desmoinesdem

Todd Prichard officially exploring run for governor

Saying Iowa needs “new vision,” “fresh leadership,” and ” better than what we have seen during this legislative session,” State Representative Todd Prichard announced today that he is “considering” a gubernatorial campaign. The rollout leaves little doubt that Prichard will eventually join the Democratic field. His campaign website now features a Todd Prichard for Governor campaign logo. His “leadership team” includes heavyweights like Marcia Nichols, former political director of AFSCME Council 61; Brad Anderson, who ran Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in Iowa; former Iowa Democratic Party state chair Sue Dvorsky; and State Senator Bob Dvorsky.

I enclose below Prichard’s news release and background on the candidate from his website. Last month Prichard discussed his life experiences and values at a Democratic gathering in Des Moines; you can read or listen to that speech here. Prichard talked more about his work and thoughts about a 2018 Democratic campaign message with Iowa Starting Line. Prichard has a political page on Facebook and is on Twitter @RepPrichard.

Two other Democrats launched gubernatorial campaigns earlier this year: Rich Leopold and Jon Neiderbach. (Neiderbach spoke to the Northwest Des Moines Democrats group on March 21, and Bleeding Heartland will soon post excerpts from his stump speech.) Former Iowa Democratic Party chair Andy McGuire is widely expected to announce a gubernatorial campaign in the coming months.

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Branstad's office withholds invitation list for collective bargaining bill signing

Governor Terry Branstad’s staff have rebuffed repeated efforts to obtain a list of those invited to watch the governor sign sweeping changes to Iowa’s collective bargaining law last month.

Going against longtime standard practice for high-profile legislation, Branstad excluded reporters from attending what staff called a “private” event. Drew Klein, state director for Americans for Prosperity, later posted a picture of himself shaking the governor’s hand at the bill signing. The large number of pens on the governor’s desk suggest that many others celebrated the historic move to take rights away from an estimated 180,000 public workers.

Jodie Butler was determined to find out who else was in that room.

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Rod Blum comes out against Republican health care plan Updated: So does David Young

A little more than two weeks after House Republicans released their alternative to the Affordable Care Act, U.S. Representative Rod Blum (IA-01) announced on Twitter that he will not support the American Health Care Act. According to Blum, the bill “doesn’t do enough to lower premiums for hardworking Americans. I’m a ‘no’ on current version – need to drive down actual costs!” Speaking to The Hill the same day, he added, “We need real competition driving prices down. We don’t need the government telling us what should be in an insurance policy. The government has a role to play. We need to help people who need the help.” Blum had previously said directly and through staff that he was studying the bill.

Like all other House Republicans, Blum has voted multiple times for “Obamacare” repeal bills that would have done nothing “to lower premiums for hardworking Americans,” let alone “drive down actual costs.” However, the stakes are higher now that a GOP-controlled Senate and Republican president might enact new health care legislation. I don’t know what kind of plan Blum is envisioning, but there is no magic wand Congress can wave to “help people who need the help” without the government setting minimum standards for health coverage and regulating the market in other ways.

Blum belongs to the House Freedom Caucus. Although that group has not taken an official stand against the AHCA, some of its prominent members are on various “whip counts” of Republicans opposing the bill. Since no Democrats are backing a plan that would leave millions uninsured and drive up costs for millions more, House leaders can’t spare more than 21 GOP members in any floor vote on their health care bill. Some Congress-watchers have already counted more defectors than that.

Representative Steve King (IA-04) was among the first House Republicans to come out against the AHCA. He supports “rip it out by the roots” repeal of “Obamacare” instead. I doubt the amendments unveiled this week to satisfy House conservatives will change his mind. UPDATE: A staffer told the Des Moines Register’s Jason Noble on March 22 that King is “undecided–leaning no” on the bill. SECOND UPDATE: White House spokesperson Sean Spicer announced that King will support the bill. Seeking confirmation. A member of the House whip team told Jonathan Martin of the New York Times that King “went from no to yes in the WH [White House] today after assurances about Senate tweaks.” UPDATE: King released a video statement explaining his decision to support the AHCA. He’s still committed to repealing Obamacare. He hopes Republicans will strip “essential health benefits” out of the bill, paving the way for other measures he wants, like health savings accounts and selling insurance across state lines. He said he told President Donald Trump in a White House meeting today that he worked very hard for total repeal of the Affordable Care Act, but that legislation won’t be brought up this year, because leaders don’t think they can get the votes. He said he had a “firm commitment” from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for a manger’s amendment to strip out “mandates” and “essential health benefits” from the House bill. King views this bill as the “best chance” for the “closest thing” to total repeal of Obamacare in the current political environment. He later tweeted that he and Trump had negotiated “the best possible improvement on ObamaCare Repeal.”

Representative David Young (IA-03) has repeatedly said he is studying the bill and the Congressional Budget Office analysis of its impact. Young’s staff have told constituents this week that he is still undecided. I consider him likely to vote yes if the bill comes to the floor–which may never happen, if leaders conclude they don’t have the votes. For what it’s worth, The Hill’s whip count put Young in the “leaning/likely no” camp because he said on March 15, “I want to make sure it is something that works in the end for all Americans, and that it would pass if it gets over to the Senate.” Several GOP senators have said the AHCA will not pass the upper chamber. UPDATE: Young announced in a March 22 statement, “While the American Health Care Act, legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare, is a very good start, it does not yet get it right and therefore I cannot support it in its’ [sic] present form.” I’ve added his whole press release below.

