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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: White turtlehead

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Oct 01, 2014 at 22:55:42 PM CDT

Today's featured plant is native to most of the eastern half of the U.S. and Canada. I was unfamiliar with white turtlehead (Chelone glabra) until Eileen Miller pointed it out to me during a visit to Whiterock Conservancy a few weeks ago. Flowers can appear anytime from July through September, and they are easy to recognize because of the "turtlehead" shape.  

I've enclosed several pictures of white turtlehead after the jump. This post is also a mid-week open thread: all topics welcome.

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Iowa Senate Democrats roll out state government reforms

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Oct 01, 2014 at 15:00:00 PM CDT

The Iowa Senate Oversight Committee met yesterday to approve a wide range of recommendations on state government management, contracting, and labor practices. O. Kay Henderson posted audio from the committee meeting at Radio Iowa. On a 3-2 party-line vote, Democrats on the committee approved recommendations in the following nine areas:

• A ban on secret settlements and hush money
• Expanded whistleblower protections
• Anti-cronyism measures
• Reform of the state's "do-not-hire" database
• A ban on no-bid contracts for state projects
• Increase accountability in state infrastructure projects
• Protect Iowans right to fair hearings by preventing political appointees and at-will employees from supervising or evaluating judges
• Restore integrity to Iowa's unemployment trust fund by appointing trusted and transparent leadership
• Require that the Legislature be notified when the Governor receives reports of founded workplace violence in state agencies.

One of the Republicans who voted against the recommendations, State Senator Julia Garrett, characterized the Democratic proposals as "political theater" not "borne out by the facts."

"No laws were broken. No codes of ethics were violated," Garrett said. "Instead, we have discovered that there is a difference of opinion in management philosophies...and we have learned that sometimes front-line workers don't care for or particularly agree with their bosses."

In Garrett's view, Governor Terry Branstad is running the state "exceptionally well" and should get more credit for ending secret settlements through an executive order. However, witnesses appearing before the Iowa Senate Oversight Committee in recent months testified to many problems in state government beyond settlements that included confidentiality clauses (which were the first scandals to get widespread attention). Committee Chair Janet Petersen mentioned several of them in her opening remarks for yesterday's meeting. After the jump I've posted a more detailed list of recommendations, along with findings that prompted them. Whether these proposals go anywhere during the 2015 legislative session will depend on party control of the Iowa House and Senate after the November election.

Rod Boshart paraphrased Petersen as predicting that if Branstad is re-elected, several of his appointees who were involved in these scandals may have trouble being confirmed by the Iowa Senate, "notably Iowa Workforce Development Director Teresa Wahlert."

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Latest Iowa absentee ballot numbers (as of September 30)

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Oct 01, 2014 at 08:51:23 AM CDT

Every weekday through November 4, Bleeding Heartland will post updated totals absentee ballots requested and returned, statewide and in Iowa's four Congressional districts, based on data from the Iowa Secretary of State's website. The latest tables are after the jump. Previous tables are here.

Every day since September 22, Democrats have added more absentee ballot requests than Republicans, but not by much today. The Iowa GOP would be happy to reverse that trend as soon as possible.  

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IA-03 catch-up thread, with tv ads about education and terrorism

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Sep 30, 2014 at 20:41:36 PM CDT

Although all four of Iowa's Congressional districts are targeted in theory, only the third district is seeing large-scale independent expenditures as well as broadcast advertising by the candidates.

Today Democratic nominee Staci Appel's campaign launched a new positive ad, focusing on her support for public education at all levels. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released a new spot bashing Republican nominee David Young over his call to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education. Meanwhile, the National Republican Congressional Committee is out with a new ad today about the same "passports for terrorists" canard they featured in their last Iowa effort. Clearly they think this is their strongest card against Appel, and they won't stop no matter how many news media report her real position on the issue.

Videos and transcripts of all the latest ads are after the jump.

I haven't seen any new commercials from Young's campaign lately. Justin Sink reported for The Hill that Young cancelled $107,000 in "reserved television ad time in the Omaha market through election day, according to a source tracking ad buys." Roughly 20 percent of the voters in IA-03 live in the Omaha viewing area, most of them in Pottawattamie County (Council Bluffs). Residents of Mills, Montgomery, Fremont, Page, and Cass counties also receive Omaha television stations, as do some Iowans living in Adams, Adair, and Taylor counties. Click here for voter registration numbers in all of the 16 IA-03 counties.

