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Henry Rayhons will be tried in his home county

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Dec 22, 2014 at 13:35:00 PM CST

A district court judge has ruled that former State Representative Henry Rayhons will be tried in Hancock County for 3rd Degree Sexual Abuse (allegedly having sex with his incapacitated wife). Prosecutors had tried to move the trial to another county, a request more often made by defense attorneys. Tony Leys reported for the Des Moines Register,

District Judge Rustin Davenport heard arguments last week from prosecutors, who said extensive pretrial publicity about the case would make it impossible to find impartial jurors in Rayhons' home county. But the judge sided with defense lawyer Joel Yunek, who contended that the news coverage included statements both sympathetic and harmful to Henry Rayhons.

"Exposure to news accounts does not by itself create substantial likelihood of prejudice in minds of prospective jurors and does not alone entitle a party to a change of venue," the judge wrote, in a decision filed late Friday afternoon. Davenport wrote that the articles in question, including those in local media, The Des Moines Register and Bloomberg News, mostly consisted of material that would be introduced at trial anyway.

The judge disagreed with prosecutors' contention that jurors could be swayed by Rayhons' supporters' statements in the media that the charge was politically motivated by a Democratic attorney general against a Republican legislator.

"The court is skeptical that most jurors would accept such speculative statements or that such statements would influence most fair-minded jurors," Davenport wrote. "...Even though the defendant was re-elected with approximately 70 percent of the vote in 2012, the defendant's popularity in the polls does not equate to jurors being unable to be fair and impartial regarding a criminal prosecution against an elected official or formerly elected official. The court would note that the public is much less likely to put their elected officials on a pedestal as they may have been in the past."

During last week's hearing,

Yunek said the unusual case will raise difficult questions for jurors to consider. "But whether those jurors reside in Hancock or Poweshiek or Sioux or Johnson or any county in the state of Iowa, it's going to be the same challenges, the same grappling, regardless," he said.

I will be surprised if Rayhons is convicted. All he needs is one juror who believes a man can do whatever he wants with his wife. In any group of Iowans selected for jury duty, there is probably at least one person inclined toward that view, regardless of the trial venue.

On the other hand, I suspect Rayhons is more likely to get a sympathetic hearing from people he represented for eighteen years in the Iowa House than from a random group of twelve Iowans who have never heard of him. State lawmakers get overwhelmingly positive attention from local news media. If I were the prosecutor in this case, I would have wanted to move the trial, not primarily because of reporting about the arrest and alleged crime, but to avoid the residual effect from many years of favorable coverage Rayhons would have received as "our man in Des Moines."  

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50 "most wanted" Iowa Republican discussion thread

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Dec 21, 2014 at 20:45:00 PM CST

Following up on last week's look at "most wanted" Iowa Democrats, Jennifer Jacobs wrote a feature for today's Sunday Des Moines Register on "50 of Iowa's makers and shakers for the Republican presidential caucuses." Any comments about the list or GOP politics in general are welcome in this thread.

It seems like Jacobs couldn't decide whether she was making a list of the 50 most influential Iowa Republicans, or the people who will be most sought out by presidential candidates. A lot of names in the top ten will almost certainly not endorse any candidate before the Iowa caucuses (Governor Terry Branstad, Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, Iowa GOP Chair Jeff Kaufmann, Branstad's chief of staff Matt Hinch). For that reason, I expect some of the presidential campaigns to do far more courting of donors and activists who are lower down on Jacobs' list. Big money men (they are all men) who will be highly sought after include Kyle Krause, Pete Brownell, Bruce Rastetter, Gary Kirke, Jim Cownie, David Oman, and Robert Haus.

I was surprised Jacobs put David Kochel and Sara Craig Gongol so far down the list at numbers 36 and 39, respectively. Not only were they deeply involved in Romney's 2012 campaign in Iowa, millions of dollars passed through dark money groups those two ran during this year's U.S. Senate race. To my mind, they will be among the go-to Iowa Republicans for people who want to slime a less-preferred candidate before the caucuses, but don't want their fingerprints on the job. Kochel and Craig aren't shy about skating close to the edge when it comes to federal rules designed to ban coordination between campaigns and outside groups making independent media expenditures.

I was also surprised Jacobs left out talk radio host Steve Deace. Along with Sam Clovis and a few leaders of megachurches, he will be a loud voice in the Iowa GOP's social conservative wing, and I'm sure several presidential candidates will work hard to win his endorsement.

