Grassley says wasn't approached to assist Trump coup attempt

U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley told reporters on September 22 that associates of President Donald Trump did not attempt to enlist him in a plan to declare Trump the winner of the electoral vote on January 6.

In their new book Peril, Bob Woodward and Robert Costa were first to report on a memo Trump’s attorney John Eastman drafted, which claimed that Vice President Mike Pence “(or Senate Pro Tempore Grassley, if Pence recuses himself)” could reject slates of electors from seven states that voted for Biden. Then the presiding officer could declare Trump re-elected, or that since no candidate received 270 electoral votes, the election should be decided in the U.S. House, where Republicans control 26 state delegations.

A longer memo by Eastman, which laid out the same strategy for subverting the peaceful transfer of power, does not mention Grassley.

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America’s best pollster has bad news for Democrats. Is she right?

Dan Guild: No other recent poll shows Joe Biden’s approval as low among independents as Selzer’s new Iowa poll.

The latest Iowa Poll by Selzer & Co for the Des Moines Register and Mediacom is full of bad news for Democrats. President Joe Biden’s job approval in Iowa is a measly 31 percent, with 62 percent of respondents disapproving. Governor Kim Reynolds’ job approval is 53 percent, with 43 percent disapproving. U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley leads his most likely Democratic opponent, Abby Finkenauer, by 55 percent to 37 percent.

If Selzer is right, the bad news extends far beyond Iowa. This polling suggests Democratic fortunes in 2022 look abysmal.

I have the greatest respect for Ann Selzer, and the last time I suggested she was wrong, I was wrong. 

So why do I think she is wrong now?

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Siberian Cranesbill

I was excited to find a patch of “new” (to me) wildflowers near the banks of North Walnut Creek a few weeks ago. Since I wasn’t familiar with these small pink flowers, I posted a few photos to the Iowa wildflower enthusiasts Facebook group. Lora Conrad quickly identified the plants as Siberian Cranesbill (Geranium sibiricum).

As the common name suggests, this species originated in Eurasia, not North America. Although I usually showcase native plants for Bleeding Heartland’s wildflower series, today will be one of my occasional exceptions.

Minnesota Wildflowers offered tips for distinguishing Siberian Cranesbill from the similar-looking native Bicknell’s Cranesbill. As Lora explained, the plant I photographed has single flower stalks, is hairy, and blooms in August and September—all signs pointing to the introduced species. The habitat (partial sun, loamy soil, near disturbed ground) is also consistent with where this species often thrives.

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Tomorrow belongs to me?

Herb Strentz reflects on the state of politics after seeing a production of the musical Cabaret in Des Moines.

The lyrics opening the first three verses of the song are pleasant, pastoral, reassuring:

Verse 1: The sun on the meadow is summery warm
The stag in the forest runs free
Verse 2: The branch of the linden is leafy and green
The Rhine gives its gold to the sea
Verse 3: ¬The babe in his cradle is closing his eyes
The blossom embraces the bee

So why is what follows downright terrifying?

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Health agency hiring temporary help with public records requests

The Iowa Department of Public Health is hiring a temporary staffer to assist public information officer Sarah Ekstrand in processing open records requests. The job listing says the new hire will help review and update the agency’s system for tracking requests, communicate with members of the public about the status of requests, help refine search terms, provide cost estimates, and review documents to see if they can be withheld as confidential.

The application deadline for the position was September 16. The temporary hire will be paid between $26.61 and $40.50 an hour, for at most 780 hours of work in the current fiscal year. That works out to about 20 weeks of full-time efforts devoted to processing records requests between now and June 30, 2022.

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ISU accounting problems delay many other state audits

Accounting problems at Iowa State University have delayed not only Iowa’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for fiscal year 2020, but also dozens of annual reports on state government entities.