The NRCC has pledged to spend $1.5 million on this race between Labor Day and November 4, but to my knowledge, they have only been running their anti-Appel ads in the Des Moines market, not in Omaha. The Appel campaign maintains they are already on broadcast networks in Omaha and will be on cable there shortly, for the duration of the campaign.

Last week the DCCC released partial results from an internal poll showing Appel slightly ahead of Young by 47 percent to 44 percent. I expect this race to remain close all the way up to election day. While Republicans have a slight advantage in voter registrations, Democrats lead so far in absentee ballots requested by voters in the district.

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Latest Iowa absentee ballot numbers (as of September 29)

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Sep 30, 2014 at 09:34:08 AM CDT

Every weekday through November 4, Bleeding Heartland will post updated totals absentee ballots requested and returned, statewide and in Iowa's four Congressional districts, based on data from the Iowa Secretary of State's website. The latest tables are after the jump. Previous tables are here. If turnout in this year's election is roughly on the level of 2010, with about 1.1 million Iowans participating, than approximately 15 percent of those who will vote have already requested early ballots.

Today Nate Cohn posted his analysis of the Iowa early voting numbers at the New York Times' Upshot blog. His main takeaways:

Over all, the early voting tallies in Iowa tell us that both Democrats and Republicans are better mobilized than in 2010 - which is no surprise in a state where there was no competitive contest that year - but not as well mobilized as in 2012. The Republicans are more obviously outperforming their past figures, but Democrats may be doing a better job of turning out marginal voters. The early vote tallies seem consistent with the polls: a close contest in which either side could prevail.

I agree with the broad conclusions but think Cohn is missing a few important factors.

First, every day since the Iowa Secretary of State's Office started updating the absentee ballot figures, Democrats have added more ballot requests than Republicans. We don't know whether that trend will continue for the next five weeks, but it's encouraging for Democrats.

Second, Cohn ignores the no-party voters who have requested early ballots (about 35,000 people as of yesterday). But independents added considerably to President Barack Obama's advantage in the early vote in 2012. On the eve of that general election, registered Iowa Democrats who had returned early ballots outnumbered registered Republicans who had done so by about 65,000. But Obama received 137,355 more early votes in Iowa than Romney, meaning he must have been supported by about two-thirds of the roughly 200,000 no-party voters who cast early ballots. Democratic canvassers have done more this year than Republicans to target independent voters, which could add to the party's early voting advantage.

Third, Cohn repeatedly characterizes the 2010 midterm election in Iowa as uncompetitive, presumably because Terry Branstad and Chuck Grassley were heavily favored in the races for governor and U.S. senator. But aside from the national mood that favored Republicans in 2010, one huge factor driving turnout in Iowa was the first judicial retention elections following the Iowa Supreme Court's 2009 decision allowing same-sex marriage. That motivation for social conservatives is absent this year because no one on the Supreme Court is up for retention. Branstad recruited unsuccessful U.S. Senate candidate Sam Clovis to run for state treasurer right after this year's Republican primary in an obvious attempt to give that part of the GOP base more reason to turn out. I'm skeptical that social conservatives will be as energized to vote for the Republican ticket as they were in 2010.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.  

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Q: When is an awkward comment worse than an outright falsehood?

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Sep 29, 2014 at 20:38:21 PM CDT

A. When it happens in a campaign debate.

Since last night, I've been thinking about a ridiculous unwritten rule of our political culture.

On the one hand, we have former State Senator Staci Appel. While debating her opponent in Iowa's third Congressional district, she expressed herself in a slightly inarticulate way. Later, she and her campaign staff clarified her position: she supports going through the existing system for revoking passports of people affiliated with terrorist organizations. But what she thinks doesn't matter to her opponents. They will keep twisting the meaning of her awkward phrase over and over on television.

