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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Black cohosh (Black bugbane)

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jul 29, 2015 at 22:13:02 PM CDT

Mid-summer wildflowers are near their peak now, and you may not have to leave town to find them. American bellflower is prevalent along most of the bike trails in the Des Moines area. During the past week I've seen the first common evening primrose and wingstem flowers opening.

Gorgeous stands of cup plant are in full flower too. Look for those along the trail that heads north from Gray's Lake along Martin Luther King Drive in downtown Des Moines, or off the Windsor Heights trail near the junction with the Clive Greenbelt trail, or along the entrance to the Valley View Aquatic Center parking lot in West Des Moines.

Today's featured plant may or may not truly belong in central Iowa. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service shows Iowa within the native range, which covers most of eastern North America. But I have been told that the original range of Black cohosh, also known as black bugbane, probably did not extend as far west as Des Moines. The common names are a bit confusing, given that this plant has white flowers. According to the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden's website, "The 'black' in the name refers to the color of the root (a rhizome) which is a dark brown." Incidentally, Blue cohosh, the focus of an Iowa wildflower post last month, has yellow flowers.

I enclose below several pictures of black cohosh, a popular plant with herbalists, especially for inducing labor and treating symptoms of menopause or hot flashes in breast cancer survivors. Scroll to the end for a bonus picture of an Asiatic dayflower blooming. As the name suggests, that plant is not native to North America, but it has become widespread, and you'll often see it in gardens. Many people consider dayflower an undesirable weed, but I enjoy seeing the flowers pop up in our yard.

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Matt Hinch stepping down as Branstad's chief of staff

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jul 29, 2015 at 12:55:00 PM CDT

After nearly two years on the job, Matt Hinch is resigning as Governor Terry Branstad's chief of staff, effective August 7. The full press release from the governor's office is after the jump.

Hinch is leaving for an unspecified "private sector" opportunity. I expect to hear soon that he is joining one of the Republican presidential campaigns. Hinch's previous work included a stint as campaign manager for then-U.S. Representative Tom Latham. He also served as chief of staff for Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen and handled government relations for the Greater Des Moines Partnership, an influential business-oriented group.

Hinch kept a low profile as the governor's chief of staff, rarely making the news. Last year, he headed a quick (and I mean very quick) review of secret settlements with former state employees, which sidestepped allegations of political cronyism that affected the careers of some merit-based state workers. Former Iowa Workforce Development Director Teresa Wahlert has asserted that Hinch and other senior Branstad administration officials thwarted her efforts to make her department's chief administrative law judge position a merit-based job, as the U.S. Department of Labor has demanded.

UPDATE: Another plausible theory: Hinch may go to work for the Iowa Partnership for Clean Water, an astroturf group the Iowa Farm Bureau created to lobby against any regulations to improve water quality.

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Two perspectives on "Why Latinos don't caucus in Iowa"

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jul 29, 2015 at 07:20:02 AM CDT

This week's must-read piece for any Iowa politics watcher is by Matt Vasilogambros for the National Journal: "Why Latinos Don't Caucus in Iowa." The short answer: "no one asked them." You should click through to read the fuller explanation. I've posted a few excerpts after the jump.

I also enclose below comments from Christian Ucles on Vasilogambros's article. A native of Honduras who grew up in Iowa, Ucles has worked on campaigns in Texas and Minnesota as well as in our state. He is currently the political director for the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa.  

