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Iowa caucus discussion thread: Romney reality check edition

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jan 30, 2015 at 11:46:12 AM CST

Speaking in "his best precinct, the top-level donor conference call," Mitt Romney announced this morning that he will not run for president a third time. Though the odds against a successful bid for the presidency would seem obvious to any casual politics watcher, Romney appears to have genuinely believed that he could win in 2016 with a sharper message. But many of his top donors, bundlers, and early-state volunteers were reluctant to board the Romney train one more time. In what may have been the last straw, yesterday news broke that David Kochel will soon move to Miami to work as "senior strategist" for former Florida Governor Jeb Bush's new political action committee. Kochel was Romney's top Iowa consultant during the 2008 and 2012 election cycles but is expected to become Bush's national campaign manager once Jeb makes his presidential race official.

Kochel told Jonathan Martin of the New York Times that a lot of Iowans "will be interested in signing up" with Jeb Bush, adding that "You compete everywhere because that's how you win delegates." Some people had speculated that Bush might bypass the Iowa caucuses, seen to favor socially conservative candidates. He skipped Representative Steve King's cattle call "Iowa Freedom Summit" last weekend in Des Moines, where several of the speakers took shots at him.

In general, Bush has spent the last month on major donor contacts and strategizing rather than public appearances. Bank on him to raise far more money than anyone else in the large presidential field during the first half of this year. He could raise as much as the rest of the field combined.

With Romney out, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie looks like the only person who can compete with Jeb for the "establishment Republican" niche. He reminded the audience at the Iowa Freedom Summit that he's visited this state eleven times since 2010. You can listen to that speech at Radio Iowa.

Iowa Republican power-broker Bruce Rastetter spearheaded a "draft Christie" before the 2012 Iowa caucuses. So far this cycle, he is staking out a more neutral position. Last week Rastetter's public relations team announced plans to hold an Iowa Agriculture Summit in Des Moines on March 7. About two dozen possible presidential candidates from both parties have been invited to participate; the full list is in a press release I've enclosed after the jump. Governor Terry Branstad told Radio Iowa this week that Jeb Bush is "very interested" in attending the forum.  

While most of the speakers at King's overly long Freedom Summit came to town solely for that occasion, 2012 Iowa caucuses winner Rick Santorum toured the state for several days afterward. He is still pushing a message I think Republicans should hear about how the GOP could better connect with working-class Americans. Radio Iowa posted the full audio here. According to Iowa Starting Line, Santorum didn't draw a lot of applause at the Freedom Summit but was well-received at his small events this past week. Nevertheless, I expect most of his 2012 supporters to flow to other candidates this year, especially Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, or Ted Cruz.

I still like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's chances to win the Iowa caucuses. By all accounts he made a good impression on the Freedom Summit crowd. So did Ben Carson, but I don't see Carson putting together a professional campaign operation. Radio Iowa posted the full audio and highlights from the Walker speech here. Click here to listen to Ted Cruz, another crowd favorite.

In contrast, former half-term Alaska Governor Sarah Palin bombed at the Freedom Summit, done in by a malfunctioning teleprompter. With her public speaking experience, she should have been able to wing it. I had to laugh when I saw Sam Clovis bash her to the Sioux City Journal's reading audience. He's probably still bitter that Palin endorsed Joni Ernst for Senate last spring when Clovis was campaigning as the true conservative in the GOP field.

The Republican Party of Iowa is accepting straw poll venue bids until Thursday, February 12. A recent press release said "Venue proposals should be able to accommodate large crowds and have ample parking." The major fundraiser coming this August has traditionally been held in Ames, but I'm hearing there will be a strong push for Farm Progress Show in Boone. The State Fairgrounds in Des Moines are another leading contender for the event.

In news from the Democratic side, Mike Allen reported for Politico that former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "strongly considering delaying the formal launch of her presidential campaign until July." A lot of Iowa Democrats are upset that Clinton has in effect frozen the field of play. They won't be happy if she leaves everyone hanging until mid-summer. By this point in 2007, several Democratic presidential candidates already were opening field offices in key Iowa cities.

Former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley made his first Iowa hire recently. Jake Oeth, who served as political director for Bruce Braley's U.S. Senate campaign, is now doing outreach for O'Malley as a consultant to the O'Say Can You See PAC. According to Pat Rynard at Iowa Starting Line, O'Malley had been recruiting Oeth for some time. The former Maryland governor has Iowa connections going all the way back to Gary Hart's 1984 presidential campaign and paid his dues last year with several Iowa visits, including the keynote speech for the state Democratic Party convention and fundraisers for Democratic candidates. Although some consider the former Maryland governor a possible rival to Clinton, I see him more as a back-up candidate if some unexpected development prevents Clinton from running.