UPDATE: I thought it was strange that former Iowa House Speaker Chris Rants made Jacobs' list--he hasn't been speaker since 2006, and he retired from the legislature in 2010. James Lynch pointed out that it's even more odd for Rants to be there, given that Jacobs did not mention current Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen or Iowa Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix. Paulsen endorsed Newt Gingrich shortly before the 2012 caucuses. Dix did not endorse any of the contenders.

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Weekend open thread: Stephen Colbert farewell edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Dec 20, 2014 at 09:32:35 AM CST

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome. Happy Chanukah to those who are celebrating. It looks like most of Iowa won't have a white Christmas, but at least that will make travel easier for people going home for the holidays.

This week Stephen Colbert wrapped up production of The Colbert Report on Comedy Central. Dozens of political and cultural celebrities showed up to help sing "We'll Meet Again" during the final show on Thursday. Next year Colbert will take over the CBS Late Show from David Letterman.

Although I've been a fan since the days Colbert was a correspondent on The Daily Show, I didn't expect his character to be able to carry an entire program for more than a year or two before the shtick got old. I was wrong: the quality remained amazingly high. In this podcast, Colbert described his process for getting in character and a typical day in the production of The Colbert Report. So much work went into what came off as effortless commentaries on current events.

Colbert filmed more than 1,400 episodes of his late-night show, but his most memorable performance as his conservative alter ego was surely his routine at the White House Correspondents' Dinner in 2006. Click here for the video or here for a full transcript.

NPR posted excerpts from six different interviews with Colbert since his show debuted in 2005.

Over the years, Colbert interviewed 81 members of the U.S. House for his "Better Know a District" segments. Click through to watch the final installment, featuring Republican Jack Kingston of Georgia's first district. It was hilarious.

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Iowa seen benefiting from normalized relations with Cuba

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Dec 18, 2014 at 13:09:24 PM CST

President Barack Obama announced yesterday that the U.S. would normalize relations with Cuba after about a year of secret negotiations involving Canada and Pope Francis. On hearing the news, my first thought was that when the Soviet Union collapsed, I would never have believed it would be another 23 years before this happened. My second thought was that expanded trade with Cuba would help Iowa's economy. Matt Milner reported for the Ottumwa Courier that agricultural groups are bullish on the news. I've posted excerpts from his story after the jump. Key point:

A paper written in 2003 for Iowa State University's Center for Agricultural and Rural Development, shortly after some restrictions were lifted, said Iowa could benefit more from increased Cuban trade than any other state aside from Arkansas and California.

I was surprised not to see more reaction to yesterday's news from members of Iowa's Congressional delegation. I know everyone's gone home for the Christmas recess, but still--big news. I will update this post as needed.

Several possible presidential candidates commented on the new U.S. approach to Cuba. Senator Rand Paul was supportive, saying Obama's decision was a "good idea" since the American embargo against Cuba "just hasn't worked." Republicans who bashed the president on this issue included former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has advocated normal relations with Cuba for some time.

UPDATE: Bleeding Heartland user cocinero posted Senator Chuck Grassley's reaction in the comments.

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Final news roundup of how Harkin and Grassley voted

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Dec 17, 2014 at 19:36:37 PM CST

Senator Tom Harkin cast his final votes in Congress yesterday as the upper chamber wrapped up the lame-duck session. He and Senator Chuck Grassley were on opposite sides as Democrats confirmed a batch of presidential nominees on Monday and Tuesday. You can view all the roll calls here; the nominees were approved mostly along party lines. They included several judges and assistant secretaries of various agencies and Dr. Vivek Murthy, confirmed as surgeon general by 51 votes to 43, with only one Republican yes vote. Murthy had been the target of a relentless "smear campaign" by conservative media and the National Rifle Association, because of his comment in October 2012 that "Guns are a health care issue."

The conservative media attacks against Murthy began in early March. Coverage of his nomination focused on his past acknowledgement that gun violence affects public health, which conservative media spun as evidence Murthy is obsessed with gun regulations. (Murthy has actually said his focus as Surgeon General will not be on gun violence, but rather obesity.)

Because of strange Senate procedural rules, hardline conservative Republican Senator Ted Cruz inadvertently made this week's raft of confirmations possible. His constitutional point of order against the massive federal government funding bill last Friday prompted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to convene the chamber on Saturday. That gave Democrats more time to set up confirmation votes on nominees this Monday and Tuesday. Rebecca Kaplan of CBS News explained here that the most controversial presidential nominees to be confirmed "thanks to Ted Cruz" are Murthy, Tony Blinken for Deputy Secretary of State, and Sarah SaldaƱa, for Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director in the Department of Homeland Security. Harkin voted for and Grassley against all of those nominees.