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Hell, hell, the gang's all here

by: mrtyryn

Tue Jul 28, 2015 at 09:44:52 AM CDT

(Interesting look at key points and possible effects of Iowa Code on criminal gang participation and gang recruitment, adopted 25 years ago. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

The New York Times Magazine featured an article around the life of a former gang member and addict, Dr. Jesse De La Cruz, who currently serves as an expert witness in some California jury trials.  His testimony has convinced juries on some occasions that a person is not a gang member.  That's not to say that the defendant was not convicted of a crime; it's just that he wasn't convicted of being a gang member.
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House bill targets "sanctuary cities": How the Iowans voted

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jul 28, 2015 at 09:42:14 AM CDT

Late last week the U.S. House voted to "withhold certain federal law enforcement grants to cities that have policies designed to shelter illegal immigrants from deportation," Cristina Marcos reported for The Hill. The "Enforce the Law for Sanctuary Cities Act" passed on a mostly party-line vote of 241 to 179 (roll call). Iowa Republicans Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04) voted for the bill, while Democrat Dave Loebsack (IA-02) voted against it.

King is a leading voice for House conservatives on immigration policy, some of whom wanted the sanctuary cities bill to go further. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy helped bring the Iowa Republican on board last week by promising "to bring enforcement immigration legislation to the floor after August," Seung Min Kim reported for Politico, citing an e-mail King sent to fellow House members. What a change from two years ago, when King was battling to stop House leaders from bringing up the Senate-approved comprehensive immigration reform bill.

Senator Chuck Grassley has introduced legislation in the upper chamber to target "sanctuary cities" and presided over a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to discuss his bill on July 21, Mike Lillis reported. "There is no good rationale for noncooperation between the feds and state and local law enforcement," according to Grassley. A White House statement indicated that President Barack Obama would veto such legislation and urged Congress to give the president's 2014 executive orders on immigration "a chance to work," because they prioritize deporting "the worst offenders"--in contrast to the "coercive approach" of the House bill on sanctuary cities.

The term "sanctuary city" has no precise legal definition. No Iowa municipality has embraced the label, although Iowa City officials have considered the issue in recent years. Some maps of sanctuary cities do not show any existing in Iowa, while others list many Iowa locations where county officials will not honor a detainer from U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement without a judge's approval. Incidentally, that policy doesn't just apply to a few liberal enclaves; county jails in rural, conservative areas like Ida, Monona, Greene, and Franklin counties have adopted the same approach.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention that in June, King offered an amendment to the Justice Department appropriations bill that "prohibits Justice Department grants from being used for policies employed by sanctuary cities to shelter illegal immigrants." King's amendment passed with support from fellow Iowa Republicans Blum and Young; Loebsack and every other Democrat present voted against it.

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Pella Electric Cooperative trying to discourage customers from installing solar or wind

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 27, 2015 at 18:01:32 PM CDT

Solar power made big news in Iowa today, as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke in Des Moines about ambitious goals for installing solar panels. In a forthcoming post, Bleeding Heartland will compare the Democratic presidential candidates' proposals to combat climate change by increasing renewable energy production and decreasing carbon emissions.

Iowa has tremendous potential to generate electricity from the sun. Recognizing that fact, large bipartisan majorities in the Iowa House and Senate "triple[d] the size of Iowa's successful solar tax incentive program" in 2014 and during this year's session increased available solar energy tax incentive funds by another $500,000 to $5 million per year.

But some segments of the utilities sector have been slow to embrace solar power. One of Iowa's major investor-owned utilities persuaded the Iowa Utilities Board to block certain financing arrangements that made it easier for customers to install solar panels. An appeal of that administrative decision went to the Iowa Supreme Court, which overturned the Iowa Utilities Board last year.

Rural electric cooperatives, which supply electricity to roughly 650,000 Iowans, have approached renewable energy and solar power in vastly different ways. Farmers Electric Cooperative in the Kalona area installed the largest solar farm in Iowa last year.  

But as first reported by Karen Uhlenhuth at Midwest Energy News last week, the Pella Electric Cooperative is seeking to penalize customers who choose to install new solar or other renewable technology. Lee Rood picked up the story on the front page of today's Des Moines Register. The cooperative's new monthly charge for a handful of consumers is brazen and probably illegal.  