The ongoing issues at ISU have pushed other audit work months behind schedule, Deputy State Auditor Marlys Gaston explained during a 20-minute presentation to the Iowa Board of Regents on September 15. In addition, Gaston told the governing body for Iowa’s state universities the State Auditor’s office expects to issue an internal control finding to ISU. That rarely happens for the Regents institutions and indicates that ISU’s financial statements for FY2020 included inaccurate information.

ISU switched to the Workday computer system for accounting at the beginning of the 2020 fiscal year. The subsequent challenges raise questions about what will happen when most state government agencies transition to Workday for accounting, which is supposed to occur during the summer of 2022.

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Those magic(?) dice

Ira Lacher returns to the topic of what is owed to Americans who have chosen to remain unvaccinated for COVID-19.

Wow, unvaccinated America: Are you in luck!

Nah, not from any new discovery that prevents you from getting COVID-19, or that if you get it you won’t die (actually, you’re 15 times more likely to than if you’re vaccinated, and 29 times more likely to land in an ICU). But hey — if an emergency room is in your unvaccinated future, you’ve got unlimited dice rolls because you’re guaranteed to get medical attention. Which puts you ahead of someone who might have brain cancer. Wow! Can you buy me a Powerball ticket?

This great good fortune favoring you, unvaccinated America, results from what is known as the “duty of care” doctrine: A doctor has a moral, ethical, and legal obligation to treat a patient to the best of the physician’s ability; failure to do so can invite a malpractice suit. Further, hospitals that participate in Medicare must, under federal law, stabilize an ER patient’s condition, regardless of the person’s ability to pay, or at least transfer that patient to a suitable institution.

But not everyone loves someone on a winning streak. Health care providers may have to treat you — but they may not want to.

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More evidence cutting jobless benefits didn't boost Iowa's economy

The latest Iowa employment statistics “are disappointing,” Iowa State University economist Dave Swenson tweeted on September 17 after the U.S. Department of Labor released new figures for August. Swenson noted, “Total employed and total labor force are down, unemployment levels rose slightly, and unemployment rate is unchanged” at 4.1 percent. Meanwhile, Payroll nonfarm jobs declined.

Governor Kim Reynolds’ decision to cut off pandemic-related federal unemployment benefits in June (three months early) “to goose the economy turned out to be a dud,” in Swenson’s view.

A growing body of research supports that conclusion.

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Democrat Joel Miller running for secretary of state

Linn County Auditor Joel Miller confirmed on September 16 that he will seek the Democratic nomination for secretary of state, pledging to take the fight to Republican incumbent Paul Pate in order to “bring back trust and fairness in Iowa’s elections.”

Miller has served as auditor of Iowa’s second-largest county since 2007 and was most recently re-elected in 2020. He’s been exploring a bid for statewide office since late last year; he and Pate have clashed over numerous election administration issues, from absentee ballot drop boxes to absentee ballot request forms to voter list maintenance.

The auditor’s campaign announcement highlighted one of those battles, noting that Miller “made national headlines during the 2020 election when he was sued by President Donald Trump’s campaign for expanding voter participation and health and safety measures in the wake of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic.”

That lawsuit stemmed from the decision by three county auditors to defy a directive from Pate and fill in voters’ information on absentee ballot request forms mailed to all registered voters in their jurisdiction. A District Court judge invalidated the pre-filled forms, and the Iowa Supreme Court later agreed. Asked how he would respond to Republican critics who say the courts sided with them in the dispute, Miller told Bleeding Heartland via email, “I did the right thing. I would do it again. And if I’m elected, no county auditor will ever be in this position again because as Secretary of State, I will work to make voting easy again.”

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Redistricting part 7: LSA produces a very fair map

Evan Burger continues his series on redistricting with analysis of the newly released proposed congressional map.

This morning, the Legislative Services Agency released their first set of proposed maps, which can be found here. As expected, the LSA released both congressional and legislative maps — for today I’ll focus on the former, with more analysis to come on the legislative front.