MoveOn.org Political Action opened a Des Moines office for the Run Warren Run effort two weeks ago. I've posted the announcement after the jump; it mentions the first Iowa staff hires. As Bleeding Heartland discussed here, I think the "draft Warren" effort is mostly a waste of progressive energy and resources. Not that I'm against house parties for liberals, but they could be organizing around a more practical political cause. Spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to recruit Warren won't change the fact that she is not running for president. Pat Rynard attended the Run Warren Run office kickoff party on January 29 and posted his thoughts on the campaign's "murky mission."

I haven't heard much lately about U.S. Senator Jim Webb, who formed an exploratory committee late last year to consider a presidential bid. I never bought into him as a serious rival to Clinton, and he didn't respond adeptly to the first real scrutiny of his PAC's activities. I'm keeping an open mind about the Democratic race until the field is set, but if Webb turns out to be the only alternative candidate, I will be caucusing for Hillary.

Any comments about the Iowa caucuses are welcome in this thread.

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Grassley, Ernst vote for Keystone XL pipeline bill

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jan 29, 2015 at 20:51:02 PM CST

After hours of floor debate and votes on dozens of amendments over more than two weeks, today the U.S. Senate approved a bill to force construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Nine Democrats joined all the Republicans present to pass the final bill by 62 votes to 36 (roll call). Iowa's Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst have long supported Keystone XL, and Ernst possibly owes as much as any member of the Senate to campaign spending by the Koch brothers, who stand to profit from more tar sands oil extraction in Canada.

The Keystone XL bill now goes back to the U.S. House, which will surely send it to President Barack Obama. (All four Iowans supported the pipeline bill that cleared the House earlier this month.) A White House spokesman repeated today that the president intends to veto the current bill.

Before today's vote on final passage, senators rejected more than a dozen amendments to the Keystone XL bill. You can find all the roll calls here. Democrats offered most of the defeated amendments, which went down primarily along party lines. For instance, Grassley and Ernst helped their GOP colleagues reject Sheldon Whitehouse's amendment, which was designed to "require campaign finance disclosures from companies benefitting from the Alberta oil sands." Other defeated Democratic amendments would have further studied potential safety problems and threats to public health associated with the Keystone XL pipeline, allowed permitting agencies "to consider new circumstances and new information," or delayed the effective date of the bill until the President could rule out "certain negative impacts" from its construction.

In what may be the first Senate vote where Grassley and Ernst landed on opposite sides, Grassley was one of just three GOP senators to support Heidi Heitkamp's amendment that would have extended renewable energy tax credits. Ernst was among the 51 Republicans who voted against that amendment, which would benefit Iowa's wind power industry. Both Grassley and Ernst voted against Bernie Sanders' effort to expand incentives for installing solar power and Tom Udall's amendment on establishing a federal renewable electricity standard.

A few Republican amendments also fell short of the 60 votes needed for passage during the Keystone XL debate. Without Democratic votes, support from Grassley, Ernst, and most of the GOP caucus wasn't enough to win approval of Ted Cruz's amendment promoting crude oil exports, Jerry Moran's effort to "delist the lesser prairie-chicken as a threatened species," or Lisa Murkowski's amendment, which would "free up areas like ANWR [Alaska National Wildlife Refuge] and others that have been designated by the federal government as wilderness regions to potential drilling." Yesterday and today, Grassley and Ernst helped the Republican majority either to reject or to table a series of amendments related to climate change. Puneet Kollipara and David Malakoff described those amendments and votes in this Science magazine article.

During Senate sessions last week, Grassley and Ernst voted for language stating that climate change is "real" and "not a hoax" but against various statements indicating that human activity contributes to climate change.  

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IA-01 Democratic candidate news roundup

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jan 29, 2015 at 09:52:40 AM CST

Another Democrat is moving closer to a Congressional bid in Iowa's first district. The Daily Iowan reported several days ago that Ravi Patel "is assembling campaign operatives and meeting with influential donors in Eastern Iowa in preparation for the run." He is best known as principal and president of Hawkeye Hotels, a fast-growing company his parents established. Pat Rynard wrote on the Iowa Starting Line blog that Patel "has built connections from holding many fundraisers for Democratic candidates" and is "an entrepreneur involved in many startup businesses."

If he runs for Congress, Patel told the Daily Iowan that his campaign "would be data-driven and heavy on social media." His biggest potential weakness would probably be his youth (current age: 29). Iowans have nominated some young candidates who faced competitive primaries against more experienced rivals, most recently Ben Lange, the GOP's 2012 nominee in IA-01. But despite a lot of excitement on social media, State Representative Anesa Kajtazovic didn't make much headway with IA-01 Democratic voters, finishing fourth in the 2014 primary. Anecdotally, many Democrats liked Kajtazovic but questioned whether she had enough experience for the job she was seeking. Patel would also be competing against others who have more longstanding ties to the district. Although he owns a home in Cedar Rapids now, he has spent most of his life in either Burlington or Iowa City, which are located in the second Congressional district.