On the other hand, we have State Senator Joni Ernst. While debating her opponent in the U.S. Senate race, she misrepresented a constitutional amendment she co-sponsored, which calls for recognizing and protecting "the inalienable right to life of every person at any stage of development." Ernst insisted the "personhood" amendment would not threaten access to birth control or in-vitro fertilization, even though independent fact-checkers have confirmed that yes, it would. This wasn't some offhand comment on a topic she wasn't expecting to come up. Ernst agreed to co-sponsor the "personhood" amendment. Four of her fellow Iowa Senate Republicans and more than two dozen Iowa House Republicans chose not to co-sponsor similar legislation, because they understood its implications. In yesterday's debate, Ernst stood by her support for "personhood" as a statement of faith. She also stood by her false claim that it wouldn't affect birth control or fertility treatment options for women.

At best, Ernst's comments reveal stunning ignorance and a failure to research bills before signing on to them. At worst, she knows what "personhood" would mean if enacted, and was lying during the debate. Neither option is acceptable.

Yet for some reason, the smooth way Ernst spoke during the exchange over abortion rights is not considered a "gotcha" moment. Today, she's probably more worried about news emerging that her husband sued a house painter over unfinished work, when she has spent months depicting herself as willing to resolve conflicts "the Iowa way" in contrast to "litigious" Bruce Braley. I'm sick of trivia dominating our political discourse and elections being about everything but the candidates' real stands on real issues.  

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Latest Iowa absentee ballot numbers (as of September 28)

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Sep 29, 2014 at 10:20:00 AM CDT

Every weekday through November 4, Bleeding Heartland will post updated totals absentee ballots requested and returned, statewide and in Iowa's four Congressional districts. Follow me after the jump for the latest tables. I took the numbers from the Iowa Secretary of State's website. Previous tables are here.

As of September 28, registered Iowa Democrats have requested about 40,000 more ballots than Republicans have. Democrats also claim to have generated a higher percentage of ballot requests than Republicans among Iowans who did not vote in the 2010 midterm election.  

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IA-Sen: First Braley/Ernst debate liveblog and discussion thread

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Sep 28, 2014 at 16:59:26 PM CDT

In a few minutes Representative Bruce Braley and State Senator Joni Ernst will start their first debate at Simpson College in Indianola. You can watch the debate on KCCI-TV in the Des Moines viewing area and on C-SPAN across the country (in central Iowa that's channel 95).

I previewed what I see as the biggest potential pitfalls for each candidate here. I'll be liveblogging after the jump and will also update later with some reaction to the debate.

UPDATE: KCCI has posted the debate video online. I cleaned up some typos and filled in gaps in the liveblog below.

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IA-Sen debate preview: Risks for Bruce Braley and Joni Ernst

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Sep 28, 2014 at 16:19:05 PM CDT

Representative Bruce Braley and State Senator Joni Ernst face off today for the first of three scheduled debates. You can watch at 5 pm on C-SPAN or on KCCI-TV if you live in the Des Moines viewing area. KCCI and the Des Moines Register will live-stream the debate as well.

Debates rarely change election outcomes, but they are high-stakes events because a mistake provides fodder for a wave of attack ads. Republicans have been bashing Staci Appel for two weeks already over one awkward response she gave during her Congressional candidate debate with David Young.

Follow me after the jump for a preview of the major risks for each candidate in the IA-Sen debate. Braley goes in under more pressure after the latest Des Moines Register Iowa poll showed him behind by 6 points. But the format creates some potential pitfalls for Ernst too.

By the way, in her ongoing quest to displace WHO-TV's Dave Price as the favorite journalist of central Iowa Republicans, the Des Moines Register's Jennifer Jacobs put her thumb on the scale in her debate preview. Jacobs attributes negative views of Braley to "voters" while dismissing criticism of Ernst as coming from "Democrats." Memo to Register publisher Rick Green: we know you're conservative, but it's embarrassing for your chief political reporter to express such a clear preference ahead of a debate your newspaper is co-sponsoring. Maybe you should move Jacobs over to the opinion page during your upcoming job shuffle.

