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Helping parties verify eligible caucus-goers wouldn't make the Iowa caucuses a primary

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jul 31, 2014 at 07:10:00 AM CDT

For years, prominent Iowa Republicans have hyped unfounded fears about "voter fraud." So it's ironic that yesterday, the state GOP attacked Brad Anderson's proposal to help ensure that only eligible voters can take part in the Iowa caucuses.

Anderson is the Democratic nominee for secretary of state. After the jump I've posted his "caucus integrity" plan, including this idea: "Parties should be encouraged to utilize electronic poll book technology that would provide up-to-date lists and allow Iowans to check-in electronically. I believe the next Secretary of State should work with each of the parties to develop and support an affordable, efficient and effective electronic poll book that would allow caucus participants to easily check-in and allow volunteers to immediately confirm eligibility."

I've also enclosed below an Iowa GOP press release. New Republican state party chair Jeff Kaufmann asserted, "Anderson's plan is a problem in search of a solution. We must maintain the separation of politics and state." Charlie Smithson, legal counsel for Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz since 2012, offered his opinion: "If government becomes involved with the caucus process, other states will argue that the caucuses have become the functional equivalent of a primary," hurting Iowa's efforts to remain first in the presidential nominating process.

That's a real stretch. Anderson's plan says straight away, "The caucuses are, and must remain strictly a party function run independently by the Republican Party of Iowa and the Iowa Democratic Party." He hasn't proposed involving county auditors or the Secretary of State's office in setting caucus rules, or in tabulating or announcing Iowa caucus results. He's talking about working with the parties ahead of time, so that on caucus night, they have tools to verify that only eligible voters residing in the precinct take part. Republicans could still hold their straw polls early in the evening, electing county delegates later, while Democrats maintain their system of dividing into preference groups, with a 15 percent threshold for viability in every precinct. Using a poll book for check-in wouldn't change the fact that the Iowa Democratic Party announces only how many county convention delegates each candidate won, not raw numbers of caucus-goers who supported them.

If the Iowa caucuses ever produce another very close result, like the Republican outcome in 2012, any reports (credible or not) about ineligible voters taking part would boost the case for ditching Iowa as first in the nation. After the record-breaking Democratic caucus turnout in 2008, some people claimed that Barack Obama's campaign had brought large numbers of supporters in from out of state. Although facts didn't support those allegations, it would be easier to refute them if the parties had a better system for checking in caucus-goers.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. UPDATE: Having worked in elections administration and volunteered at many Iowa caucuses, John Deeth explains how Anderson's ideas could improve the check-in process on caucus night.

P.S.- I think Kaufmann meant to say that Anderson's plan is a "solution in search of a problem." Which is ironic, since he and Smithson have both lent their support to Matt Schultz's photo ID crusade, the ultimate solution in search of a non-existent Iowa voter impersonation problem.  

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Tall cinquefoil

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jul 30, 2014 at 22:01:00 PM CDT

Today's featured plant is native to most of North America and can thrive in a wide variety of soils and habitats. After the jump I've posted several pictures of tall cinquefoil (Potentilla arguta), a member of the rose family also known as white cinquefoil or prairie cinquefoil.

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

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Who's right about impeachment prospects: John Boehner or Steve King?

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jul 29, 2014 at 21:40:00 PM CDT

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner doesn't want to impeach President Barack Obama. His plan to sue the president is a gambit to appease Republicans bent on fighting the president's alleged failure "to faithfully execute the laws." At this week's meeting of the House GOP caucus, both Boehner and Greg Walden, head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, urged colleagues not to talk about impeachment, saying such talk only helps Democrats. Today, Boehner assured a roomful of reporters, "We have no plans to impeach the president," claiming that such speculation was "all a scam started by Democrats at the White House."

There's no question Democrats have been hyping the impeachment speculation, to remarkably successful effect. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee took in $2 million over four days from e-mail appeals warning of Republican plans to oust the president.

But it's a stretch for Boehner to claim Democrats dreamed up the impeachment "scam." Dave Weigel posted a good overview of Republicans inside and outside Congress calling for impeachment within the past year, and especially within the past month.

Just a few days ago, Iowa's own Representative Steve King predicted House Republicans will be motivated to launch impeachment proceedings if President Obama uses executive orders to give "amnesty" to undocumented immigrants. After the jump I've posted excerpts from those comments, as well as King's latest op-ed piece on immigration policy (which does not mention impeachment).  

To put it mildly, King and Boehner don't always see eye to eye on political messaging. With House leadership strongly opposed, I'm skeptical Republicans aligned with King would be able to force a vote on articles of impeachment, let alone pass such a measure. Too many people remember how calls to impeach President Bill Clinton backfired during the 1998 midterm elections. But it's worth noting that House Republicans proceeded with efforts to remove Clinton despite the verdict voters delivered in 1998. A recent national poll indicated that even as Obama's approval ratings remain low, two-thirds of Americans oppose impeaching him. The same poll suggested that a majority of Republican respondents favor impeachment.