Iowa's senators ended up on the same side in one big vote this week: the bill extending dozens of tax breaks for corporations and individuals. Steven Dennis noted in Roll Call,

Handing out mostly corporate tax breaks and adding to the debt to do it has proven to be a popular thing for Congress. Democrats including President Barack Obama spent the better part of 2013 trying to get Republicans to agree to more revenue as part of a budget deal, but are now signing on to deficit expansion for the sake of tax breaks that will expire, again, in two weeks.

Usually, these tax breaks - which range from the R&D tax break to breaks for NASCAR, racehorse owners and wind farms - are touted as incentives - and indeed some senators called them that Tuesday. But it's hard to retroactively incentivize anything - a point made on the Senate floor by outgoing Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who voted no and said the tax bill didn't even have the shelf life of a carton of eggs. [...] After President Barack Obama threatened to veto an emerging deal after the midterms that would have added close to half a trillion to the debt over a decade, the scaled-back bill was all Congress could muster.

The tax extenders bill passed by 76 votes to 16. Joining Iowa's senators in the yes column were possible GOP presidential candidates Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio. Opponents of this bill included Republican Rob Portman and Democrat Elizabeth Warren. Independent Bernie Sanders, who is exploring a presidential campaign as a Democrat, missed yesterday's votes because he was in Iowa.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. Grassley's official statement on the tax extenders bill is after the jump.

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New Iowa caucus thread: Jeb Bush exploring and a "Run Warren Run" event in Des Moines

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Dec 16, 2014 at 20:22:06 PM CST

Who's up for a new thread on possible presidential candidates? The big news on the Republican side today was former Florida Governor Jeb Bush announcing that he will "actively explore" a presidential bid. Bush is forming a leadership PAC to raise huge piles of money "help me facilitate conversations with citizens across America to discuss the most critical challenges facing our exceptional nation."

I can't see Bush winning the GOP nomination, given his past support for immigration reform including a path to citizenship. Among Iowa conservatives, his support for "Common Core" educational standards will be a deal-breaker too. On the other hand, Bush poses an immediate threat to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. The two would be competing for many of the same donors and Republican moderate voters.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio's staff says Bush's decision won't influence Rubio's plans for 2016. I am 100 percent convinced that Florida's junior senator will run for re-election. He has pretty good odds of winning a second term but would be a long-shot to win the presidential nomination.

On the Democratic side, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont (technically an independent) was in central Iowa today. I've posted excerpts from news coverage after the jump. It's Sanders' fourth Iowa visit this year, but he told a supportive Ames crowd he hasn't decided whether to run for president.

Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren continues to repeat that she is not running for president in 2016. But MoveOn.Org's "Run Warren Run" project is organizing an event at Java Joe's coffee house in downtown Des Moines. Some central Iowa Democrats received phone calls from MoveOn today inviting them to the pro-Warren event, which is set for 5:30 pm on Wednesday, December 17.

I still think the draft Warren effort is a waste of time and energy. Apparently, so does progressive hero Al Franken. Minnesota's junior U.S. senator is "ready for Hillary" Clinton:

"I mean, I think that we've not had someone this experienced, this tough, and she's very, very impressive. People have asked me about Elizabeth Warren. She is great, but she's not running. She says she's not running. So I don't-I think Hillary would be great."

Any comments about the next presidential campaign are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: Democracy for America announced on December 17 that it will invest $250,000 in the Draft Warren effort. I've added the group's press release at the end of this post. Run Warren Run ran a full-page ad in the Des Moines Register on December 17, featuring hundreds of Iowans who are urging the Massachusetts senator to run for president.

Iowa Senate President Pam Jochum attended the "Run Warren Run" event in Des Moines and called Warren "brilliant" and "courageous." But Jochum is not endorsing Warren over Hillary Clinton and hopes the Democratic field will include both women, as well as Vice President Joe Biden and others.

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Better sex ed, more contraceptive use linked to "plummeting" teen birth rate

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Dec 16, 2014 at 12:20:00 PM CST

Contrary to fantasies promoted by some social conservatives, improved sex ed programs appear to be making teenagers more likely to use birth control and far less likely to become pregnant. Tony Leys reported for the Sunday Des Moines Register,

Teen birth rates are plummeting in Iowa and across the country, and experts say it's mainly because young people are being more careful about sex. Despite rosy memories about how wholesome kids were in the good old days, the fact is that American teens were three times more likely to become parents in the late 1950s and early 1960s than they are today. [...]