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Weekend open thread: Des Moines Register IA-Sen poll edition (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Sep 27, 2014 at 23:36:24 PM CDT

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This evening the Des Moines Register rolled out partial results from its first Iowa poll since forming a partnership with Bloomberg News on political coverage. The news isn't encouraging for Democrats: State Senator Joni Ernst leads U.S. Representative Bruce Braley by 44 percent to 38 percent, outside the poll's margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percent. CORRECTION: That's the margin of error for each candidate's support. The margin of error for Ernst's lead over Braley would be larger.

I've posted excerpts from the Register's coverage after the jump. The most worrying points include: Ernst has a double-digit lead among independents; her 25-point lead among men more than compensates for Braley's 13-point lead among women; she leads among every age group (though only by 1 percent among senior citizens); Braley is not ahead in the first Congressional district, despite representing much of northeast Iowa since 2007.

Some Democrats have been grumbling this evening about the biased tone of the Register's write-up. For instance, Jennifer Jacobs dwelled on Braley's negatives, even though the poll showed a higher unfavorable rating for Ernst (44 percent) than for Braley (42 percent). In general, I can't remember a Des Moines Register political reporter showing a stronger bias than Jacobs has shown toward Ernst this whole year. It's remarkable. But that's far from Braley's biggest problem right now.

I expected the Braley campaign to respond that this poll is out of line with their internal numbers, or with other recent polls showing the IA-Sen race tied. But the memo from Braley's campaign manager Sarah Benzing was much more alarming, since it accepted the Register's numbers as a "snapshot of where this race begins" as voters start paying attention. It argued that the race was tied all summer, when "the TV spending numbers were closer to parity." In contrast, "the Ernst campaign and its backers have spent over $500,000 more than the Braley campaign and Democratic groups on television" in the past two weeks. "Unless this disparity is equalized over the next few weeks, there is a real chance that spending by outside groups will determine the Iowa Senate race [...]."

I've enclosed the Braley memo after the jump. There's some happy talk about the Democratic ground game, which supposedly will deliver for Braley "as long as Democratic spending in Iowa matches the firepower that the other side is contributing to the air war." Really, that's your spin? News flash: Democrats won a bunch of close Senate races in 2012 despite being outspent on television. They were able to connect with voters despite that deficit. Moreover, pro-Ernst and anti-Braley spending will probably continue to surpass Democratic spending for the whole month of October. Braley's campaign manager should not be suggesting her candidate can't win under those circumstances.

Democrats need to hope that either Braley can turn things around in the debates, or that this poll will turn out to be one of Selzer & Co's occasional misses (like when the Register's Iowa poll had Terry Branstad 28 points ahead of Bob Vander Plaats a few days before he won the 2010 GOP primary by 9 points). It's too bad the Register didn't commission an Iowa poll shortly after the June primary, so we would all have a baseline for comparison. But Public Policy Polling has an Iowa survey in the field this weekend too, and claims Ernst is running ahead.

UPDATE: On September 28, Harstad Strategic Research released partial results from a poll conducted between September 21 and 25 for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. This poll showed Braley and Ernst tied at 42 percent each and Braley leading among independents by 40 percent to 36 percent. The survey drew respondents from the Iowa voter file rather than through the random-dialing method used by some pollsters. I've added the memo at the end of this post.

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IA-Sen: "No Labels" group sucker punches Bruce Braley

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Sep 27, 2014 at 17:01:02 PM CDT

Few members of Congress have done more to link themselves with the "No Labels" movement than U.S. Representative Bruce Braley. He spoke at the group's launch event in December 2010. He participated in the group's December 2011 release of a 12-point action plan to "Make Congress Work." In 2012, Braley co-sponsored "No Budget, No Pay" legislation supported by No Labels; similar language was included in a budget bill President Barack Obama signed the following year. A review of Braley's voting record on a wide range of issues shows many examples of the Democrat voting with the majority of House Republicans and against most members of his own caucus.

When Braley received the No Labels "Problem Solver Seal of Approval" this July, his U.S. Senate campaign enthusiastically spread the news along with a long list of his bipartisan accomplishments in the House.