What do you think, Bleeding Heartland readers? Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

P.S. - Great piece by Lynda Waddington on King saying, in effect, that Obama can't feel true patriotism because "he was not raised with an American experience."

UPDATE: Added new comments from King below. He isn't currently pushing for impeachment but thinks the president might want to be impeached because of a narcissistic personality and "messiah complex."

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"Quality care" is in the eye of the beholder

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 28, 2014 at 20:05:00 PM CDT

The nursing home industry already had too much political power in Iowa before Terry Branstad returned to the governor's office. Since late 2010, Branstad has repeatedly demonstrated that he prefers a more lax inspection regime for residential care facilities, with fewer nursing home inspectors than state lawmakers are willing to fund.

But Branstad may have hit a new low this month, according to a story by Clark Kauffman in Monday's Des Moines Register. Kauffman has reported extensively on substandard care in Iowa nursing homes. Following up on this year's winners of the "Governor's Award for Quality Care in Health Care Facilities," Kauffman learned that one of the three honored facilities "was cited by inspectors seven weeks earlier for widespread unsanitary conditions and failure to meet residents' nutritional needs."

At this writing, I could not find the July 9 press release announcing the awards on the governor's official news feed. I found it on the Department of Inspections and Appeals website and posted the full text after the jump.

I also enclosed excerpts from Kauffman's report, but you should click through to read every disgusting detail about the Woodland Terrace in Waverly (Bremer County). I challenge Branstad or Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds to move any of their own beloved relatives to a home with such low standards of hygiene. It's bad enough that Woodland Terrace wasn't fined after the conditions inspectors found when they visited in May. To honor that facility is outrageous.

Regarding the other two award-winners, Kauffman noted that Prairie View Home in Sanborn did not have any violations during its most recent inspection, but Friendship Haven in Fort Dodge was cited in late 2013 "for failure to provide adequate incontinence care for residents; failure to adequately treat bedsores; and failure to keep food at the proper temperature before serving."

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Republicans nominate Jonathan Lochman in Iowa Senate district 17

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 28, 2014 at 07:05:00 AM CDT

After fielding candidates in every Iowa Senate district in 2012, Republicans left a bunch of low-probability seats uncontested this year. One of those districts now has a GOP candidate, however: a special convention on July 24 selected Jonathan Lochman to run in Iowa Senate district 17. I don't see a website for his campaign, but Lochman's on Facebook here. During 13 years of active duty in the U.S. Army, he served wartime tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq. He's now the Iowa coordinator for Team Rubicon (the Iowa chapter is on Facebook here).

Iowa Senate district 17 is open because State Senator Jack Hatch is running for governor. Tony Bisignano narrowly won a contentious three-way primary in this heavily Democratic seat covering parts of downtown Des Moines and the south side. In a press release, Lochman asserted that Bisignano would "be a rubber stamp for the radical, obstructionist agenda of Mike Gronstal," whereas the Republican would "be an independent voice for my community." Iowa Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix asserted, "Des Moines voters deserve a candidate​ like Jonathan Lochman, who has​ the integrity, honor and passion to effectively represent their interests at the State Capitol​." Judging from that comment and various Republican posts on social media, the plan is for Lochman to win by playing up Bisignano's drunk driving arrests and scandals from his previous term of service in the Iowa Senate during the 1990s.

It would be a historic upset for a Republican to win a state legislative seat here. The latest official figures show that Senate district 17 contains 16,388 active registered Democrats, 6,559 Republicans, and 9,792 no-party voters. Bisignano should have help from the Iowa Democratic Party's coordinated campaign, because other Democratic candidates (notably Hatch, U.S. Senate nominee Braley, and IA-03 nominee Staci Appel) are counting on good GOTV in strongholds like the south side of Des Moines.

Also on July 24, Polk County Republicans held a special convention to nominate Army veteran Tom Hess in Iowa House district 34, covering half of Senate district 17. Hess will challenge longtime Democratic State Representative Bruce Hunter and has about the same chance of winning as Lochman (slim to none). As of July 1, House district 34 contained 8,404 active registered Democrats, 3,497 Republicans, and 5,114 no-party voters.

P.S. - I would have posted the full press release on Lochman's campaign launch, but the "latest news" on the Iowa Senate Republicans website is a press release from mid-May.

UPDATE: Cityview's Civic Skinny published a detailed account of Tony Bisignano's drunk driving arrest and how the case unfolded from there. Many details were new to me, and I suspect that if they had been more widely known, Nathan Blake might have won the Senate district 17 Democratic primary.