Researchers and activists are trying to understand what's behind the declining teen birth rates so they can keep the trend going.

"That's the question of the day. Nobody can pinpoint exactly what's causing this," said Addie Rasmusson, a community health consultant with the Iowa Department of Public Health.

Rasmusson said part of the explanation is that educators have determined which types of lessons make the most difference. They have created carefully researched lesson plans for teachers to follow.

"Twenty years ago, maybe you could throw together whatever you thought sex ed should be," she said.

Rasmusson added that lesson plans can be flexible. For example, she said, messages are tailored to reach teen boys and members of racial groups that have relatively high pregnancy rates. [...]

A recent national report from the Guttmacher Institute, which studies reproductive health, said the teen birth rate decline is mainly because of increased and improved use of contraceptives. Teens are not becoming dramatically less sexually active, the report says. They're also not having more abortions. But they are having fewer babies.

Leys' report is worth reading in full, as he describes some innovative sex ed programs that teach teens "how to say no to unwanted sex, how to prevent pregnancies and how to avoid sexually transmitted diseases." Toward the end, the article points to a big problem for birth control access in rural Iowa. I was not aware that Casey's General Stores has a company-wide policy against selling condoms. They are the only retail outlet in many towns. Independently-owned pharmacies have been disappearing from Iowa communities, and Planned Parenthood of the Heartland has reduced the number of clinics it operates in small towns as well.  

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New school calendar policy is Branstad's latest assault on local control

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Dec 15, 2014 at 09:39:37 AM CST

Governor Terry Branstad has repeatedly used his power to supersede local government decision-making, from 1990s policies to block counties from restricting large hog confinements to an executive order banning project labor agreements the very first day he was back in office in January 2011.

On Friday Iowans saw the latest example of Branstad's disregard for local officials' ability to decide what's best.

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Weekend open thread: 50 "most wanted" Iowa Democrats edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Dec 14, 2014 at 13:36:00 PM CST

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

Iowa Democrats are chattering away on social media about the "50 Most Wanted" list Jennifer Jacobs wrote for today's Sunday Des Moines Register.

The Iowans who made the "50 most wanted" list are influencers who can slap together a house party and get more than 40 people to show up to meet their candidate. A dozen are paid political operatives - the ones who not only know the Iowa terrain best, but also know how to organize a 99-county campaign, build buzz and a perception of momentum, and win over caucusgoers. Dozens more influencers not mentioned here will be highly sought after for their guidance.

Jacobs' list includes many household names but also donors and activists who rarely attract public notice, even though they are influential in their communities (such as Kim Weaver in northwest Iowa and Kurt Meyer in northeast Iowa). State Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal is number one on the list, and while he is certainly the most powerful Iowa Democrat overall, he's probably not the most important "get" for a presidential campaign. The rest of the top ten: U.S. Representative Dave Loebsack, Attorney General Tom Miller, retiring Senator Tom Harkin and his wife Ruth Harkin, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and former Governor Tom Vilsack and his wife Christie Vilsack, Iowa secretary of state candidate Brad Anderson, major donor Jerry Crawford, and Dr. Andy McGuire, a possible future Congressional candidate or perhaps chair of the Iowa Democratic Party.

Incidentally, Jacobs put Bruce Braley's Senate campaign manager Sarah Benzing in the number 50 slot, but I believe she will be more sought after by future Democratic candidates than many others who are higher up on this "most wanted" list. The Braley campaign's biggest problems can't be pinned on Benzing. Moreover, she has run three successful U.S. Senate races, including Sherrod Brown's 2012 campaign in Ohio--a state with a notoriously weak and dysfunctional Democratic Party.

The huge bill to keep the federal government funded through next September has drawn most of the political news coverage this weekend. Retiring Representative Tom Latham was the only Iowan to support this bad bill in the U.S. House. Both of Iowa's U.S. senators voted against it last night.  

