that they appreciate my work on such issues as the right to keep and bear arms. I’ve been a staunch advocate for that and also pro-life legislation. I get complimented for my leadership on those issues.”
At first glance, it would seem Shaw would have a big advantage in this race. However, Maison Bleam is no political novice. He has spent the past two years as a staffer for Congressman Steve King in Washington, D.C. Bleam is also the former student government president at the University of Iowa. His family has deep roots in Calhoun County.
“I was looking for an opportunity to come back to Iowa,” Bleam said. “It came a little more quickly than I would have liked. I looked at how the district was drawn and I spoke with Representative Tjepkes about it and got his advice and he was very supportive. It’s been something that I’ve wanted to pursue for quite a while. For people that have known me, they know that I’ve always wanted to be involved in public service.”
David Tjepkes is remaining neutral in this primary for now. However, he might lend his backing to one of the candidates after the legislative session ends.
“As soon as session is over, I certainly hope to visit with each of them and see what their priorities would be in the legislature,” Tjepkes said. “I have great concern and I’ve been a real advocate for improving our roads and bridges. I think that is a critical issue. I’m not sure Representative Shaw shares that view with me. However, Representative Shaw does have very conservative credentials and we are in a very conservative area of the state. I’m keeping an open mind on both of them at this point.”
Since he is very familiar with the district and both candidates, TheIowaRepublican.com asked Representative Tjepkes to analyze this race. He believes it could be very competitive.
“I’ve known the Bleam family for a long period of time,” Tjepkes said. “They‘ve been an active Republican family in Calhoun County. Maison brings some tremendous credentials with him. He’s young, but he’s obviously working extremely hard. He goes against an incumbent in Tom Shaw who has a little bit of an edge there in terms of name recognition and so forth.”
The voter registration numbers seem to favor Shaw at this point. He is almost certain to have the advantage in Pocahontas County, where the county central committee strongly backs him. However, Maison Bleam’s family ties could provide the advantage in Calhoun County. There are 2,273 registered Republicans in Calhoun, as opposed to 1,733 in Pocahontas.
Humboldt County, which Shaw already represents, has 2,440 registered Republicans. That leaves 1,310 registered Republicans in western Webster County for the two candidates to vie for. Since there are no congressional races in this district, voter turnout for this primary is likely to be very low.
“I think that with Shaw as the incumbent, that is certainly an advantage for him,” Tjepkes added. “Since it is a primary, it comes down to identifying your voters. It will all depend on how each one gets out and works over the next two months.”
Tom Shaw’s Iowa House cohorts Glen Massie and Kim Pearson have both decided against running for second terms. Like them, Shaw sometimes gets frustrated with the slow legislative process. However, he says he decided to run again because several of his constituents encouraged him to.
“I know a lot of people get upset, they think there’s too much partisanship down there (at the State House),” Shaw said. “I actually think some of that bickering is good. You do have different opinions and everyone’s fighting for what they believe in. But I think you get better legislation that way.”
While many of Shaw’s constituents appreciate his combativeness, the freshman legislator’s tactics have sometimes drawn the ire of Republicans around the state. That includes his primary opponent.
“I admire people who stand on principle and conviction. It would be odd for me to say anything otherwise because for the last two years I’ve worked for Congressman King,” Bleam said. “I’ve seen Steve King advocate for his beliefs and differ with his colleagues, but also work to build consensus for his issues. You have to build the respect and the trust of your colleagues. So many bridges have been burned. I really have to question whether or not my opponent is going to be the most effective representative for our area when he really doesn’t have a lot of respect from his colleagues down there.
Maison Bleam believes there is a need for young conservatives like himself to step up and help deal with the problems facing our state and nation. Tom Shaw says he will do what got him elected two years ago. He will continue to take his case to the voters. Shaw says that so far he has received “overwhelming response” to his reelection campaign.
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