By the numbers

As I’ve written here before, the three standards that the LSA considers in producing a map are contiguity, population equality, and compactness. Of the three, contiguity is an absolute standard: a congressional district must be made up of whole counties that are contiguous. The next most important standard is population equality, meaning the LSA tries to make districts as close in population as possible. However, they must also consider the compactness of a given map, both in terms of minimizing the difference between the length and width of each district, and in terms of minimizing the total perimeter length of all districts.

The LSA’s proposed congressional map easily meets the contiguity requirement. Here is how it scores on population equality and the two measures of compactness:

  • Lowest Population: District 2 (797,556)
  • Highest Population: District 1 (797,655)
  • Difference between lowest and highest population: 99
  • Total Perimeter Score: 2,772.02 miles
  • Average Length-Width Compactness: 34.96 miles

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Democrat Eric Van Lancker running for secretary of state

Iowa Democrats have their first confirmed candidate for secretary of state in 2022. Clinton County Auditor Eric Van Lancker announced on September 15 that he will seek the office, saying in a news release that he has a “passion for helping my neighbors vote, backed up by experience and an understanding of how to run elections the right way.”

Alluding to Republican incumbent Paul Pate, Van Lancker said in the statement,

“Iowans have never needed a voting advocate more than they do at this moment […]”

“Voters pay for the election system and they deserve to have leadership that builds confidence in the system instead of undermining it for short-term political points,” Van Lancker said. “It is long past time for a County Auditor to return to the Secretary of State’s office. Iowa voters deserve a state commissioner of elections who knows what it is like to be on the front lines of an election and has respect and knowledge of the work precinct election officials perform during an election.”

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Cream gentian

Katie Byerly features a delicate plant that blooms in the late summer.

There are more than 400 gentian species globally, with most growing in the mountains in Europe. In Iowa one might be lucky to find seven different species of gentian. Six of those have brilliant bluish purple flowers. Then there is Cream Gentian (Gentiana alba), also called Pale, Plain, or Yellow Gentian. Cream gentian flowers can be an off-white creamy color, or a yellowish white or a greenish white.

No matter what color you find, all flowers share the greenish yellow venation on the petals.

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It's time to codify Roe

Glenn Hurst is a family physician in southwest Iowa and a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate.

It’s time to codify Roe v. Wade.

We all understand that the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision was a seminal victory for women across the country. Roe allowed American women to be treated a little more equally in our country’s social, political, and economic life.

As a doctor, I understand that the decision to have an abortion is not an easy one. I have never had a woman in my clinic decide to terminate a pregnancy lightly. Like all medical procedures, it is between a woman and her doctor.

As it stands, the GOP’s top priority is creating an anti-abortion mob of vigilantes to patrol the streets, looking for women to turn in for a reward. Make no mistake – this will result in a cottage industry of professionalized bounty hunters looking for vulnerable women to prey on.

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Four takeaways from the Iowa House district 37 special election

Republican Mike Bousselot won the September 14 special election in Iowa House district 37 with 51.6 percent of the vote to 48.3 percent for Democrat Andrea Phillips, according to unofficial results from the Polk County elections office. Those numbers should change very little, since late-arriving absentee ballots mailed before the election can no longer be counted under the voter suppression law Republicans enacted this year.

Once Bousselot is sworn in to represent this district covering part of Ankeny and northern Polk County, the GOP will again hold 59 of the 100 Iowa House seats. Democrats currently hold 40 seats, and an October 12 special election will fill the vacancy in House district 29.

I’ll have more to say about today’s race once more details become available on the partisan breakdown of the electorate. For now, a few quick hits:

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Court gives Iowa politicians until December 1 to adopt new maps

Iowa Supreme Court justices finally let the public in on the secret.

Under Iowa’s constitution, authority to enact legislative maps (but not Congressional maps) passes to the high court after September 15. But a September 14 order signed by Chief Justice Susan Christensen gives the legislature and governor until December 1 “to prepare an apportionment in accord with Iowa Code chapter 42,” which outlines the redistricting process Iowa has used since 1981.