It must have come as a shock when No Labels turned around and gave Republican State Senator Joni Ernst the same "Problem Solver Seal of Approval" a few days ago. Just in time for the Senate nominees' first debate on Sunday, without any bipartisan legislative accomplishments to speak of, Ernst got outside validation for her campaign's otherwise laughable pivot from the "mother, soldier, conservative" tag line to "mother, soldier, independent leader." All she had to do to gain equal status with Braley was pay lip service to the No Labels "National Strategic Agenda."

I've long believed that No Labels is an "astroturf" (fake grassroots) movement founded on false premises, and that Democrats who got mixed up with the latest incarnation of Beltway "centrists" were making a mistake. Braley may not be the last to learn this lesson the hard way. Follow me after the jump for more thoughts on No Labels' wrong-headed policy stands and political choices.  

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Both parties targeting Iowa Senate district 15 race between Chaz Allen, Crystal Bruntz

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Sep 26, 2014 at 14:34:22 PM CDT

In recent weeks, I've heard from various sources that Republicans were shifting resources toward the race in Iowa Senate district 15. The longtime Democratic seat covering most of Jasper County and eastern Polk County is open because of Senator Dennis Black's retirement. A district map is after the jump.

Confirming that Senate district 15 is a priority for both parties, positive ads for both candidates are now running on Des Moines area radio stations. Forty days before the election is relatively early for paid advertising to begin in an Iowa state legislative campaign, but with more Iowans voting by absentee ballot, candidates can't afford to wait.

After the jump I've posted the transcript of the radio spot promoting Republican Crystal Bruntz and what I could remember from the Democratic ad promoting Chaz Allen. I'll update this post with a full transcript if I can catch it on tape. UPDATE: Added the transcript below.

Allen's commercial sounds more effective to me. For part of the time, the candidate speaks in his own voice, and the script connects him to economic development in the Newton area, where he was mayor and now heads the Jasper County Economic Development Corporation. The Republican ad for Bruntz wraps biographical information around a more generic "she'll help grow the economy for our children" message. It does not give listeners any clue where the candidate is running for state Senate. The pro-Bruntz spot has one good feature: it doesn't start out sounding like a political ad, which probably keeps some listeners from instantly changing the station.

I will be surprised if Bruntz pulls out a victory here. My sense is that Republicans are targeting Senate district 15 for lack of a better idea. Having failed to recruit a top-tier candidate in Senate district 27, they seem to recognize that beating three-term State Senator Amanda Ragan of Mason City isn't in the cards. But Republicans need at least two pickups to gain an Iowa Senate majority (assuming they hold all their current seats, no easy task). Aside from Ragan's seat, the only other Democratic-held district on the ballot where Republicans have a voter registration advantage is Senate district 5, now held by Daryl Beall of Fort Dodge. They will go all-out for Beall's seat, but they need at least one more gain.

Not only is Senate district 15 an open seat, it looks fairly competitive on paper with 13,869 active Democrats, 12,632 Republicans, and 13,542 no-party voters according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State's Office. That's more promising for the GOP than other seats they could shoot for. I can't see a Steve King staffer winning Ames-based Senate district 23. The Republican nominee in Senate district 29 is an amateur who had $50 in the bank four months before the election. While Republicans have an experienced office-holder running in Senate district 49, the voter registration numbers favor Democrats more there, and Senator Rita Hart is a hard-working incumbent.

Any comments about the Iowa Senate races are welcome in this thread. I appreciate tips from Bleeding Heartland readers on any direct mail, radio or television advertising for or against state legislative candidates. You can either post a comment on this site or send a confidential message to desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com.

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Latest Iowa absentee ballot numbers (as of September 25)

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Sep 26, 2014 at 10:20:00 AM CDT

Thousands of Iowans took advantage of the first day for in-person early voting yesterday. The latest totals for absentee ballots requested and returned, statewide and in Iowa's four Congressional districts, are after the jump. I took the numbers from the Iowa Secretary of State's website. To spot trends in the numbers, you can find tables from earlier this week here.

Both parties have been pushing early voting, and both have generated more absentee ballot requests than at the same point in Iowa's last midterm elections. For now, Democrats are running ahead in the early vote statewide and in each Congressional district, but the numbers are far from decisive.