Neither of Iowa’s U.S. senators have clarified how they would vote on the Republican bill. Senator Chuck Grassley has made conflicting statements, telling House members the bill must be changed so that insurance premiums don’t skyrocket for older people not yet eligible for Medicare. On the other hand, Grassley has said Republicans can’t afford to miss what could be their only opportunity to keep six years of promises. Senator Joni Ernst said at town-hall meetings in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines on March 17 that she is studying the AHCA’s potential impact on Iowans and insurance premiums. I hate to break it to her: no alternative plan will magically make cheap insurance widely available while maintaining guaranteed coverage for people for pre-existing conditions and letting children stay on their parents insurance through age 26.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention that the Iowa Hospital Association estimates between 200,000 and 250,000 Iowans would lose their insurance coverage under the Republican plan. More on that story below.

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ISU president seeking greener runways

Iowa State University President Steven Leath resigned today, effective later this spring, in order to lead Auburn University. Impressed by Leath’s land-grant university experience, Auburn’s trustees hired him following a controversial closed search. In a message to ISU supporters, Leath said he and his wife had “expected to retire here.”

However, we now realize our destiny is in Alabama and leading one of the nation’s great Land-grant universities to even greater prominence.

I leave with a promise fulfilled, and that was to leave the university better than I inherited it. I leave with Iowa State achieving record enrollment, retention rates, graduation rates, job placement rates as well as records in fundraising and research funding, and numerous other metrics. I am proud of the many accomplishments that we achieved in economic development and community engagement.

A brief statement from Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter thanked Leath for his service and noted, “ISU has made great strides during his tenure, including achieving record enrollment.”

The terms of Leath’s contract at Auburn have not been finalized, but it’s a safe bet he will be paid substantially more than the $525,000 base salary he has received since the summer of 2015. The previous Auburn president earned $2.5 million a year, mostly in deferred compensation. Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press that Leath “will be forfeiting deferred compensation of $625,000 that would have accrued had he remained [ISU] president in June 2020.”

Leath had several good reasons to jump ship.

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Iowa House censored video of public hearing on voter ID bill

The topic at hand was supposed to be Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert announcing that he may run for Iowa secretary of state in 2018. In a March 19 press release, Weipert said, “I’ve been meeting with auditors of both parties across the state, and there’s wide agreement we need new leadership in the Secretary of State’s Office. […] We should be helping people vote, not making it harder.” Auditors are the top election administrators in Iowa’s 99 counties. Weipert has been an outspoken critic of Secretary of State Paul Pate’s proposal to enact new voter ID and signature verification requirements. The Republican-controlled Iowa House approved a version of Pate’s bill earlier this month.

Weipert has argued voter ID would disenfranchise some voters and create long lines at polling places. While working on a post about his possible challenge to Pate, I intended to include footage from the Johnson County auditor’s remarks at the March 6 public hearing on House File 516. I’d watched the whole hearing online. However, I couldn’t find Weipert anywhere in the video the Iowa House of Representatives posted on YouTube and on the legislature’s website.

Upon closer examination, I realized the official record of that hearing omitted the testimony of sixteen people, including Weipert.

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Weekend open thread: A new job for Steven Leath?

Some non-legislative news caught my eye this weekend: Iowa State University President Steven Leath may be leaving Ames soon. Cynthia Williford reported for the Opelika-Auburn News on March 18 that “multiple sources” say Leath is on the short list for Auburn University president. His “experience in agriculture and leadership at a land-grant university could make him an attractive pick,” she noted.

Leath “declined comment then hung up” on Gavin Aronsen of the Iowa Informer. I had a hunch he might look for a job in the South with Bruce Rastetter’s tenure on the Iowa Board of Regents ending soon.

Alluding to the “planegate” scandal, the Des Moines Register and Iowa State Daily stories on the Auburn rumor included the following two sentences: “Leath used the plane for medical appointments in Minnesota, personal flight lessons and trips to his North Carolina home. He’s reimbursed the university for those flights.” I still maintain that Leath did not fully reimburse ISU’s foundation for all of his medical travel.

Iowa State finally gave the Des Moines Register’s Jason Clayworth records including names of passengers who flew with Leath on the university’s King Air. But this story by Erin Jordan for the Cedar Rapids Gazette hints that the university was trying to avoid having the Iowa Public Information Board assess the Register’s complaint.

However, because Clayworth already had many of the unredacted records, ISU eventually decided to give him the full set, [ISU general counsel Michael] Norton said. Because of the resolution, the board did not have to rule on whether the records about potential donors were public information.

“It’s a gray area,” Norton said.

Norton has not responded to my follow-up questions, such as: Will ISU release King Air passenger names to others who request them? Will the university give Clayworth or anyone else names of passengers on future trips, for which the Des Moines Register doesn’t already have unreacted records?

This is an open thread: all topics welcome. Another story that may interest Iowa politics watchers: two months after being sentenced, former State Senator Kent Sorenson began serving his 15-month federal prison sentence this week, Grant Rodgers reported on March 15. Prosecutors had asked for probation, given Sorenson’s cooperation with the investigation into former Ron Paul presidential campaign aides. Rodgers linked to a blog post in which Sorenson wrote, “I have been very open about the mistakes I have made. I truly believe the sentence I received was unjust. The judge was politically motivated, his wife is an activist for the liberal movement and donated to my opponent.” Sorenson’s family are asking for donations to help support his wife and kids.

UPDATE: Clayworth’s report on passengers who flew on ISU’s King Air went online the evening of March 19. I enclose some excerpts below.

Clayworth clarified that the Register “had less than 80 of the 600+ pages [of King Air records]. ISU was told multiple times that we did NOT have all the records.”

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