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Senate roundup: Harkin, Grassley against funding deal, split on other votes

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Dec 14, 2014 at 10:27:58 AM CST

Senator Tom Harkin cast his last votes in Congress over the weekend. After the jump I've posted the video and full transcript of Harkin's final speech on the U.S. Senate floor, delivered on December 12. He and Iowa's senior Senator Chuck Grassley were at odds in many roll-call votes these past two days. However, they both voted against the $1.1 trillion government funding bill senators passed late Saturday night. The 56 to 40 roll call reveals an unusual bipartisan split. Yes votes came from 32 Democrats and 24 Republicans, while 21 Democrats and 19 Republicans voted no. Liberals like Harkin found plenty to dislike in the so-called "cromnibus" spending bill. Notably, it included a big change to the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, which was literally written by one of the large banks that will benefit. The spending bill also includes a "big coal giveaway", big cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency budget, and several other bad environmental provisions. What Democrats supposedly got out of the "cromnibus" wasn't worth it in my opinion.

Just before the final vote on the spending bill, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas raised a constitutional point of order:

"If you believe President Obama's executive order was unconstitutional vote yes," Cruz said ahead of the vote on Saturday. "If you think the president's executive order is constitutional vote no."

Only 22 senators voted with Cruz and 74 voted against his point of order.

The roll call shows that Grassley was one of the Republicans who voted for the point of order. The group included several senators who may run for president (Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Rob Portman) and a bunch of Republicans who are up for re-election in 2016 and presumably want to avoid a GOP primary challenge.

Many of the Republicans who opposed Cruz's motion (including the Senate GOP leadership team) probably were motivated by the desire to avoid a government shutdown. Nevertheless, they are now on record voting no when Cruz said such a vote signified a belief that "the president's executive order is constitutional."

Also on Saturday, senators approved on party lines a series of motions to advance judicial nominees. Here Harkin and Grassley were on opposite sides. In fact, disagreements over whether to vote on these nominations delayed a final vote on the spending bill. Harkin and other Democrats backed all the nominations. Grassley will chair the Senate Judiciary Committee when the new Congress convenes and has promised more vigorous oversight of nominations. He objected to moving the judicial nominations during the lame-duck session, even though many of the nominees were non-controversial and had been approved by a Judiciary Committee voice vote. In fact, Republican senators from Illinois and Texas had recommended some of these nominees for federal judgeships.

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House passes huge government funding bill: How the Iowans voted

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Dec 12, 2014 at 17:19:58 PM CST

Last night the U.S. House approved a $1.1 trillion "cromnibus," a massive continuing resolution to fund most of the federal government through September 2015. The 219 to 206 roll call showed an unusual bipartisan split, with 162 Republicans and 57 Democrats supporting the bill, while 67 Republicans and 139 Democrats voted against it. Many of the most outspoken House progressives and conservatives were against the cromnibus, for different reasons. Only one of Iowa's four U.S. House members voted yes: retiring Republican Tom Latham (IA-03). I have not seen any official statement explaining his reasons.

Republican Steve King (IA-04) opposed the bill primarily because in his view, it did not do enough to block funding for President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration. I've posted some of King's recent statements on the issue after the jump. King's office has not responded to my request for comment on assertions by House Appropriations Committee staff that it would be "impossible" to defend the immigration order. King offered an amendment (full text here) which would have funded "all of the government until January 30 of next year but [would] prohibit any and all funds from being used to carry out the president's lawless, unconstitutional executive amnesty in all its forms." But an analysis by Scott Wong for The Hill suggests that the Obama administration would be able to carry out the executive order even if Congress shut down the federal government.

Iowa Democrats Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) both voted against the funding bill. I have not seen any official statement explaining those votes but will update this post as needed.

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Iowa Senate district 12 special: Mark Costello vs. Steve Adams and Don Brantz

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Dec 12, 2014 at 06:45:00 AM CST

Republicans nominated State Representative Mark Costello for the December 30 special election to replace Joni Ernst in Iowa Senate district 12. The district covers Mills, Fremont, Montgomery, Page, Taylor, and Ringgold counties in southwest Iowa. This post includes a map.

Seven candidates sought the GOP nomination in this strongly Republican district, containing more than twice as many registered Republicans as Democrats. Besides the five candidates Bleeding Heartland discussed here, David Sieck and Charla Schmid joined the GOP race. Sieck is a Mills County farmer who has been active on Missouri River management issues. Schmid has served several terms on the Montgomery County School Board and is active in Business and Professional Women/Iowa. She also serves on the board of directors of 50/50 in 2020, a bipartisan group encouraging more Iowa women to run for office.

The Iowa Republican's Craig Robinson wrote up last night's nominating convention, where Costello led from the beginning and secured the nomination on the fourth ballot.

A Democratic district convention will meet this weekend to nominate Steve Adams of Red Oak. He is a community development specialist with Iowa State University Extension.

