Iowa attorney general: Outside counsel should defend collective bargaining law

To “avoid any questions about a potential conflict,” Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller will request that outside legal counsel defend the state against a public employee union’s legal challenge to Iowa’s new collective bargaining law. AFSCME, the largest labor union representing state workers, and four of its members filed suit on February 20, charging that House File 291 violates Iowa constitutional provisions on equal protection and non-interference in contracts. In a statement I enclose in full below, Miller said he will ask the Iowa Executive Council to approve other counsel for this case, because “the new collective bargaining law has the potential to existentially threaten the viability of public sector unions,” which have supported him in past campaigns.

The council is likely to approve Miller’s request. Its five members are Governor Terry Branstad, Secretary of State Paul Pate, State Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald, Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, and State Auditor Mary Mosiman. Branstad’s spokesperson Ben Hammes told Barbara Rodriguez of the Associated Press, “[Miller] summed it up when he said that AFSCME had supported him in the past and he wants to avoid any questions about a potential conflict.”

The Attorney General’s Office defended the Branstad administration against a lawsuit challenging the closure of the Iowa Juvenile Home, for which AFSCME Iowa Council 61 President Danny Homan was a plaintiff. But outside counsel defended the state when Democratic lawmakers and Homan challenged the governor’s use of line-item vetoes to close Iowa Workforce Development offices.

Miller may need to ask outside counsel to be appointed if other labor unions and public employees file additional lawsuits challenging the collective bargaining law. Aside from the points raised by AFSCME, several other provisions may raise constitutional questions:

• The law bans automatic payroll deductions for labor union dues, while allowing such deductions to continue for professional association memberships or recurring charitable contributions.

• The law may violate free association rights by requiring unions to win a majority of all eligible voters, not just those who cast ballots, in order to stay certified.

• The law eliminates a quid pro quo contained in the first paragraph of Chapter 20, which could be seen as a due process violation.

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Five Democrats who might run for Congress in IA-01

Despite the huge swing toward Donald Trump and down-ballot Republicans in northeast Iowa last year, Democrats are gearing up for a major challenge to GOP Representative Rod Blum in Iowa’s first Congressional district. Many Iowans considered Blum’s 2014 victory a fluke of a GOP wave year, but he outperformed Trump by about 5 points while winning re-election in 2016.

Now IA-01 is in the top tier of pickup opportunities for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Former Bernie Sanders campaign staffer Blair Lawton is already on the ground organizing for the Iowa Democratic Party in the district.

A competitive Democratic primary here is a near-certainty. After the jump, I’ve posted background on five possible candidates, in alphabetical order. I’d welcome tips on others who may be considering this race.

The 20 counties in IA-01 contain 164,485 active registered Democrats, 144,687 Republicans, and 189,606 no-party voters, according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. The largest-population counties are Linn (the Cedar Rapids metro area), Black Hawk (Waterloo/Cedar Falls metro), and Dubuque, a traditional Democratic stronghold that is also Blum’s home base.

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Organizing the Indivisible Iowa Network

Lauren Whitehead explains Indivisible Iowa‘s unique approach to acting on the wise words, “Don’t mourn, organize.” -promoted by desmoinesdem

Did you know that there is a network of Indivisible chapters covering all 50 state Senate districts in Iowa? Here’s how it came about.

Like most readers of this blog, I was invited to join around a thousand progressive resistance startup groups during the weeks following 45’s election. My Facebook feed became an overwhelming and relentless stream of calls to action, warnings, memes, speeches, and existential angst as we all processed what had changed on November 8. Post-election, aside from the emotional fallout of such a horrible outcome, I was exhausted from 2 years of organizing for the election. I thought I might not be able to do it again. I thought that perhaps it was all pointless.

But unsurprisingly, I just can’t quit political activism, and over time I started to sort through the groups I had joined to find the diamonds in the rough–the groups that I felt had the most potential for focused and efficient accomplishment. Ten years into my amateur activist life, I was not in the mood for a group that couldn’t get it’s shit together, even though I felt the value in the organic gathering all around me. I wanted to be a part of group that offered something unique, and not a replication of the info every other group was sharing, one that was taking that frenetic energy we were all feeling and channeled it into a structure with goals.