The front-runner in the Democratic primary remains Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon, who last week added her first labor union endorsement to the long list of sate legislators backing her second bid for Congress. After the jump I've posted the press release announcing the Teamsters Local 238 endorsement of Vernon. That local did not endorse in the 2014 primary to represent IA-01, but two other Teamsters locals backed the eventual winner Pat Murphy. Note: the press release mentions that Teamsters Local 238 has approximately 6,000 members. A representative for the union told me that between 2,000 and 2,500 of those members live in the IA-01 counties.

Other Democrats considering a bid in IA-01 include former Governor Chet Culver, former State Senator Swati Dandekar (who placed third in the 2014 primary), and former Saturday Night Live actor Gary Kroeger. His most recent blog post, which I've excerpted below, takes a quick look at the history of America's major political parties with a view to reducing the "vitriol in our disagreements." Kroeger posted today on Facebook that if elected to Congress, he would push for creating a national jobs program inspired by a non-profit foundation he profiled at his blog a couple of years ago.

Any comments about the IA-01 race are welcome in this thread. Republican blogger Craig Robinson pointed out recently that GOP incumbent Rod Blum will benefit tremendously from having U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley on the ballot in 2016.

It's also worth noting that at least three and perhaps as many as six battleground Iowa Senate races will be located within IA-01 next year. State Senator Jeff Danielson will seek a fourth term in Senate district 30, covering parts of Waterloo and Cedar Falls; he faced well-funded challengers in his last two re-election campaigns. State Senator Mary Jo Wilhelm won by just 126 votes in Senate district 26 in 2012. I expect the GOP to target that district, half of which is in IA-01 and half in IA-04. Republicans are less likely to mount a serious challenge against either State Senator Liz Mathis in Senate district 34 or State Senator Brian Schoenjahn in Senate district 32, but a surprise retirement would instantly make either of those races competitive. Meanwhile, Democrats are likely to target Senate district 28, where GOP State Senator Mike Breitbach won by only 17 votes in 2012. First-term Senator Dan Zumbach could also face a serious challenger in Senate district 48. After the jump I've posted a map showing all the Iowa Senate district lines. UPDATE: Perhaps I should also have mentioned Democratic State Senator Steve Sodders (SD-36) and Republican Tim Kapucian (SD-38), who will be up for re-election in 2016 as well in counties that are part of IA-01. I haven't heard of potentially strong challengers in either Iowa Senate district, but that could change before next spring.

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Iowans split as House approves bill on gas exports

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jan 28, 2015 at 13:22:31 PM CST

The new Republican-controlled Congress continues to prioritize legislation desired by the oil and gas sector. Today the U.S. House approved by 277 votes to 133 a bill to "expedite the federal approval process for liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports," Timothy Cama and Cristina Marcos reported for The Hill.

Under the bill, the Energy Department would have 30 days to review an application, starting from when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission completes its environmental review for a project. [...]

"There is no backlog or delay at the [Department of Energy] to speak of," said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "So legislation to impose an arbitrary 30-day deadline on DOE as suggested by the underlying bill is simply unnecessary."

The issue has taken on a new urgency in recent years as Republicans and some Democrats have started to see natural gas exports as a way to help eastern European countries avoid having to buy gas from Russia, thus weakening the power that Russia holds through its near monopoly on gas in the region. [...]

The Obama administration said Johnson's bill isn't necessary after a series of steps the Energy Department took last year in an attempt to streamline the review process.

Iowa Republicans Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04) all supported today's legislation. Although 41 Democrats joined the GOP caucus in voting yes, Dave Loebsack (IA-02) opposed the bill. He also voted against a similar bill House members approved last year. Loebsack recently was assigned a seat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

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House passes package of bills on human trafficking

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jan 27, 2015 at 21:18:14 PM CST

Yesterday and today the U.S. House passed two batches of bills aimed at curbing human trafficking. All four Iowans were present as representatives approved some bills by voice vote and others by unanimous roll-call votes. Cristina Marcos reported for The Hill on January 26,

One of the bills passed by voice vote, H.R. 515, would require the Department of Homeland Security to notify foreign countries when a registered sex offender travels abroad. It would further formally request notification from foreign governments when a known child sex offender is trying to enter the U.S. [...]

Another measure passed by voice vote, H.R. 468, would authorize the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to use grants for training staff on the effects of human trafficking among runaway and homeless children. [...]

In addition to HHS, State Department employees would receive training on human trafficking under a separate bill passed by voice vote, H.R. 357.  

Marcos followed up with this story on today's Congressional action:

One of the measures passed by voice vote on Tuesday, H.R. 285, would establish penalties for people who knowingly sell advertisements to exploit human trafficking victims. [...]