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All Iowans in House vote to block any mandatory labeling of GMOs in food

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 27, 2015 at 07:10:00 AM CDT

Late last week the U.S. House approved a bill to make it harder for consumers to find out whether food products contain genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). Although national polls have repeatedly shown that more than 90 percent of Americans believe foods with GMOs should be labeled, all four Iowans in the U.S. House voted for the misleadingly named "Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015." Opponents nicknamed the bill the "Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act" or the "Monsanto Protection Act."

Follow me after the jump for details on the bill's provisions, how the Iowans voted on amendments House Democrats offered during the floor debate, and a list of Iowa organizations and business that urged members of Congress either to support or reject this bill.  

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Weekend open thread: ADA anniversary and Iowa caucus polls edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Jul 26, 2015 at 11:55:31 AM CDT

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

The Americans With Disabilities Act took effect 25 years ago this week. How many laws have changed the country for the better as much as Senator Tom Harkin's greatest achievement? The ADA helped millions of people who might have been housebound--like my friend who was able to run errands or take her son to the park, even though she was confined to a wheelchair. Judy Schmidt, who chairs the Iowa Democratic Party's Disability Caucus, shared how the ADA has affected her in a guest column for the Cedar Rapids Gazette. I've enclosed excerpts after the jump. Bleeding Heartland posted more background and links about the law to mark its 20th anniversary. For the record, Iowa's senior Senator Chuck Grassley also voted for the final version of the ADA, as did most of his fellow Republicans. UPDATE: Added below excerpts from Harkin's guest editorial in the Sunday Des Moines Register.

Donald Trump has led the last five national polls of Republican voters and is rising in stature in Iowa, if you believe the latest surveys of likely GOP caucus-goers. Follow me after the jump for details.

I brought my kids to Bernie Sanders' town-hall in West Des Moines on Friday night. My reflections on that event are at the end of this post.

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Three cheers for Iowa's county recorders

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jul 24, 2015 at 11:23:52 AM CDT

Less than a month after the U.S. Supreme Court majority struck down state-level bans on same-sex marriages, at least two county clerks in Kentucky have refused to issue marriage licenses to LGBT couples, prompting a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky on behalf of four couples. One of the county clerks has decided to stop issuing marriage licenses to anyone in her county so that she can't be forced to perform that service for LGBT citizens. How embarrassing. You want nothing to do with same-sex marriages? Go work for a church that doesn't recognize them.

I'm so proud that to my knowledge, no county recorder in Iowa ever used his or her religious convictions as an excuse for not doing a secular job in a professional way.

Not for lack of trying by some social conservative activists, egged on by certain Iowa Republican lawmakers. Follow me after the jump for a walk down memory lane and a list of Iowa counties where LGBT couples have exercised their right to marry since 2009.

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Iowa women may breastfeed their children in any public place

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jul 23, 2015 at 21:45:00 PM CDT

An unfortunate incident at a public pool in Dubuque prompted that city to update its written policies this week to permit "breastfeeding in a public swimming pool or deck area at the mother's discretion." On Monday, KCRG's Katie Wiedemann interviewed the woman whom lifeguards asked to retreat to a private place to nurse her baby. Thanks in part to advocacy by the non-profit Family Friendly Business Initiative, Dubuque officials quickly brought their policies into compliance with state law, Wiedemann reported today.

Whether or not other Iowa cities have similar written policies, breastfeeding mothers should know that they need no special permission to nurse their babies in public parks or recreation areas. Since 2000, Iowa Code 135.30A has stated, "Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, a woman may breast-feed the woman's own child in any public place where the woman's presence is otherwise authorized." During my breastfeeding years, I nursed in public hundreds of times--including at least once in the rotunda at the Capitol--and was hardly ever hassled. My impression from acquaintances with babies and young toddlers is that it's increasingly rare for employees in stores, restaurants, or other public places to ask nursing mothers to find an out-of-the-way spot.  

