The 15 Bleeding Heartland posts I worked hardest on in 2015

As I mentioned on Tuesday, writing is a labor of love for me. Some posts are much more labor-intensive than others.

All of the pieces linked below took at least a couple of days to put together. Some were in progress for weeks before I was ready to hit the publish button. (No editor, deadlines, or word limits can be a dangerous combination.) A few of the particularly time-consuming posts required additional research or interviews. More often, the challenge was figuring out the best way to present the material.

Several pieces that would have qualified for this list are not included, because they are still unfinished. Assuming I can get those posts where they need to be, I plan to publish them during the first quarter of 2016.


Number 15: Three reasons Geri Huser should not have picked the fight the Iowa Utilities Board just lost.

A week after Ryan Foley of the Associated Press broke the news that Iowa Utilities Board Chair Geri Huser was withholding funds from energy research centers at Iowa State University and the University of Iowa, a press release from the board announced that the money would be transferred after all. It took me longer than anticipated to sort through various letters and statements concerning the newsmakers involved in this debacle.

Number 14: Hasty U of I hospital renaming shows Regents’ contempt for critics of Bruce Harreld hiring.

Before this year, Bleeding Heartland rarely paid close attention to happenings at the University of Iowa. That changed when the Board of Regents hired Bruce Harreld as university president. I put quite a lot of time into posts covering the fallout from that choice and/or evidence that Harreld had the inside track for the job all along. For some reason, this piece turned out to be the most difficult to write.

Number 13: No single issue is worth risking the Iowa Senate majority.

While I admire Ed Fallon’s commitment to progressive values, and I share his support for an eminent domain bill that died in the Iowa legislature this year, his call to defeat one or two Iowa Senate Democrats to send a message on that issue was a bridge too far for me. The first part of this post, underscoring that Fallon is right to strongly oppose the Dakota Access (Bakken) pipeline project, took more time than I expected.

Number 12: Throwback Thursday: How Iowa women almost got the right to vote, years before the 19th Amendment.

Shortly before Women’s Equality Day, marking the anniversary of American women gaining the right to vote in 1920 under the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, I checked out Louise Noun’s 1969 book Strong-Minded Women: The Emergence of the Woman-Suffrage Movement in Iowa. Drawing on Noun’s research, this post described political developments in the early 1870s and a 1916 ballot initiative, both of which nearly led to the enfranchisement of Iowa women.

Number 11: One pro-choice Democratic woman’s question for EMILY’s List.

An intervention against Pat Murphy by the political action committee EMILY’s List stirred up strong feelings for this lifelong Democrat and third-generation supporter of reproductive rights in Iowa. EMILY’s List supports Monica Vernon for Congress in Iowa’s first district. In the 2014 Democratic primary to represent IA-01, Vernon was the runner up to Murphy, who is also her main rival for the nomination this cycle. I didn’t get involved in the 2014 primary and don’t plan to pick a horse in the current contest.

Number 10: Four takeaways from Branstad destroying the Iowa legislature’s budget compromise.

Governor Terry Branstad announced a large batch of line-item vetoes late in the afternoon before a holiday weekend. Not encumbered by a deadline, I took a few days to think over the likely impacts of axing education and mental health funding, as well as the governor’s dishonesty about the state’s fiscal condition.

Number 9: Insurance company insiders knew about Iowa’s Medicaid privatization plans long before public.

Among the many scandalous aspects of Branstad’s rush to privatize Medicaid, this angle has received too little attention. This post would not have been possible without Ryan Foley’s report on Renee Schulte’s meetings with insurance company lobbyists and Jason Clayworth’s look at campaign contributions by companies seeking contracts to manage Medicaid.

Number 8: Anatomy of a rare and costly strategic error by Mike Gronstal.

For the first time since Iowans elected a divided legislature five years ago, I felt that Democrats settled for much less than they needed to on state spending. The early passage of tax bills supported by House Republican leaders left little leverage for Senate Democrats to obtain a more favorable budget deal at the end of the 2015 session. The post took a long time to write, partly because of a detour to examine the expensive commercial property tax cut lawmakers approved in 2013.

Number 7: Will elite support translate into Iowa Republican caucus-goers for Chris Christie?

Again, the benefits of having no deadline and no word limits asserted themselves. I was able to take almost a week to collect my thoughts on whether power-brokers like Bruce Rastetter and others with close ties to Branstad would help the New Jersey governor’s campaign in any significant way.

Number 6: Iowa Republicans accept marriage equality but can’t admit it yet.

Who doesn’t love trawling through the Iowa legislature’s website to count co-sponsors of important bills? This post followed up on a 2013 piece about the Republican-controlled Iowa House becoming both “birthplace and graveyard” for legislation related to marriage and abortion.

Number 5: 12 examples of President Barack Obama being weak during his first term.

This one began as a reaction to an effusive commentary (attributing certain views to all Iowa Democrats) published the day President Obama visited Des Moines in September. Unable to finish the piece in a timely manner, I consigned it to the “posts that got away” pile. Then Martin O’Malley’s presidential campaign started pushing a new line of attack against Bernie Sanders, who had said in 2011 that the president was “weak” and perhaps should face a challenger in the 2012 Democratic primary. I resurrected the post to illustrate an inconvenient truth: “Obama’s record hasn’t always lined up with progressive principles or with his own campaign promises.”

Number 4: Throwback Thursday: The road not taken on Iowa’s “Ag Gag” law.

In early August, I contacted the governor’s office about a federal court ruling in Idaho, which struck down that state’s “ag gag” law. The comment from Branstad’s communications director inspired me to dig into how the Iowa Attorney General’s Office advised state lawmakers to proceed when a bill prohibiting “agricultural production facility fraud” was under consideration in 2011 and 2012. More than two months passed before I finally posted this piece. Only part of the delay can be attributed to a former state senator who refused to respond to my inquiries.

Number 3: A close look at the status of abortion regulations in Iowa.

After the Iowa legislature adjourned, anti-abortion advocates hailed new language on ultrasounds for women seeking to terminate pregnancies as a “HUGE life-saving victory,” while Planned Parenthood of the Heartland asserted that the ultrasound language would neither change the standard of care at their clinics nor “directly impact a woman’s access to abortion.” Intrigued, I set out to uncover which interpretation was closer to the truth. Reporting by the Des Moines Register’s Tony Leys was helpful in figuring out who gave up what in the negotiations over ultrasound requirements. Once I got deep into writing this post, I decided to explore the origins of language lawmakers first adopted in 2013 and renewed in this year’s human services budget, which allows the Iowa governor to determine whether Medicaid should reimburse for abortion services. (No other state has a similar provision.) That got me thinking about why state Senate Republicans are more determined advocates for restricting abortion rights than are their GOP counterparts in the Iowa House.

Number 2: Thoughts on Terry Branstad’s longevity and legacy.

My take on how Branstad’s leadership has changed Iowa was less flattering than most of the news reports and features about the governor’s record-setting tenure. The challenge with this piece was paring down the massive amount of material to work with.

Number 1: One reader’s feedback for new Des Moines Register publisher David Chivers.

Although I don’t log my hours, I am certain I spent more time on this post than on anything else I have published at Bleeding Heartland, this year or in any previous year. For months, I had considered writing a critique of Jennifer Jacobs’ work as chief politics reporter for the Des Moines Register. I committed to the project after reading a shocking front-page profile of Jeb Bush, which appeared the weekend of Bruce Rastetter’s Iowa Ag Summit. The piece was finally ready to go two months later.

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