Meanwhile, H.R. 159, passed by voice vote, would encourage states to adopt "safe harbor" laws for trafficked children to seek welfare services by giving them preference in applications for Community Oriented Police Services (COPS) grants.

Three of the 12 measures would require training for employees at the State, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services departments. One bill passed by voice vote on Tuesday, H.R. 460, would require the Department of Homeland Security to implement a human trafficking awareness program for agency employees. Agencies eligible for the training program would include the Transportation Security Administration, and Customs and Border Protection. [...]

Another bill, H.R. 350, passed by voice vote, would direct the Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Human Trafficking to issue a report on the best strategies to prevent children from becoming human trafficking victims. And H.R. 181, passed by voice vote, would authorize the attorney general to create grants for improving deterrence programs for human trafficking of children.

Members debated two bills Monday afternoon but waited to conduct roll call votes until Tuesday due to inclement weather canceling the previous day's votes. One measure, H.R. 469, passed 410-0, would create additional reporting requirements for state child welfare systems for human trafficking. The other, H.R. 246, passed 411-0, would amend existing law to replace the term "child prostitution" with "child sex trafficking, including child prostitution," in reporting categories for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

According to Marcos, versions of some of these bills passed the House during the last Congress but did not clear the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate. New Republican Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn indicated that he will push for scheduled votes on the trafficking bills.  

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Branstad hospitalized over "seasonal illness"

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jan 26, 2015 at 13:48:43 PM CST

Governor Terry Branstad's office released this statement in the early afternoon:

Gov. Branstad fell ill at an event today at DuPont Pioneer. An ambulance was called and he was transported to Methodist hospital in Des Moines. The governor was conscious and alert during the transport to the hospital. The governor had been suffering from the effects of a cold for a couple of days.

More details will be provided as they become available.

WHO-TV reported, "A witness said the governor had been slurring his words during his remarks and then was in physical discomfort and moaning as staff assisted."

The governor's spokesman Jimmy Centers told the Des Moines Register that "while Branstad was being transported, paramedics took his vitals, and initial tests indicated 'the spell was caused by a seasonal illness.'" Since the governor remains alert, Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds is not serving as acting governor.

UPDATE: Apparently Branstad will be hospitalized overnight as a precaution. At his regular weekly press conference this morning, the governor said he and Reynolds had been fighting a "bad cold" for a "couple of weeks or more."  

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Someone should investigate state's role in Iowa's health insurance coop failure

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jan 26, 2015 at 09:59:10 AM CST

What has seemed likely since Christmas Eve was confirmed on Friday: Iowa's non-profit health insurance coop is liquidating. At the end of this post, I've enclosed the e-mail CoOportunity Health members received on January 23. Members are strongly encouraged to enroll in other health insurance before February 15, the end of 2015 Open Enrollment under the federal health care reform law. In Iowa, only Coventry now sells policies through the exchange, allowing eligible people to receive federal tax subsidies to help cover the cost of insurance.

CoOportunity Health was created to sell individual, family, and small-business health insurance policies in Iowa and Nebraska. Its membership greatly exceeded projections, but so did the costs of insuring a population that had largely been uninsured before the 2010 Affordable Care Act went into effect in 2014.

Some politicians, like Senator Joni Ernst, have nothing to say about CoOportunity's collapse beyond empty talking points about Obamacare. Others, like Senator Chuck Grassley and Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02), are digging for answers on why federal officials didn't do more to help the health insurance coop survive. Those are important questions.

As far as I can tell, no one in a position of power is examining how decisions by Iowa officials stacked the deck against CoOportunity ever becoming solvent. Did Iowa's insurance commissioner Nick Gerhart seal the coop's fate by bending over backwards to suit the 800-pound gorilla in Iowa's health insurance market (Wellmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield)? Now that CoOportunity's failure leaves only one company selling policies on Iowa's health insurance exchange, what is Gerhart's "plan B" if Coventry decides later this year against continuing to participate on the exchange for 2016?

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2015 RAGBRAI route announced: Another northern trip

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Jan 24, 2015 at 21:29:31 PM CST

A few minutes ago, the Des Moines Register announced the 2015 route for the Register's Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI). None of the ten most-guessed overnight towns are on this year's ride; many people wrongly predicted a southerly route after last year's northern passage. Instead, most of the route will traverse northern Iowa again this year, until the last two nights in Coralville and Davenport. Muscatine boosters, buoyed by unsubstantiated rumors, will have to hope for next year.

A 15-mile gravel loop will be an option for riders on July 20, added this year to honor the memory of Steve Hed. The legendary bike designer passed away last November.

Overnight stops are after the jump, along with daily mileage totals and feet of climb. Three overnight stops on this year's route were part of the original RAGBRAI in 1973.