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IA-01: "Middle Class Fighter" Pat Murphy is in

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jul 23, 2015 at 12:59:45 PM CDT

Former Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy made his second Congressional campaign official this morning. In the shortest YouTube candidate announcement video I've ever seen (just fourteen seconds long), Murphy declared, "The truck's up and running...and so am I." A press release announced, "Middle Class Fighter to Take on [GOP incumbent Rod] Blum," and a e-mail to supporters fleshed out Murphy's case. Excerpt:

Teri and I discussed this race long and hard and the bottom line is that middle class Iowans deserve to have a voice in Congress, somebody who knows the struggles they face, and will fight for them.  I've done that my whole life, because that's who I am.  And there's no other candidate running - from either party - who has been on the right side of these fights from day one.

From raising the minimum wage and teacher pay, passing equal pay for women, to protecting women's health care and all Iowan's civil rights.  That's my record.  Fighting for progressive Iowa values is in my blood, with your help, it's exactly what I'll do in Congress.

Murphy's campaign is on the web at Pat Murphy for Congress, on Facebook here, and Twitter here. (His old campaign website is no longer functional.)

I enclose below the candidate's full e-mail to supporters, as well as excerpts from the press release. It points to Murphy's lead in a recent internal poll of Democrats in IA-01 and recalls his outright victory in the 2014 primary, despite being outspent by some of his four opponents. The press release also notes that in the general election, Murphy outperformed both U.S. Senate nominee Bruce Braley and the gubernatorial ticket of Jack Hatch and Monica Vernon. Vernon has been considered the front-runner for the 2016 primary in IA-01, on the strength of early fundraising and endorsements from Iowa-based and Washington Democrats. Gary Kroeger is also seeking the Democratic nomination.

Former U.S. Representative Dave Nagle is backing Murphy for Congress again, as is the Blue America PAC, which supports progressive candidates in Democratic primaries as well as against Republicans in general elections. Murphy dominated the labor union endorsements before the 2014 primary. I'll be interested to see whether Vernon picks up more labor support this cycle. So far, she has the backing of Teamsters Local 238, the "largest Teamster Local headquartered in the state of Iowa," and the  Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Building Trades Council, which supported her during the 2014 primary. UPDATE: Added below a Vernon campaign press release "welcoming" Murphy to the race and listing her key endorsers. They include several Iowa House Democrats who served in the legislature while Murphy was speaker from 2007 through 2010. SECOND UPDATE: Added Kroeger's statement below.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: American bellflower

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jul 22, 2015 at 21:35:00 PM CDT

This week's featured plant is my favorite summer woodland wildflower. American bellflower (Campanulastrum americanum or sometimes Campanula americanum) is native to much of North America east of the Rocky Mountains. You can find its bluish-purple star-shaped flowers all over central Iowa now, especially along bike trails. If you take a closer look, watch where you step, because poison ivy thrives in similar habitats and soil conditions.

The American bellflowers pictured below are all blooming near woodland edges in Windsor Heights and Urbandale.

This post is also a mid-week open thread: all topics welcome.

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Latest Quinnipiac poll shows three Republicans leading Clinton, other Democrats in Iowa

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jul 22, 2015 at 14:12:27 PM CDT

Quinnipiac's new swing-state poll paints a worrying picture of the 2016 general election for Iowa Democrats. If the poll is accurate, Hillary Clinton's favorability has plummeted in recent months, and at least three Republican candidates lead Clinton and other prospective Democratic candidates head to head in Iowa.  
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Former State Senator Kent Sorenson facing new criminal charges

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jul 21, 2015 at 22:50:00 PM CDT

Former State Senator Kent Sorenson faces new criminal charges of domestic abuse assault and interference with official acts, KCCI-TV's Cynthia Fodor reported today. Sorenson resigned his Iowa Senate seat in 2013 and pled guilty to federal crimes last year in connection with illegal payments he received during the 2012 presidential campaign. Prosecutors have agreed to delay sentencing in that case because Sorenson has been cooperating with the federal government on a "larger investigation."