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Read the first lawsuit challenging Iowa's horrible new collective bargaining law

AFSCME Iowa Council 61 and four of its members filed suit today in Polk County District Court, saying the collective bargaining law Governor Terry Branstad signed on Friday is unconstitutional. I enclose below the petition filed on behalf of Iowa’s largest union representing state employees, as well as the plaintiffs’ request for expedited hearing. The filing repeatedly refers to “the amendments” because House File 291 amended Chapter 20 of the Iowa Code, which has regulated collective bargaining since 1974.

The new law’s disparate treatment of “public safety workers” and other public employees is the central issue raised in AFSCME’s lawsuit. Plaintiffs argue that Article I, section 6 of the Iowa Constitution requires that “all laws of a general nature shall have a uniform operation” and that the legislature “shall not grant to any citizen, or class of citizens, privileges or immunities, which, upon the same terms shall not equally belong to all citizens.” All four individual plaintiffs fail to qualify as “public safety workers,” and therefore have lost almost all meaningful collective bargaining rights, even though some of their occupations are as dangerous or more so, compared to some of the “public safety” jobs. Johnathon Good is a corrections officer, Ryan De Vries is a police officer III, Terra Kinney is a motor vehicle enforcement officer, and Susan Baker is a drafter for the University of Northern Iowa. Excerpt from page 7 of the petition:

The arbitrary definition of “Public Safety Employee,” the arbitrary classification of public employees as “Public Safety Employees” or other public employees and the arbitrary classification of bargaining units into those whose members are at least thirty percent “Public Safety Employees” and those whose members are not which are included in the Amendments deprive Officer Good, Officer De Vries, and Ms. Baker of the constitutional guaranty of equality of all before the law that is set forth in Art. I, § 6 of the Iowa Constitution.

The petition also argues that “transition procedures” altering and terminating bargaining procedures and schedules established in the union contracts violate Article I, section 21 of the Iowa Constitution, which prohibits passing a “law impairing the obligation of contracts.”

Before the text of House File 291 became public, Republican lawmakers were rumored to be at odds over whether to exempt “public safety workers” from most of the new restrictions on collective bargaining. Supposedly Iowa House Republicans opposed that division, while key GOP senators wanted to copy the political strategy used in Wisconsin six years ago. The collective bargaining bill Iowa House Republicans approved in 2011 did not treat law enforcement officers or firefighters differently from other public employees.

Sources in Iowa’s labor community expect other lawsuits challenging the collective bargaining law to be filed later this year. The two main union-busting provisions are seen as particularly ripe for challenge: onerous election requirements for unions to stay certified, and a ban on automatic payroll deductions for union members, even though employees will still be able to automatically deduct membership fees in other professional associations and recurring charitable donations. Neither provision was part of the 2011 Iowa House collective bargaining bill.

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Four oddities from the audit of ISU president's weapons policy compliance

Iowa State University’s Office of Internal Audit has completed its review of “the storage and transportation of weapons to ensure current practices are in compliance with ISU’s Firearms and Other Weapons policy.”

ISU officials requested the audit after Bleeding Heartland reported in November that President Steven Leath and some companions on his hunting trips neither requested nor received written authorization to transport weapons on university aircraft, as required by ISU policy.

In their brief report on what appears to be an open-and-shut case of the president not following the rules, internal auditors managed to create a lot of wiggle room. ISU staff have not responded to my follow-up questions or provided documents that could address inconsistencies in the new official narrative.

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IA-Gov: Ron Corbett's think tank running online ad campaign

When Ron Corbett announced in December that he will not seek a third term as Cedar Rapids mayor and will consider running for governor, he promised a “big surprise” at the end of his final “state of the city” address on February 22.

Corbett has long been positioning himself to run for governor. Since creating the conservative think tank Engage Iowa in late 2015, he has given dozens of speeches around the state, most often to Rotary clubs or members of local Iowa Farm Bureau chapters and Chambers of Commerce.

After Governor Terry Branstad confirmed plans to resign in order to become U.S. ambassador to China, many Iowa politics watchers speculated that Corbett would decide against seeking higher office next year. Instead of competing for the GOP nomination in an open primary, he would have to run against a well-funded sitting governor, Kim Reynolds.

To those who don’t share my view that Corbett will take on the challenge of running against a Republican incumbent, I ask: why is Engage Iowa spending money to promote Corbett’s name and catchy conservative slogans online?

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