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Weekend open thread: Iowa Freedom Summit edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Jan 24, 2015 at 11:40:00 AM CST

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? Many prospective presidential candidates are speaking at the Iowa Freedom Summit today. I'll update this post later with clips and highlights.

An MSNBC story on Representative Steve King (IA-04) made a splash yesterday with this revelation:

King is not above gloating. His staff kept a running list of some 12-16 prominent Republicans who've leveled personal criticisms against him. The congressman said he went over it himself the other day, just for old time's sake.

"Their agenda [on immigration] has been marginalized," a smiling King told msnbc. "Mine's been strengthened."

True, but that's to the long-term detriment of the country and the Republican Party.

Who do you think is on King's enemies list? Probably not many Iowans, aside from Doug Gross.

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House approves anti-abortion bill: How the Iowans voted

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jan 23, 2015 at 11:20:00 AM CST

On the 42nd anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Roe v Wade, the U.S. House approved a bill that could make abortion an unaffordable choice for many women. Emily Crockett reported for RH Reality Check,

The "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act" would make permanent the Hyde Amendment, which restricts federal funding for abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment.

The bill, HR 7, would also go much further than Hyde by prohibiting women or small businesses from using tax credits or subsidies under the Affordable Care Act to pay for any health insurance plan that covers abortion care.

The bill has no exceptions for a patient whose health is endangered by her pregnancy. [...]

The effect of the bill could be to cause the entire insurance market to drop abortion coverage, according to a statement from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Traditionally, health insurance policies have covered abortion services, because doing so is much less costly than covering prenatal care and labor/delivery.  

The bill passed by 242 votes to 179 (roll call), with only one Republican opposed and three Democrats in favor. Iowa's U.S. representatives split on party lines: Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03) and Steve King (IA-04) voted yes, while Dave Loebsack (IA-02) voted no. I enclosed King's statement below and will update if I see any other official comment from the Iowans in Congress.

House leaders had originally planned to pass a 20-week abortion ban on the Roe v Wade anniversary, to coincide with an annual March for Life in Washington, but that bill was pulled at the last minute "following a revolt from female members who objected to language regarding exceptions for rape." The bill would have allowed abortion in the case of rape only if the victim had reported the alleged crime to police. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise says the bill will come back to the floor at a later date. On Wednesday, fifteen of the sixteen Republicans who spoke in favor of the 20-week abortion ban were men.

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Branstad wants private firms to manage more Medicaid care

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jan 23, 2015 at 09:52:16 AM CST

Governor Terry Branstad will expand the number of Medicaid recipients who are covered under private managed-care companies, Tony Leys reported for the January 21 Des Moines Register.

Details are scarce on how the plan would work, but Branstad projects it would save $51.3 million from January through June 2016, its first six months. [...]

"Through better coordinated care in Medicaid, focused on improving outcomes, Iowa can better serve Medicaid patients and provide more predictability for Iowa taxpayers," [Branstad spokesman Jimmy Centers] wrote in an email to the Register. "The growth of Medicaid spending in Iowa is unsustainable over the long-term and it limits Iowa's ability to provide high-quality and stable health services to our most vulnerable residents as well as our ability to invest state taxpayer dollars in other key programs aimed at growing our state." [...]

Rep. Linda Miller, a Bettendorf Republican who serves on the [Human Resources] committee, said most of the savings would come from improved care, so Medicaid members wouldn't need hospitalization or other expensive services as often. She said legislators want to make sure the shift won't lead to cuts in services or in payment rates to medical providers.

Amy McCoy, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Human Services, said the state and federal governments spend about $4.2 billion annually - including $1.5 billion of state money - on Iowa's Medicaid program. That's up 73 percent since 2003, she said.

If Branstad's plan really would save $51.3 million each year (I am skeptical), that figure represents a little more than 1 percent of Medicaid's total annual costs in Iowa, or about 3.4 percent of the state's share of Medicaid costs.

Approximately 564,000 Iowans are now covered under the Medicaid program. It's not clear how many of them would be shifted to private companies; the Department of Human Services is expected to release a plan in March. Magellan of Iowa has offered "a broad range of mental health and substance abuse services" to most Iowans on Medicaid since 1995. Meridian Health Plan has been providing coverage to some Medicaid recipients since 2012 "through a contract with the Iowa Department of Human Services." Currently about 17,000 beneficiaries are covered through Meridian.

Leys quoted Iowa House Republican Dave Heaton as saying the governor can implement this change without legislative approval.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

P.S. - Who is old enough to remember when Republicans demonized the idea of "managed care" as evil interference between doctors and their patients?

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IA-01, IA-03: Chet Culver is thinking about it

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jan 22, 2015 at 14:05:00 PM CST

Kathie Obradovich reported in today's Des Moines Register that former Governor Chet Culver is considering a run for Congress in either Iowa's first or third district:

"Well, you know, we do have family roots in Cedar Rapids and McGregor, and I spent a lot of time as a kid in northeast Iowa," Culver said in an interview. His father, former U.S. Sen. John Culver, grew up in Cedar Rapids and was elected to Congress from there in 1964.