Fodor reported that Sorenson was arrested on July 17 after a fight with his wife, Shawnee Sorenson. She did not call the police; rather, someone called 911 after seeing her walking down the road near their home. Warren County Sheriff Brian Vos said Shawnee Sorenson "had redness around her eye and did admit she had been struck by Mr. Sorenson." Two sheriff's deputies then suffered unspecified injuries while arresting the former senator.

Sorenson's attorney said his client will plead not guilty to the new charges, and that the whole family has been under stress while Sorenson awaits sentencing in the federal case. In a statement to KCCI, published in full on the television station's website, Shawnee Sorenson said today that she started the fight on Friday after drinking some alcohol, "which I now realize was not the right thing to do." By her account, her husband grabbed her because she was "throwing things" and "clawed him." Shawnee Sorenson added that she did not want the police involved and "would not press charges," because "Kent looked worse than I did." Nor did she ask for the no-contact order that was filed after the arrest. She is "tired of the media portraying Kent in a negative light. He has done his best to be a good father, husband and provider for our family despite all the pressures he is facing."

Linh Ta reported for the Des Moines Register that Sorenson "had $2,000 bond posted to avoid jail" and will have a preliminary hearing on the new criminal charges on July 28. He was acquitted on a domestic abuse assault charge in 1994 "when the witness testified that the allegations were false," Jennifer Jacobs reported for the Des Moines Register in 2010.  

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New poll of Iowa Democrats testing messages about Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 20, 2015 at 21:52:03 PM CDT

This evening I was a respondent for a lengthy poll testing messages about Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. I assume the Clinton campaign commissioned this survey. If not her campaign, then some allied group. Most of the questions seemed geared toward determining what is driving Iowa Democrats toward or away from the front-runner and the senator from Vermont, who has claimed the progressive alternative niche in the presidential race. Several of the questions drew from rhetoric Clinton uses in her stump speech.

The caller identified herself as representing "National Data Collection." She was calling from 586-200-0157, the same number used for a different message-testing phone poll I received in early March.

I almost feel sorry for these pollsters having to repeat so many questions when they call my house. My notes are after the jump. I've been a respondent for many polls over the years, but this one included a device that was new to me.

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Desmund Adams first Democrat running in IA-03: Five themes of his campaign

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 20, 2015 at 17:51:32 PM CDT

This morning, business owner Desmund Adams became the first Democratic candidate in Iowa's third Congressional district. His campaign is on the web here as well as on Facebook and Twitter. State Representative Ako Abdul-Samad attended the event and confirmed to me that he will support Adams for Congress. Former State Senator and gubernatorial candidate Jack Hatch was there too and told me he is "encouraging" Adams to run.

I enclose below more background on Adams and five themes from his remarks today, along with details on first-term Representative David Young's record in those areas.

Leaders in both parties expect IA-03 to be competitive in 2016. Young is on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's target list and in the National Republican Congressional Committee's incumbent protection program. The latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State's office indicate that 150,925 active registered Democrats, 162,921 Republicans, and 162,161 no-party voters live in IA-03. The district covers sixteen counties in central and southwest Iowa. About two-thirds of the Democrats and more than half of all registered voters reside in Polk County, containing Des Moines and most of its suburbs.

I hope to see a competitive Democratic primary, which would help raise the eventual nominee's profile and likely sharpen his or her skills on the stump. Other potential candidates include State Senator Matt McCoy, former Governor Chet Culver, and Jim Mowrer, the 2014 Democratic nominee against Steve King in IA-04. Since Young's 2014 opponent Staci Appel ruled out a repeat Congressional bid, I have not heard of any Democratic women actively considering this race, but if one emerges, the EMILY's List political action committee may get involved on her behalf.  

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Weekend open thread: Hall of Fame and Family Leadership Summit edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Jul 19, 2015 at 11:52:06 AM CDT

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

All five Democratic presidential candidates appeared at the Iowa Democratic Party's Hall of Fame dinner in Cedar Rapids on Friday night. I've posted below my impressions from the speeches; you can watch the videos on C-SPAN. It's a shame the venue couldn't accommodate more people, because lots of interested Iowa Democrats were unable to get tickets for the event.

