Five reasons to doubt the new Loras College Iowa poll

A new Loras College poll shows Hillary Clinton enjoying a double-digit lead over Donald Trump: 48.2 percent to 33.8 percent with no other candidates named, and 44.0 percent to 30.7 percent in a field including Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson (6.0 percent) and Green Party nominee Jill Stein (2.2 percent).

The same poll of 600 Iowa registered voters finds Senator Chuck Grassley barely ahead of Democratic challenger Patty Judge, 45.8 percent to 44.5 percent.

Unfortunately for optimistic Democrats, this poll appears to be an outlier.

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Divided Iowa Supreme Court upholds felon voting ban; key points and political reaction

The Iowa Supreme Court has rejected a lawsuit challenging state policy on disenfranchising all felons. Four justices found "insufficient evidence to overcome the 1994 legislative judgment" defining all felonies as "infamous crimes," which under our state’s constitution lead to a lifetime ban on the right to vote or run for office. Chief Justice Mark Cady wrote the majority ruling, joined by Justices Bruce Zager, Edward Mansfield, and Thomas Waterman. They affirmed a district court ruling, which held that having committed a felony, Kelli Jo Griffin lost her voting rights under Iowa law.

Justices Brent Appel, Daryl Hecht, and David Wiggins wrote separate dissenting opinions, each joined by the other dissenters. I enclose below excerpts from all the opinions, along with early political reaction to the majority ruling and a statement from Griffin herself.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa filed the lawsuit on behalf of Griffin in November 2014, seven months after an Iowa Supreme Court plurality had stated, "It will be prudent for us to develop a more precise test that distinguishes between felony crimes and infamous crimes" that disqualify Iowans from voting.

Three of the six justices who participated in that 2014 case decided Griffin v. Pate differently. In Chiodo v. Section 43.24 Panel, Cady wrote and Zager joined the plurality opinion, which left open the possibility that not all felonies rise to the level of infamous crimes. Wiggins dissented from the Chiodo plurality, saying the court should not rewrite "nearly one hundred years of caselaw" to "swim into dangerous and uncharted waters."

All credit to Ryan Koopmans for pointing out in March that given how quickly the court had decided Chiodo, "Having had more than a couple days to think about it, some of the justices could easily change their mind." The justices were on a compressed schedule in Chiodo because of the need to print ballots in time for the early voting period starting 40 days before the 2014 Democratic primary. Ned Chiodo was challenging the eligibility of Tony Bisignano, a rival candidate in Iowa Senate district 17.

Side note before I get to the key points from today’s decisions: An enormous opportunity was missed when the state legislature did not revise the 1994 law defining infamous crimes between 2007 and 2010, when Democrats controlled the Iowa House and Senate and Chet Culver was governor. The issue did not seem particularly salient then, because Governor Tom Vilsack’s 2005 executive order had created a process for automatically restoring the voting rights of most felons who had completed their sentences.

But Governor Terry Branstad rescinded Vilsack’s order on his first day back in office in January 2011. During the first five years after Branstad’s executive order, fewer than 100 people (two-tenths of 1 percent of those who had been disenfranchised) successfully navigated the process for regaining voting rights. I consider the policy an unofficial poll tax, because getting your rights back requires an investment of time and resources that most ex-felons do not have. Today’s majority decision leaves this policy in effect, with a massively disproportionate impact on racial minorities.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Canada milkvetch

Canada Day is coming up this Friday, July 1, so the time seems right to feature a plant named for our neighbor to the north. Canada milkvetch (Astragalus canadensis) is native to most of North America. Sometimes just called milk vetch or Canadian milk vetch, it "makes a great garden plant and is adaptable to any reasonably well-drained soil, fixing nitrogen into the soil and providing erosion control," according to the Minnesota Wildflowers website.

I saw these "robust" plants for the first time last week in the prairie patch along the Windsor Heights bike trail, behind the Iowa Department of Natural Resources building on Hickman. You may have to hunt for them, because they are tucked away among taller plants, including tons of black-eyed Susans and quite a few yellow or gray-headed coneflowers.

At the end of this post, I’ve enclosed two pictures of another wildflower I recently discovered on disturbed ground just west of where the Meredith bike trail passes under Fleur Drive in Des Moines. A friend tentatively IDed these pretty little flowers as Canada frostweed (Helianthemum canadense), a native plant that was new to me. However, according to the Iowa DNR’s John Pearson, these are Moth mullein (Verbascum blattaria), an "uncommon non-native" found across much of the U.S. and Canada.

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Iowa leans Democratic in four electoral vote forecasts, is toss-up state in five

Nate Silver released FiveThirtyEight.com’s 2016 presidential election forecast today. His model currently gives Hillary Clinton an 80 percent chance of beating Donald Trump in November. FiveThirtyEight sees Clinton as the favorite in Iowa, one of twelve "states to watch," but her odds of carrying our state are somewhat lower than her odds of winning at least 270 electoral votes.

Clinton’s campaign bought more than a million dollars of air time in Iowa to run a mix of positive and comparative television commercials during the second half of June and July. That’s part of a $25.8 million ad buy in the eight states the presumptive Democratic nominee considers most competitive.

Public Policy Polling has published two Iowa surveys this month, both commissioned by progressive advocacy organizations. The first had Clinton leading Trump by 44 percent to 41 percent. The second, released yesterday, showed Clinton ahead of Trump by 41 percent to 39 percent.

Iowa’s electoral votes have gone to the Democratic nominee in six of the last seven presidential elections. (The exception was President George W. Bush’s narrow victory over John Kerry here in 2004.) However, no electoral vote projection I’ve seen considers Iowa a safe bet for Clinton. While none to my knowledge currently forecast our state leaning to Trump, the pundits and number-crunchers do not agree on whether Iowa leans Democratic or has no clear favorite going into the general election campaign. Follow me after the jump for the breakdown.

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Where are they now? Chet Culver edition

Former Governor Chet Culver will begin work next week as president of the YMCA of Greater Des Moines, Joel Aschbrenner reports in today’s Des Moines Register.

Culver will focus on fundraising and promotion and will report to YMCA CEO Dave Schwartz, who will continue to oversee operations and the long-term vision of the organization, YMCA officials said. […]

The YMCA is in particular need of fundraising help. The organization is trying to gather the roughly $9 million needed to finish an aquatic center at the new Wellmark YMCA. The unfinished pools, which were billed as a centerpiece of the downtown branch, sparked a rocky patch for the YMCA.

Former Y president and CEO Vernon Delpesce resigned in January after the YMCA struck out three times to secure grants to complete the aquatic center.

Those grants fell through because the YMCA "was passed over twice for federal new market tax credits and once for state brownfield tax credits," leading to a major shortfall in the capital campaign to build the new downtown facility.

Des Moines Cityview’s Civic Skinny was first to report the Culver hire earlier this month, having noted in February that some of the former governor’s friends "are lobbying hard to get him named head of the YMCA of Greater Des Moines."

Rick Tollakson told Aschbrenner the Y’s executive search committee decided to hire two people to handle different aspects of Delpesce’s former position. They chose Culver as president because they "valued [his] experience raising money for political campaigns, his connections around greater Des Moines and his passion for the YMCA."

UPDATE: Iowa Public Radio’s Joyce Russell asked Culver about a possible future run for Congress.

“I’m definitely ruling it out for now,” Culver says. “I couldn’t be more excited about this next chapter.”
Culver says unlike in politics the new job will enable him to be present for his teenagers Clare and Jack.

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