High-ranking Republicans have indicated for months that they expected the Iowa House and Senate to be able to vote on new maps after the constitutional deadline, but the judicial branch’s spokesperson would not confirm whether justices or their representatives gave private assurances to key lawmakers. Bleeding Heartland’s request for written correspondence between the chief justice and legislative leaders produced no responsive records.

The court could have clarified months ago that it planned to proceed in this manner. But better late than never.

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Miller-Meeks spreads COVID-19 misinformation, again

“If true, this is insane,” U.S. Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks tweeted while sharing an article headlined, “Biden Orders VA To Withhold Health Benefits From Unvaccinated Veterans.”

The article wasn’t true. The website that published it even has a disclaimer: “All stories herein are parodies (satire, fiction, fake, not real) of people and/or actual events.”

Most politicians would delete the tweet and apologize, or (if they were cowards) blame the mistake on a staffer.

Miller-Meeks won’t take the tweet down. It’s not the first time the Republican from Iowa’s second district has refused to retract false information about the COVID-19 pandemic.

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1 in 500 Iowans have died of COVID-19

At least 6,390 Iowans have died of COVID-19, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control statistics published on September 13. That’s just over one in 500 of the 3,190,369 Iowans who were living in the state as of April 1, 2020 (the U.S. Census Bureau’s resident population count).

The state’s COVID-19 dashboard, which lags behind federal data and is updated less frequently, now shows 6,337 total deaths. Sara Anne Willette draws on federal databases when updating her Iowa COVID-19 Tracker website, which now shows 6,392 total deaths.

Statistics compiled by the New York Times indicate that Iowa is the 25th state to pass the grim milestone of losing one in 500 residents in the pandemic. The highest per capita fatality rates are mostly found in densely populated northeastern states, where the novel virus spread widely before mitigation practices were in place, or in the deep South.

Among the states bordering Iowa, South Dakota has the highest fatality rate, followed by Illinois. Missouri’s per capita deaths are a little lower than Iowa’s, while Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Nebraska have all lost far fewer residents than Iowa as a percentage of their populations.

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Iowa House district 37: Mike Bousselot banks on false ads

The short special election campaign in Iowa House district 37 has been a costly affair, as expected. Disclosures filed last week show the Iowa Democratic Party has spent $306,470.21 on behalf of Andrea Phillips, while the Republican Party of Iowa has spent $234,327.12 supporting Mike Bousselot.

As is typical for targeted Iowa legislative races, the bulk of the spending has gone toward television and digital advertising: roughly $285,000 on the Democratic side and just under $230,000 from Republicans.

Bleeding Heartland analyzed the introductory ads for Phillips and Bousselot here. During the last two weeks of the campaign, I’ve seen more negative advertising about both candidates on Des Moines-based broadcast and cable television. The difference is that the Democratic ads highlight truthful claims about Bousselot’s past work, whereas the Republican ads are wholly false–much like the spots they ran against Phillips in 2020.

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Goodbye, T-Bird

Ira Lacher: With his COVID-19 vaccine mandate, President Joe Biden has taken the T-Bird away. Someone had to.

“@JoeBiden see you in court,” Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota tweeted. “Not on my watch in Texas,” chirped Ken Paxton, that state’s chief law enforcement official, who faces trial for two counts of securities fraud. And just in case anyone forgot what this is really all about, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey added: “the Biden-Harris administration is hammering down on private businesses and individual freedoms in an unprecedented and dangerous way.”

Right. President Biden’s executive order requiring millions of Americans to get the COVID-19 vaccine, damn it, has nothing to do with ending a planetary crisis that has killed four and a half million persons around the world, including 660,000 Americans. It’s about impinging on personal freedom — to put fellow Americans six feet under.

“Personal freedom.” God, how we’ve abused it!

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