Before the Hall of Fame dinner, I spent some time with an old friend who's a huge Hillary Clinton supporter. Huge, as in, she didn't take down her Hillary yard sign until the grass was long enough to need mowing in the spring of 2008. She mentioned to me that she's relieved to see Clinton working hard this year instead of "ignoring" Iowa like last time. When I told my friend that Hillary visited Iowa more than 30 times in 2007, spending all or part of 70 days in the state, she was surprised. I'm amazed by how many Iowans have bought into the media-constructed narrative that Clinton "bombed" in the caucuses because she took the state for granted.

Ten Republican presidential candidates came to Ames on Saturday for the Family Leadership Summit organized by Bob Vander Plaats' FAMiLY Leader organization. C-SPAN posted all of those speeches here. As usual, Donald Trump sucked up most of the oxygen in the room by questioning whether Senator John McCain had been a hero during the Vietnam War. O.Kay Henderson posted the audio at Radio Iowa. Rival presidential candidates with the exception of Ted Cruz rushed to condemn Trump's remarks. Some of the Family Leadership Summit attendees may have been more upset by Trump's comments about his three marriages and his admission that when he's done something wrong, "I don't bring God into that picture."

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Five ways cleaning up coal-fired power plants will save Iowans' lives

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jul 17, 2015 at 10:05:28 AM CDT

The best news in Iowa this week came out of a federal courtroom in Cedar Rapids. As Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press, "Iowa's second-largest power company agreed Wednesday to drastically cut pollution at several coal-fired power plants under a Clean Air Act settlement that's expected to make the air safer and easier to breathe around the state." You can read the full consent decree here and the complaint filed against the Alliant Energy subsidiary Interstate Power and Light here.

Huge credit for the victory goes to the Sierra Club Iowa chapter. Foley reports that this federal government enforcement action "started in 2011 when the Sierra Club filed a notice accusing the company [Interstate Power and Light] of violating the Clean Air Act." The Sierra Club advocates for a range of policies to reduce air pollution and Iowa's reliance on coal to generate electricity.

I enclose below highlights from Foley's article and five reasons the changes at the affected power plants will save Iowans' lives.

The agreement U.S. officials reached with Interstate Power and Light is also an encouraging sign that a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision against the Environmental Protection Agency's rule on mercury emissions is at most a temporary setback for clean air. In some communities, the court's ruling won't even slow down efforts to convert coal-fired plants to other fuel sources.

If only Governor Terry Branstad, who has often spoken of his desire to make Iowa the "healthiest state," could recognize the benefits of burning less coal. Although Branstad was happy to bask in the reflected glory of new pollution controls at one of the affected Interstate Power and Light power plants, he welcomed the U.S. Supreme Court ruling against the mercury rule, which the governor's office characterized as a "misguided" EPA regulation.  

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Iowa town abandons dumbest fundraising idea ever

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jul 16, 2015 at 21:13:23 PM CDT

Sanity has prevailed in an Iowa town where officials had been selling raffle tickets for the right to shoot a human being with a taser at a festival coming up this weekend.
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Iowa Congressional 2Q fundraising news roundup

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jul 16, 2015 at 15:17:30 PM CDT

Congressional candidates were required to file quarterly campaign finance reports with the Federal Election Commission by the end of July 15. Three of Iowa's four incumbents have no declared challengers yet, so most of the action was in the first district, where Monica Vernon's filing removed all doubt that Washington, DC Democrats want her to face first-term Representative Rod Blum, considered one of the most vulnerable Republicans in Congress.

Follow me after the jump for details from all of the Iowans' FEC reports. As happened during the first quarter, one would-be Congressional challenger out-raised each of the four incumbents for the reporting period.

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