Earlier this week, Libertarians nominated Don Brantz for the Senate district 12 special. He is "a longtime Mills County supervisor and southwest Iowa social worker" who is running on a platform of increasing funding for rural schools and abolishing the state Department of Education. It's smart for Libertarians to compete here. Odds are long, but anything can happen in a low-turnout environment, and how many people will show up to vote on December 30?

Costello is the heavy favorite. If he wins, a special election will be needed in Iowa House district 23, covering Mills and Fremont counties, plus most of Montgomery County. House Republican leaders did not assign any committee chairmanship to Costello, perhaps expecting that he would soon leave for the Iowa Senate.

Regardless of who wins the Senate district 12 special, the number of women in the Iowa Senate will drop from ten the past two years to seven for the next two years. First-termer Amy Sinclair will be the only woman in the Iowa Senate GOP caucus.  

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Mike Gronstal staying on as head of DLCC

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Dec 11, 2014 at 19:30:49 PM CST

Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal is staying on as board chairman of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, the group announced today. I've enclosed the full statement after the jump.

The DLCC focuses on state legislative elections around the country. The group has its work cut out, because Republicans made huge gains in state legislatures in November. In fact, "The GOP now controls 68 out of 98 partisan state legislative chambers -- the highest number in the history of the party." Holding the 26-24 Iowa Senate majority was one of the few bright spots for Democrats, along with maintaining a majority in the Kentucky House of Representatives (which complicates life for potential presidential candidate Rand Paul).

The Iowa GOP will have more state Senate pickup opportunities in 2016 than they did this year. Twelve Iowa Senate races saw significant spending by one or both parties in 2012, whereas only a half-dozen or so Senate seats looked competitive going into 2014. By October of this year, most of the spending by Iowa Democrats and Republicans was concentrated in four state Senate races. Depending on retirements and candidate recruitment, at least ten Iowa Senate districts will be potentially competitive during the 2016 cycle.

Incidentally, the only other Iowan on the DLCC's board of directors is Senator Wally Horn of Cedar Rapids. Just re-elected to another four-year term in Senate district 35, Horn has served in the Iowa legislature for 42 years (10 in the state House and 32 in the Senate), longer than any other sitting lawmaker.

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The "Draft Warren" movement is a waste of progressive energy

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Dec 11, 2014 at 10:33:26 AM CST

At least three progressive Democratic groups (Democracy for America, MoveOn, and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee) are mobilizing liberal Democrats to support U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren for president. The idea is to make sure the 2016 campaign includes a strong voice for economic populism. In a statement released yesterday, Democracy for America's executive director Charles Chamberlain said one of the group's "top priorities will be ensuring that the battle for the Democratic nomination is a contest, not a coronation." I've enclosed their full press release after the jump.

There's a first time for everything, and I believe this is the first time I've disagreed with DFA's strategy. Warren has consistently said and continues to say that she is not running for president. I don't believe she is open to changing her mind, unless Hillary Clinton surprises everyone by not running. Instead of wasting time trying to draft a candidate who doesn't want to seek the presidency, progressive groups should wait until the field is set and then support the contender who most closely aligns with their interests.

Although I would certainly consider caucusing for Warren if she did run for president, progressives need her to be focused on her work in the Senate, not on raising money for a hopeless Democratic primary campaign. Warren can be a strong voice, not only against bad language Congressional Republicans try to sneak into legislation, but also against Obama administration shortcomings on personnel and policy. Everyone has a role to play, and we need outspoken liberals in the Senate, especially with Tom Harkin retiring.

Finally, it's hard to disagree with Governor Howard Dean's contention that "Hilllary Clinton is by far the most qualified person in the United States to serve as President." The only Democrat who even comes close is Vice President Joe Biden, who said this week that he will decide whether to run again "at the end of the spring or early summer." Clinton has the highest name recognition and sky-high favorables with almost every key Democratic constituency.

I understand the concept of a candidate like Warren pushing Clinton to the left during the primaries, but let's get real: a Harvard professor turned senator from Massachusetts, in the middle of her first term, is not going to be elected president, even with the "Big Blue Wall" propping her up. Whereas Clinton would go into the general election as the front-runner against almost any conceivable Republican nominee.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: A Bleeding Heartland reader shared an e-mail that some former Barack Obama campaign workers received this morning. The Ready for Warren Presidential Draft Campaign PAC is urging "Obama alumni" to sign a petition calling on Warren to run for president in 2016. I've enclosed that message at the end of this post.  