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Auditor details mismanagement by Matt Schultz and Mary Mosiman

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Sep 26, 2014 at 07:39:48 AM CDT

If you thought nothing could surprise you anymore about Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz, I recommend reading the report Chief Deputy State Auditor Warren Jenkins released yesterday. Jenkins reviewed payments to Schultz's former chief deputy Jim Gibbons after Gibbons stopped coming to work. You can download a pdf of the audit here. I've posted the full text after the jump.

Key points: Schultz told Gibbons in May 2012 that his position would be eliminated at the end of the calendar year. Gibbons stopped coming in to work regularly the following month. Normal procedure calls for at-will state employees to be paid "until the end of the pay period, up to a maximum of 2 weeks after being notified their position is to be eliminated." After learning that state agencies are not allowed to make severance payments to at-will employees, Schultz decided to keep Gibbons on the payroll through December 2012. There are no timesheets or records of how often Gibbons came to work between June and December of that year. Former colleagues could not provide Jenkins with much information about anything Gibbons did for the Secretary of State's Office. Gibbons reported directly to Schultz.

The audit concluded, "Based on the lack of documentation supporting work performed by Mr. Gibbons, we cannot determine the public benefit of the Secretary of State's Office paying Mr. Gibbons $90,738.67 in salary, vacation, and benefits for the period June 8, 2012 through December 31, 2012." Jenkins also questioned the public benefit of paying more than $21,000 to two other at-will employees whose positions were eliminated.

Schultz is now running for Madison County attorney. That election will be a good test of whether Madison County Republicans care more about partisan allegiance or basic competence. A statement from Schultz tried to pass off Gibbons' work arrangement as something advised by the Department of Administrative Services. That spin is misleading, for reasons I explain after the jump.

Current State Auditor Mary Mosiman was one of Schultz's deputies during the period examined, and to put it mildly, this report casts an unflattering light on her. She has claimed that she warned Schultz that keeping Gibbons on the payroll was damaging to morale in the agency. But the bottom line is, she never blew the whistle on a colleague getting tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars for doing no work.

In addition, Jenkins found that neither Mosiman nor Gibbons submitted timesheets or "leave slips" documenting approval of planned time off. As a result, Mosiman "was paid for one week of accumulated vacation she should not have received" when she left the Secretary of State's Office for her current job. She has reportedly already returned to the state her excess payment of $2,500. No one knows whether that's the full extent of overpayments to Schultz's subordinates. Jenkins' report states, "Because timesheets and leave slips were not required to be completed and were not submitted by the Deputies, we are unable to identify any additional vacation hours used but not properly recorded for the Deputies."

The state auditor is supposed to make sure the public's money is well spent. How can someone do that job without understanding the need to record essential information such as time spent working and time spent on vacation? Even if Mosiman was not aware that she received too much vacation pay, she should have recognized and taken steps to correct the lack of record-keeping at the Secretary of State's Office. She should not have stood by and let Gibbons collect month after month of salary and benefits, long after he stopped coming to work.

After the jump I've posted comments from Schultz, Democratic State Senator Liz Mathis (who requested the audit), Democratic candidate for secretary of state Brad Anderson, and Democratic candidate for state auditor Jon Neiderbach.

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Attorney General Eric Holder stepping down, with Iowa reaction

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Sep 25, 2014 at 18:00:00 PM CDT

President Barack Obama announced today that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will resign as soon as a successor is confirmed. Carrie Johnson reported for National Public Radio,

Holder already is one of the longest-serving members of the Obama Cabinet and currently ranks as the fourth-longest tenured AG in history. Hundreds of employees waited in lines, stacked three rows deep, in early February 2009 to witness his return to the Justice Department, where he previously worked as a young corruption prosecutor and as deputy attorney general - the second in command - during the Clinton administration. [...]

Holder most wants to be remembered for his record on civil rights: refusing to defend a law that defined marriage as between one man and one woman; suing North Carolina and Texas over voting restrictions that disproportionately affect minorities and the elderly; launching 20 investigations of abuses by local police departments; and using his bully pulpit to lobby Congress to reduce prison sentences for nonviolent drug crimes. Many of those sentences disproportionately hurt minority communities.