In addition to family history, Culver also pointed to a more recent connection he has with the 1st District: His work as governor toward recovering from the 2008 floods. His jobs and infrastructure program, I-JOBS, put nearly $500 million into flood recovery, he said.

"I feel really good about helping communities like Cedar Rapids get back on their feet, and I think if you talk to most people over there, they will acknowledge the fact that without our administration stepping up, recovery would have been even more difficult," Culver said.

Culver says he hasn't made any "final decision" on running in 2016 or potentially even waiting until 2018. If he decides to move forward, he said, he expects the next step would be an exploratory committee.

The Des Moines rumor mill has long considered Culver a possible candidate for the U.S. House or Senate someday. Although it never occurred to me that he might run in IA-01, the idea has some logic. The I-JOBS infrastructure bonding program was great for Iowa generally but especially for the Cedar Rapids area. Democrats have a voter registration advantage in the first district but are slightly outnumbered by Republicans in the third district. Of the two newly-elected Iowans in the U.S. House, Rod Blum looks like a weaker incumbent. David Young has more experience in Congress and close ties to Senator Chuck Grassley, who will be at the top of the ballot in 2016.

More than a dozen prominent Iowa Democrats have already endorsed Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon for Congress in 2016. Gary Kroeger may enter the IA-01 Democratic primary as well.

What do you think, Bleeding Heartland readers? Is there an opening for Culver in either Congressional district?

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House approves gas pipeline bill: How the Iowans voted

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jan 22, 2015 at 08:05:00 AM CST

Continuing the Republican push to make fossil fuels projects a priority for this Congress, yesterday the U.S. House approved the "Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act" by by 253 votes to 169 (roll call). Cristina Marcos reported for The Hill,

Under the measure, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) would be ordered to approve or deny a [natural gas] pipeline application within 12 months.  Agencies responsible for issuing licenses or permits must act within 90 days after FERC issues a final environmental review, though the deadline could be extended by 30 days if the agency demonstrates it can't finish in time.

But if the agency doesn't make a decision by then, a pipeline would automatically be approved.

Republicans said the legislation would put pressure on agencies to avoid unnecessary delays for natural gas pipelines. [...]

The White House issued a veto threat against the measure, saying it would "create conflicts" with current requirements and force agencies to make rushed decisions or deny applications entirely because they don't have enough information by the established deadlines.

All the Republicans present supported this bill, including Iowans Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04). They were joined by fourteen House Democrats, but Dave Loebsack (IA-02) stuck with the majority of his caucus in opposing this bill. Loebsack also voted against a similar bill that the House approved in 2013. I haven't seen any public comment on yesterday's vote, but I will update this post as needed.

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Grassley, Ernst affirm climate change is "not a hoax" but reject human contribution

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jan 21, 2015 at 23:39:21 PM CST

The U.S. Senate considered a series of amendments today to a bill that would force construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Democrats know they will be unable to block passage of the bill, but are trying to get senators on record acknowledging the existence of climate change. One amendment that would "express the sense of the Senate that climate change is real and not a hoax" passed by 98 votes to 1 (roll call). The yes camp included Iowa Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst as well as possible Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio. Laura Barron-Lopez reported for The Hill that most Republicans rejected a separate Democratic amendment which stated that "climate change is real and human activity significantly contributes to climate change." Grassley, Ernst, Cruz, Paul, and Rubio were all in the "nay" group on that amendment. From Barron-Lopez's story:

In an attempt to provide political cover for Republicans, Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) put forward an alternative that expressed the sense of the Senate that the Keystone oil pipeline would not significantly impact the environment or contribute to global emissions. The provision included a line stating that humans contribute to climate change but without the word "significantly."

Fifteen Republicans voted for that amendment, including Paul, making him the only 2016 contender to go on record as saying that human beings contribute to climate change.

Neither Grassley nor Ernst voted for the Hoeven amendment (roll call). I assume that if they do not accept any human contribution to climate change, they would not be open to any government policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  

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State of the Union and Joni Ernst response discussion thread

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jan 20, 2015 at 19:30:00 PM CST

President Barack Obama will deliver his State of the Union address later this evening to a joint session of Congress. Newly-elected Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa will deliver the Republican response afterwards. It's her chance to make a first impression on many politically-minded Americans who live outside Iowa, and lots of people were reportedly searching for information about her today. This thread is for any comments related to either Obama's or Ernst's speech. I'll update this post later with highlights and Iowa reaction.

Representative Steve King got bent out of shape by the news that a "DREAMer" (undocumented immigrant who was brought to this country as a child) will sit with First Lady Michelle Obama tonight.