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Attorney general candidate Adam Gregg becoming Iowa's state public defender

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Dec 10, 2014 at 18:45:00 PM CST

Governor Terry Branstad has often appointed unsuccessful Republican candidates to state positions, and this week he named Adam Gregg, the GOP nominee for Iowa attorney general, to be Iowa State Public Defender. I've enclosed the press release after the jump. It contains background on Gregg, who worked as a staffer in the governor's office before running against longtime Democratic incumbent Tom Miller. I don't anticipate Gregg having any trouble being confirmed by the Iowa Senate.

The Des Moines rumor mill says Miller will retire at the end of his ninth term as attorney general. An race for that position would likely attract many candidates in both parties. I expect Gregg to seek the office in 2018, along with Branstad's legal counsel Brenna Findley, who was the GOP challenger to Miller in 2010. Several Republicans in the Iowa House or Senate might give this race a look, especially if there are no open Congressional seats on the horizon.

For those wondering whether Gregg or Findley performed better against Miller, the answer depends on how you look at it. Both of the challengers raised quite a bit of money for first-time candidates seeking a statewide office. Gregg raised $191,359 in his first month and a half as a candidate, then nearly another $200,000 before the election; see here and here. Findley also raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for her 2010 race; see here, here, and here.

Both Gregg and Findley campaigned energetically around the state, visiting all 99 counties and attending hundreds of public events. In 2010, when total turnout was 1,133,429 for the midterm election, Miller received 607,779 votes to 486,057 for Findley (there were a smattering of write-ins and 38,605 "under votes," meaning voters left that part of the ballot blank).

This year total turnout was a bit higher at 1,142,226, and Miller received 616,711 votes to 481,046 for Gregg (there were more write-ins and 43,016 under votes).

So Findley received a slightly higher share of the two-party vote, but she also had way more help. Branstad talked up her campaign all year and appeared in one of her television commercials. She was able to run far more radio and tv ads statewide, thanks to more than half a million dollars in transfers from the Republican Party of Iowa. Gregg didn't get anything like that kind of assistance or exposure, so arguably he got more bang for his campaign bucks.

I'm intrigued that an ambitious young conservative politician wanted to serve as the state public defender. It's an important job, and I hope Gregg does it well. Some of my favorite people have worked as public defenders. But there's no getting around the fact that his office will be defending some unsavory characters. The job is risky in that next time Gregg is a candidate for public office, rivals could run "Willie Horton" ads against him highlighting onetime clients who committed horrible crimes.

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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2015

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Dec 09, 2014 at 16:14:06 PM CST

The Iowa House will begin its 2015 session on January 12 with 57 Republicans and 43 Democrats (assuming a Republican wins the January 6 special election in House district 4). Depending on who wins that special election, the 100 state representatives will include either 27 or 28 women, and either 72 or 73 men.

After the jump I've posted details on the Iowa House majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing House committees. Where relevant, I've noted changes since the previous legislative session.

Some non-political trivia: two of the three state representatives with the surname Olson retired this year, as did one of the two Iowa House members named Smith. There are still two Millers and two Taylors in the legislature's lower chamber, one from each party. As for first names, the new cohort contains five Davids (four go by Dave), four Roberts (two Robs, one Bob, and a Bobby), four Marys (one goes by Mary Ann), three Johns, and three Brians. There are two Lindas, two Elizabeths (a Beth and a Liz), and two men each named Dan, Mark, Greg, Chuck, Bruce, Todd, and Chris.  

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Tom Harkin's legacy: links and discussion thread

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Dec 09, 2014 at 09:11:36 AM CST

U.S. Senator Tom Harkin's been giving a lot of interviews lately as he wraps up a 40-year career in Congress this month. I've posted some of the newsworthy excerpts after the jump, along with the full text of Senator Chuck Grassley's widely-praised tribute to his colleague on the Senate floor.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. UPDATE: James Q. Lynch's feature for the Cedar Rapids Gazette on "The Harkin Legacy" is a good read.  

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Bleeding Heartland 2014 general election prediction contest results

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Dec 08, 2014 at 09:00:50 AM CST

The last U.S. Senate election of 2014 concluded over the weekend, with Republican Bill Cassidy defeating Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu. So, I was finally able to tabulate results from Bleeding Heartland's general election prediction contest.

Thanks to all who entered. Follow me after the jump for full results.  

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Weekend open thread: Media ethics edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Dec 07, 2014 at 18:00:00 PM CST

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

The Washington Post's media critic Eric Wemple caught syndicated columnist George Will red-handed in a flagrant conflict of interest.