Republicans in Congress have long clashed with Holder over many issues, notably the "Fast and Furious" gun trafficking scandal and Holder's original plan to prosecute the alleged plotters in the 9/11 attacks in federal court in New York City. (Eventually those cases were moved to military courts.)

I had very high hopes for Holder when Obama appointed him, and while he's far from the worst in the current cabinet, he's probably the most disappointing from my perspective. As Eric Posner explains well here, "Holder's Justice Department has helped suppress civil liberties that interfere with what the Bush administration called the 'war on terror,' the currently nameless global operation to confront Islamic terrorism wherever it appears." Although Holder doesn't explicitly condone torture, the Department of Justice failed to prosecute CIA officials involved in torturing suspects.

Any comments about Holder's legacy are welcome in this thread. I've enclosed below Senator Chuck Grassley's comment on the attorney general's plans to step down, and will update this post as needed with other Iowa reaction to the news.

P.S.-Although an early 2009 speech by Holder is now considered a "stumble" or gaffe, there was some truth in his observation, "Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards."

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Latest Iowa absentee ballot numbers (as of September 24)

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Sep 25, 2014 at 09:35:00 AM CDT

Based on the latest data from the Iowa Secretary of State's Office, I've updated tables showing how many absentee ballots Iowans have requested and returned, statewide and in the four Congressional districts. Democrats still lead in ballot requests statewide and in each district, as you can see below. The largest lead is in IA-02; the smallest in IA-04.

Tables from previous days can be viewed here. The number of ballots returned is creeping up slowly, but that will change very soon. Early voting in-person begins today, and every vote cast at a county auditor's office counts as a ballot requested and a ballot returned on the same day. Also, more and more Iowans who are voting by mail will receive their ballots by this weekend.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Common sneezeweed (Autumn sneezeweed)

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Sep 24, 2014 at 22:13:38 PM CDT

This week's featured wildflower is native to almost all of North America and thrives in sunny spots with relatively wet soil. After the jump I've posted several pictures of Common sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale). As you can probably guess from the Latin name and the alternative common names Fall sneezeweed or Autumn sneezeweed, this plant blooms in the late summer or early fall. Eileen Miller showed me this patch of sneezeweed in a wet area of Whiterock Conservancy earlier this month.

The name sneezeweed made me wonder whether this plant was allergenic for many people, as is ragweed, which also blooms in the late summer. But according to the website of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas in Austin, "The common name is based on the former use of its dried leaves in making snuff, inhaled to cause sneezing that would supposedly rid the body of evil spirits."

This post is also an open thread: all topics welcome. As tonight marks the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, I also want to wish a very happy new year to all the Jews in the Bleeding Heartland community.

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Gannett continues to cut the heart out of the Des Moines Register

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Sep 24, 2014 at 14:53:30 PM CDT

As one of the shrinking number of Iowans who still subscribe to the Des Moines Register, I'm used to being disappointed by management decisions. The redesign to incorporate more daily content from USA Today leaves me cold. The website looks more slick but is less user-friendly than it was a few years ago. The Sunday opinion section is only four pages long. The talented Lee Rood could be exposing real dirt, but too many of her "Reader's Watchdog" columns focus on individual grievances with no public policy relevance.

As if that weren't bad enough, yet another round of newsroom layoffs is coming soon. Since the "Great Recession" set in, the Register has been cutting news staff almost every year, either through buyouts or (more frequently) pink slips. It's been nearly six years since the Register employed its own political cartoonist. Managers let a Pulitzer Prize winner go. Perhaps the biggest mistake, in terms of news value, was closing the Washington bureau and sending Philip Brasher away, along with his wealth of knowledge on agriculture and the federal government.

The Register put a good spin on changes to its political reporting by announcing this week a "new partnership" with Bloomberg politics "on polling, content and events heading into the midterm and 2016 elections." After the jump I've posted an excerpt from the paper's story on the move. I am skeptical the change will add any value for politically-minded Iowans. The emphasis seems to be on format. I don't need "an updated caucuses app so readers can follow up-to-the-minute coverage on their mobile devices." I would rather see a larger team of political reporters dig in with more background and analysis. If it's true that "There will be just one 'metro government' reporter and just two state government reporters," good luck figuring out what's going on at the statehouse during the Iowa legislative session, or within state agencies at any time of year.