#Obama perverts "prosecutorial discretion" by inviting a deportable to sit in place of honor at #SOTU w/1st Lady. I should sit with Alito.

It's bad enough that King frequently refers to undocumented immigrants as "illegals." A person should not be labeled a "deportable." Anyway, under the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Ana Zamora is not "deportable."

UPDATE: Bleeding Heartland has a longstanding policy of not commenting on women politicians' attire, but Ernst's camouflage pumps compel me to break that rule. Ernst knows her audience, and whoever designed those shoes is going to make a fortune.

SECOND UPDATE: Iowa reaction to the president's speech is after the jump. Ernst's comments were a barely-revised version of her stump speech from last year's Senate campaign. Radio Iowa mentioned some highlights, including Ernst advocating for the Keystone XL pipeline. Cristina Marcos of The Hill focused on the "folksy" aspects of Ernst's performance, including her anecdotes about working at Hardee's as a teenager and wearing bread bags over her only pair of shoes. On social media I've seen lots of Iowans debating how common it used to be for children to wear bread bags over their shoes to prevent water damage. I don't remember seeing it when I was growing up, but I was a "city girl."

Pat Rynard sees Ernst as a likely GOP vice presidential nominee in 2016. I think that's out of the question, because she is way too inexperienced, and the Sarah Palin experiment didn't work out well for Republicans. Ernst can't be the VP nominee in 2020 either, because she would have to choose between that and running for re-election to the U.S. Senate. Maybe in 2024 if Iowans re-elect her in 2020. Anyway, at the end of this post I enclosed excerpts from Rynard's case for Ernst as a VP candidate.

The most memorable line from the president's speech was reportedly ad-libbed.

THIRD UPDATE: Des Moines-based RAYGUN shirts is already out with a new design that reads, "IOWA! YOU SAY BREAD AISLE, WE SAY SHOE STORE." I think mocking the anecdote is a mistake for Democrats; doing so only plays into Republican narratives about liberal elitism. Iowa Rabbi David Kaufman is right: "Anyone who cares for the poor" and "wouldn't walk up to a homeless person and insult their clothing" should not be making fun of Ernst over her bread bag anecdote. That said, it's fair game to point out that Ernst opposes many policies (such as Medicaid expansion or a minimum wage increase) which would help the working poor and their children.

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Iowa to introduce online voter registration in 2016

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jan 20, 2015 at 17:56:23 PM CST

Starting next year, Iowans who have a driver's license or other state-issued identification will be able to register to vote online. From a press release the Iowa Secretary of State's Office sent out this afternoon:

(DES MOINES)  Today, the Iowa Voter Registration Commission adopted a rule that will allow eligible voters who possess a valid driver's license or state ID to apply for their voter registration on-line.  This system is scheduled to be in place by early 2016. [...]

On-line voter registration will be available to eligible voters with a valid Iowa driver's license or a state issued ID.  This represents 93% of the state's eligible voters.  The goal is to continue to work on ways to expand this opportunity in the future so that on-line registration will eventually be available to all eligible voters, including those without driver's licenses.

Secretary Pate said, "This is a significant step.  We had a productive meeting with the DOT and are confident we can be up and going before the 2016 election.  We'll continue to work further on the issue to expand voter registration to other groups for on-line access."

The voter registration application will be hosted on both the Iowa Department of Transportation and the Iowa Secretary of State website.

Jason Noble reported for the Des Moines Register,

Because the system will rely on electronic signatures on file with the DOT [Department of Transportation], online registration will be available only to Iowans with a driver license or non-operator ID. [...]

The potential lack of access has raised concerns among some voting-rights advocates and appeared to trouble Iowa Democratic Party Executive Director Troy Price, a member of the commission.

"Are there ways that we'll be able to capture those folks who currently don't have a driver's license?" Price wondered aloud during the meeting.

A growing number of young people are in no hurry to obtain drivers licenses for various reasons. In addition, Iowa's aging population includes more and more people who can't or don't drive anymore. I'm glad Pate is promising that his office will keep working to reach Iowans without a driver's license, but Democrats should not take their eye off this ball.

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Democrat Gary Kroeger may run for Congress in IA-01

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jan 20, 2015 at 08:53:07 AM CST

What better way to launch a new blog than with a scoop? Pat Rynard delivered that when his Iowa Starting Line website came online yesterday, with this post about Gary Kroeger considering the Democratic primary in Iowa's first Congressional district. On his own blog, Gary Has Issues, Kroeger describes himself as follows:

First and foremost, I am the father of two wonderful boys.  I am also a son, a brother, and the creative director at an advertising agency in Cedar Falls, Iowa.  I write an Op-Ed column for the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, and in my past, present and future, I have been an actor, a writer, television host, announcer, voice over artist, producer, restaurateur, emcee, activist, and fundraiser.

