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Kent Sorenson will serve time over illegal campaign payments

Former State Senator Kent Sorenson will spend time in prison for taking money in exchange for endorsing Ron Paul shortly before the 2012 Iowa caucuses. Sorenson pled guilty to the federal offenses more than two years ago, but his sentencing was delayed repeatedly as he cooperated with investigators looking into conduct by others. Sorenson’s testimony helped to convict three former senior Paul campaign officials of crimes including conspiracy, causing false campaign expenditure reporting and making false statements.

Prosecutors recommended probation and community service for Sorenson, but U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pratt sentenced him to 15 months in prison today, Grant Rodgers reported for the Des Moines Register. Pratt described Sorenson’s actions as “the definition of political corruption.”

In contrast, prosecutors had sought sentences of two years in prison for Paul’s former campaign chairman Jesse Benton and campaign manager John Tate. But last September, District Court Judge John Jarvey sentenced them to two years probation and $10,000 fines instead. The same judge sentenced former deputy campaign manager Dimitri Kesari to three months in prison for orchestrating the illegal payments scheme.

One thing I’ve never understood: why did federal prosecutors focus only on crimes involving Paul’s operatives, when Sorenson also conspired to accept $7,500 per month from entities linked to Michele Bachmann’s presidential campaign? A special investigator’s report on payments from pro-Bachmann committees prompted Sorenson to resign from the Iowa Senate in 2013.

Sorenson avoided trial on domestic abuse charges last year by pleading guilty to disorderly conduct.

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17 Iowa politics predictions for 2017

Two weeks late and humbled by the results from previous efforts to foretell the future, I offer seventeen Iowa politics predictions for the new year.

I struggled to compile this list, in part because it’s harder to come up with things to predict during a non-election year. I didn’t want to stack the deck with obvious statements, such as “the GOP-controlled Iowa House and Senate will shred collective bargaining rights.” The most consequential new laws coming down the pike under unified Republican control of state government are utterly predictable. I needed time to look up some cases pending before the Iowa Supreme Court. Also, I kept changing my mind about whether to go for number 17. (No guts, no glory.)

I want to mention one prediction that isn’t on this list, because I don’t expect it to happen this year or next. I am convinced that if the GOP holds the governor’s office and both chambers of the Iowa legislature in 2018, they will do away with non-partisan redistricting before the 2020 census. I don’t care what anyone says about our system being a model for the country or too well-established for politicians to discard. Everywhere Republicans have had a trifecta during the last decade, they have gerrymandered. Iowa will be no exception. So if Democrats don’t want to be stuck with permanent minority status in the state legislature, we must win the governor’s race next year. You heard it here first.

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Some of Branstad's extended family will move with him to China

I didn’t believe the early speculation about Governor Terry Branstad becoming ambassador to China, for two reasons. First, the governor shot down the rumor the day after the election. WHO-TV’s Dave Price quoted Branstad as saying on November 9, “I’m not interested in living overseas,” adding that the governor “pointed out he has seven grandchildren now and wants to remain in Iowa.”

Second, I doubted First Lady Chris Branstad would ever agree to move halfway around the world from her grandkids. At a November 21 press conference, the governor said he would consider a job offer from President-elect Donald Trump but added that he wanted to stay in Iowa and that his wife’s views on the matter would carry weight: “We are not doing anything without her blessing, that’s for sure. […] We have been married for 44 years and I want to stay married.”

In what may be his final appearance on Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program Friday, Branstad explained that some of his grandkids will be moving to China along with him and his wife.

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Throwback Thursday: When Terry Branstad first tried to elevate Kim Reynolds, 18 years ago

Terry Branstad passed over some better-known and better-connected Republicans when he picked State Senator Kim Reynolds to be his running mate in 2010. During that campaign, Branstad said he was looking for a lieutenant governor who could take his place. He made clear on many subsequent occasions that he was “grooming” Reynolds. The plan will come to fruition after Branstad is confirmed as U.S. ambassador to China.

Few Iowans outside Clarke County had heard of Reynolds in June 2010, but Branstad had taken an interest in her political career long before then. If his original plan had worked out, Reynolds would have been elected to the Iowa Senate for the first time on this day in 1999.

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Defunding Planned Parenthood will cost much more than Iowa Republicans let on

Governor Terry Branstad and Republican leaders in the Iowa House and Senate are finally poised to eliminate Planned Parenthood’s state funding, a cherished goal Democrats had repeatedly blocked in recent years.

Branstad said during his Condition of the State address on Tuesday that his budget “redirects family planning money to organizations that focus on providing health care for women and eliminates taxpayer funding for organizations that perform abortions.” House and Senate leaders likewise depict their plan as a simple change to reimburse different health care providers, creating “better options for more women.”

What Iowa Republicans don’t broadcast: they are setting the state up to spend ten times more on family planning services, without a reliable funding stream.

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Branstad's budget puts Kim Reynolds on a collision course with Big Ag

Governor Terry Branstad has rarely found himself at odds with any powerful farm lobby group. In 1995 he signed a law banning agricultural zoning, which fueled explosive growth of confined animal feeding operations across Iowa. Since returning to the governor’s office in 2011, he has named several agribusiness representatives to the the Environmental Protection Commission. He signed the probably unconstitutional “ag gag” bill targeting whistleblowers who might report alleged animal abuse. He moved to protect farmers from state inspections for electrical work. He joined a poorly-conceived and ultimately unsuccessful lawsuit seeking to block a California law on egg production standards. He has consistently rejected calls to regulate farm runoff that contributes to water pollution, instead supporting an all-voluntary nutrient reduction strategy heavily influenced by the Iowa Farm Bureau.

Despite all of the above, the governor’s two-year budget blueprint contains an obscure proposal that will draw intense opposition from Big Ag. By this time next year, the fallout could cause political problems for Branstad’s soon-to-be-successor, Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds–especially if Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett challenges her for the 2018 GOP nomination.

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