The Des Moines-based weekly Cityview reports regularly on the Register's declining circulation and layoffs prompted by disappointing revenue numbers for Gannett's newspaper division. I don't share the feeling of Schadenfreude that comes through in Civic Skinny's columns, but I share the sense of outrage that newspaper veterans are being forced to reapply for their positions, with the threat of losing severance payments if they turn down a new job offer. I've enclosed details on the process below. What a horrible way to treat employees. By the end of this year, the already lean Register newsroom will have lost 16 percent of its positions.

Please share any comments about changes at the Des Moines Register, or in the newspaper business generally.  

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Latest Iowa absentee ballot numbers (as of September 23)

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Sep 24, 2014 at 10:35:00 AM CDT

Based on the latest data from the Iowa Secretary of State's Office, I've updated after the jump tables showing how many absentee ballots Iowans have requested and returned, statewide and in the four Congressional districts.

Tables from previous days can be viewed here. Note that the number of ballots returned is still quite low, because most of the 99 county auditors are starting to mail ballots this week. In-person early voting begins tomorrow, 40 days before the general election.

Among the four Congressional districts, IA-02 has both the largest number of ballot requests so far and the largest difference between the Democratic and Republican numbers. That's bad news for Mariannette Miller-Meeks in her third attempt to unseat Representative Dave Loebsack, an uphill battle in my opinion. It may also be good news for Democrats hoping to maintain or expand their Iowa Senate majority, because several of the most competitive Iowa Senate districts are located within the second Congressional district (namely, Senate district 39, Senate district 41, Senate district 15, and to a lesser extent Senate district 49).

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IA-04: Mowrer emphasizes crossover appeal, King finally agrees to debate

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Sep 23, 2014 at 15:55:05 PM CDT

Catching up on news from Iowa's fourth Congressional district, a veteran who served with Democratic challenger Jim Mowrer in Iraq is the star of Mowrer's fourth television commercial. I've posted the video and transcript after the jump. The veteran explains that although he usually votes Republican, he supports Mowrer for Congress, because Mowrer "put his men and his responsibilities above himself" in Iraq and will "put Iowa first" in Washington. Mowrer appears near the end of the spot. Without mentioning Representative Steve King, he draws an unspoken contrast between himself and the incumbent, saying Congress has forgotten to put service "to the people" above a party. While campaigning around the district, Mowrer points out that King is an obstructionist who "has never passed any major legislation or brought anything back to Iowa."

Bleeding Heartland covered Mowrer's first three ads here, here and here. To my knowledge, King has not run any tv ads yet. I cannot think of any other example of a Congressional incumbent waiting so long to go up on the air against a well-funded challenger. I can only conclude that King is not at all worried about this election. It's also noteworthy that the incumbent is relying on his son and daughter in law to manage this year's effort, as he did in 2008 and 2010. In contrast, King brought in seasoned campaign professionals to run his 2012 re-election bid against Christie Vilsack in a substantially redrawn district.

To have any chance against King, Mowrer needs quite a few Republicans to cross over and vote for him, in addition to good Democratic turnout and a big lead among independents. The latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State's Office indicate that the 39 counties in IA-04 contain 122,996 active registered Democrats, 179,418 Republicans, and 172,126 no-party voters. Democrats have a small lead in absentee ballot requests so far.

Over the weekend, King finally agreed to debate Mowrer. After months of stonewalling, which was attracting some unflattering media attention, King accepted Iowa Public Television's invitation to an "Iowa Press" debate on October 23 in Storm Lake. He is still refusing to debate Mowrer in Sioux City, the largest metro area in IA-04.

I haven't seen much polling on this race. Loras College surveyed 300 voters in the district earlier this month and found King leading by 47 percent to 36 percent. That poll had a fairly high margin of error of 5.6 percent and some methodological issues that made me question the results. But if King's internal polling showed major warning signs, he would probably be on television right now, and/or the National Republican Congressional Committee would get involved, as they did in 2012. So I would assume King leads by enough not to feel threatened. Let's hope he is taking too much for granted.

Any comments about the IA-04 campaign are welcome in this thread.  

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