Judging by his comments to Rynard, Kroeger would position himself as the progressive candidate in a Democratic primary:

Born in Cedar Falls, he moved back to his hometown in 2003 to give his two young sons a more stable life. At 57, he says he's kept himself involved in local politics by hosting coffees for candidates, lobbying a bit on some statehouse legislation, and writing the left-leaning column for the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. That got him thinking about taking his passion for politics to a bigger stage.

"I have a strong voice and a capability to persuade people to listen better than most in the political arena," Kroeger says of what advantages he thinks he'd bring to a campaign. "I believe I have something that may be missing. I've been watching politics my whole life. It's a whole lot of dull. Legislators are not persuading, not convincing people, not getting people to think."

As for the issues he would run on, civil rights would anchor his platform. "Civil rights and justice for all, for gay marriage, for women, for minorities. It's what defines progressivism. And then you go out from there. It touches on the right to breathe clean air, it lends itself to environmental justice, to economic justice." On where Kroeger thinks his party goes wrong, he says, "Democrats tend to get soft to win. No one draws a line in the sand. The Constitution guarantees civil rights to all. A woman should have domain over her body. I'm not going to go away from these ideas. It defines being a progressive."

Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon rolled out her campaign in IA-01 last week with endorsements from some liberal Democrats in the Iowa legislature, but others have expressed doubt over whether she is committed to progressive values. For the most part, I believe competitive primaries make parties stronger, so I welcome a good, clean debate between Vernon, Kroeger, and anyone else who wants to make Representative Rod Blum a one-termer. May the best Democrat win.

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Bully Bill Redux: 2015 Edition

by: natewithglasses

Mon Jan 19, 2015 at 09:30:58 AM CST

(Thanks for this in-depth look at one of Governor Terry Branstad's top priorities for the legislative session. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

For the past several legislative sessions - a bully bill in some form or another has been proposed and supported by Governor Branstad.  In each session, the bill has taken on many different forms and have gone from extreme (license to bully provision) to this year's shocking development.

Read on for the latest in the Governor's proposed 2015 Bully Free Iowa Act.  

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Martin Luther King, Jr. Day weekend open thread

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jan 19, 2015 at 11:20:00 AM CST

Technically, it's still a long weekend for some people, so here's an open thread for all topics.

Establishing a holiday to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a long road, as Ben Kamisar reported for The Hill yesterday:

The King holiday used to be controversial, only passing the House more than ten years after Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) filed the first bill calling for a day to commemorate the slain civil rights icon. The measure eventually passed in 1983. Ninety representatives and 22 senators voted against it. [...]

There are only six current members of Congress who previously voted against creating a national holiday for King. Another small handful did so at the state level.

The six who cast votes against the national holiday are all Republicans: Sens. Richard Shelby (Ala.), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), John McCain (Ariz.) and Orrin Hatch (Utah), as well as Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (Wis.) and Hal Rogers (Ky.). Shelby cast his vote as a Democrat, before he switched parties. [...]

A Grassley spokesperson noted that the Senator has been "very active in several African American causes," including efforts to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act when he joined the Senate in the early 1980s. More recently, he has advocated for black farmers who had been discriminated against when applying for financial help.

"Senator Grassley's vote against an MLK Day holiday was purely an economic decision both in the cost to the broader economy in lost productivity, and the cost to the taxpayers with the federal government closed," the aide told The Hill in an email.  

Not one of Grassley's finer moments, that's for sure.

Bleeding Heartland has compiled other links related to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. here, here, here, here, and here.

I haven't seen the movie "Selma" yet. For those who have, what did you think?

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Three pros and three cons of Andy McGuire as Iowa Democratic Party chair (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Jan 17, 2015 at 15:59:23 PM CST

Earlier today the Iowa Democratic Party's State Central Committee selected Dr. Andy McGuire to lead the party for the next two years. McGuire was the favorite going into the election and won on the third ballot against Kurt Meyer. Another candidate for state chair, former Congressional candidate Jim Mowrer, then ran for first vice chair and was elected on the first ballot.

Dr. McGuire has been active in Iowa Democratic politics for more than 20 years, since working on her sister-in-law Sheila McGuire's 1994 Congressional campaign in Iowa's fifth district. (Sheila McGuire later served as state party chair for a term.) In the political world, Andy McGuire is best-known for being Mike Blouin's running mate during the 2006 Democratic primary for governor. The pro-choice mother of seven helped balance the ticket, as many Democratic activists were concerned about Blouin's stance on abortion rights.

In recent years, McGuire has often been mentioned as a possible Congressional candidate, but she ruled out running in Iowa's third district in 2016 if elected to lead the party. Many central Iowa Democrats expect her to run for governor in 2018.

Although I favored one of the other candidates, McGuire brings a lot to the table as a state party leader. My first thoughts on the pros and cons of her election are after the jump.  

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