This case highlights Will's intersecting lines of influence. He's a director of the Bradley Foundation, an entity with more than $800 million in assets and 2013 grants totaling nearly $34 million to organizations in Wisconsin and across the country, including big-time Beltway entities like the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute and the Federalist Society. His column is syndicated to about 450 newspapers. Keeping those two worlds separate is quite a job, as the Nov. 19 column demonstrates: Here, Will touted an outlet funded generously by a group he helps to lead. And thanks to the columnist's kind words, WILL may have an easier time finding funders outside of the Bradley Foundation. All very cozy, synergistic and, as media critics might say, an out-and-out conflict of interest - an offense of which Will has been accused before.

Click through to read the whole column, including Will's response. The columnist is unrepentant: "I do not see how disclosure of my connection to Bradley, and Bradley's connection to WILL, and WILL's connection to the school choice program, would be important to readers." That suggests he will not hesitate to pull the same stunt again. Newspapers including the Des Moines Register should drop Will's column if they don't share his views on what constitutes full disclosure.

Speaking of the Register, Lynn Hicks (up to now the newspaper's executive business editor) is taking over this month as editorial page editor as Randy Evans retires from that position. Evans will be missed. Seven people will serve on the Register's editorial board going forward: President and Publisher Rick Green, Executive Editor Amalie Nash, Lynn Hicks, Rox Laird, Andie Dominick, Clark Kauffman, and Brian Smith. Laird has been writing editorials at the Register for about 30 years, Dominick since 2001. Kauffman is a longtime investigative reporter who just joined the editorial board in September of this year. Smith "is taking on a new engagement editor role that emphasizes reaching new audiences and connecting with the community"; up to now he has been an associate digital editor for the Register.

It's probably too much to hope for the Register to make the politics and opinion sections of the website easier to navigate. Every newspaper owned by Gannett seems to operate with the same horrible template now. So I'll settle for hoping that in the future, the Register will disclose any family connections between subjects of guest columns and members of the editorial board.

Rolling Stone magazine is backing off from a widely publicized story about an alleged rape at a University of Virginia fraternity. There were red flags in the original story, and some other journalists have questioned why no one from Rolling Stone interviewed the alleged perpetrators of the gang rape. I agree 100 percent with Olga Khazan: "this whole episode is terrible news for survivors of rape on college campuses and elsewhere." Whatever did or did not happen to "Jackie" (the subject of Sabrina Rubin Erdely's article), the collapse of this story undermines advocates working to get colleges and universities to address the real problem of sexual assault on campus.  

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Someone is message-testing for Hillary Clinton in Iowa

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Dec 06, 2014 at 17:15:00 PM CST

I haven't received the call myself, but multiple acquaintances who are registered Iowa Democrats have been respondents for a lengthy message-testing poll about Hillary Clinton in recent days. The survey takes approximately 30 minutes and includes lots of questions about whether X, Y, or Z would be a reason you would or would not support Hillary Clinton in the next Iowa caucuses.

The survey also asks Iowans about several other possible Democratic candidates, including Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Amy Klobuchar, and former U.S. Senator Jim Webb, who recently formed an exploratory committee for a presidential bid. UPDATE: Other Iowa Democrats confirm the call asked about Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley as well.

From what I've heard, this poll did not ask about Republican presidential candidates, with one exception: a question about whether a Hillary Clinton/Jeb Bush match up of American political dynasties would be a good or bad thing.

I hope other Bleeding Heartland readers can provide more details about this poll, including not only questions asked but also what research firm is being used (which should be mentioned at the end of the call). My acquaintances do not recall hearing any organization's name mentioned, such as the Ready for Hillary super PAC.  Feel free to post comments in this thread or send a confidential e-mail message.

Speaking of Clinton's presidential prospects, Amie Parnes reported for The Hill this week that only four Republicans worry "Clinton World": former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, U.S. Senator Rand Paul, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. (Parnes didn't name all of the Clinton associates she interviewed for the story.) Of those four candidates, Walker strikes me as best-positioned to make it through the GOP primaries, if he can raise enough money for a credible campaign. Christie and Bush will be competing for the same donors and the same niche in the various primaries. I think both have taken too many positions that will be deal-breakers for the right wing.

UPDATE: In retrospect, I should not have said in the headline that someone is message-testing "for" Hillary Clinton, because a poll like this could just have easily been commissioned by a group looking for the best arguments to use against Clinton with the Iowa Democrats.

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