The most surprising fact recounted by Civic Skinny is that Jennifer Jacobs apparently e-mailed her draft Des Moines Register story on the OWI to Bisignano before publishing. Double-checking quoted remarks is one thing, but I am not aware of any newspaper where it is standard practice to run a full draft by the public figure who is the subject of the article.

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Weekend open thread: Cashing in

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Jul 27, 2014 at 09:58:10 AM CDT

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

Most political campaign staffers are overworked and underpaid, and the prevalence of unpaid internships in Congressional offices leaves few opportunities for people who are not independently wealthy. Now two veterans of Barack Obama's 2012 presidential campaign have come under fire for launching what looks like "a 'pay to play' system for would-be campaign staff." Participants pay $5,000 for five days of intensive training, followed by five weeks of unpaid work on a campaign. Mitch Stewart and Jeremy Bird claim their consulting firm is just looking to recoup costs through this program, which is "focused on an international audience" rather than American progressives. They also deny they are charging people to volunteer. Rather, they say they are training participants in "organizing, data analytics, digital, and communications strategy and tactics coupled with immersion on a campaign."

Doesn't sound like "change we can believe in" to me. If Stewart and Bird hope "to equip grassroots advocates with the key skills and best practices," they should seek donations from wealthy progressives to cover costs, rather than charging a fee few aspiring activists could afford.

As selling out goes, though, Stewart and Bird's gambit bothers me less than Obama's 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina advising the Tory party in Britain, or another group of 2012 Obama campaign wizards applying their marketing talents to lure more suckers to a Las Vegas casino.

On a related note, the Ready for Hillary super-PAC has somehow convinced 90,000 people to give them money. Most of these donors probably feel they are doing something tangible to help Hillary Clinton become president. The reality is, they are just helping a small group of insiders build a list that will later be sold to a Clinton campaign.

If you can afford to give money to political causes, it's better to donate directly to a worthy candidate's campaign, or to non-profits that are committed to a mission besides enriching the founders.

Which is not to say there's any shame in talented people getting rich. Case in point: Weird Al Yankovic. His new album deserved to hit number one on the charts. The lyrics for "Tacky" and "Word Crimes" are hysterical. They inspired me to go back and listen to some of Weird Al's classics. My favorites include "Six Words Long" (a parody of George Harrison's "I Got My Mind Set On You") and "The Saga Begins" (a Star Wars-themed version of Don McLean's song "American Pie"). I don't know whether he plans to tour in support of his new album, but if he does, I hope he comes through central Iowa. I was fortunate to see him play Des Moines as the opening act for a Monkees reunion tour during the 1980s. Hilarious.

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Martin O'Malley: Presidential candidate? Maybe. Clinton rival? No way.

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jul 25, 2014 at 14:45:00 PM CDT

It makes perfect sense for potential Democratic presidential candidates to visit Iowa, meeting activists and keeping their options open. That doesn't mean any of them would run against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Case in point: Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley. Having keynoted the Iowa Democratic Party's state convention last month, he's coming here again this weekend, headlining events for State Senator Rita Hart and state Senate candidate Kevin Kinney on Saturday, then Council Bluffs and Sioux City events for gubernatorial nominee Jack Hatch on Sunday. Politico's Maggie Halberman notes that O'Malley "has said he's exploring a 2016 presidential run." A Des Moines Register headline writer termed him a "possible rival" to Clinton. Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post speculated, "O'Malley is term limited out as governor at the end of this year and undoubtedly thinks a credible run for president might bolster his chances of a spot in a Clinton Administration."

I just don't see it. Laying the groundwork for a potential campaign is not the same thing as preparing to embark on a suicide mission. O'Malley doesn't come across as a guy like Senator Bernie Sanders, who knows he will never be president but might run to shine a light on issues important to him. O'Malley goes way back with Bill and Hillary Clinton. He stuck with Hillary for president even after Barack Obama dominated the 2008 Maryland primary. From where I'm sitting, CNN's Dan Merica had it exactly right when he described O'Malley as an "understudy," "angling to be the person who could step in" if Clinton does not run for president for whatever reason. Maryland's term limits for governors make 2016 an ideal time for O'Malley to run for president, but he's only 51 years old--young enough to wait until 2020 or 2024 if necessary.

Meanwhile, I hope all of this weekend's events are successful, because Hatch, Hart, and Kinney are very worth supporting.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

P.S. - Hart's re-election bid in Senate district 49 is a must-hold for Democrats. Kinney's running in the open Senate district 39, and if he wins, it would virtually guarantee a Democratic majority in the state legislature's upper chamber for the next two years.

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Hopeless lawsuit only adds to Cedar Rapids' opportunity costs

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jul 25, 2014 at 10:07:30 AM CDT

Cedar Rapids movers and shakers should be pursuing alternative plans for a prime downtown location rejected for a casino license in April. Instead, city leaders have vowed to find a legislative path to their casino dream. Now a former Linn County attorney hopes a court will throw out the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission's decision. Rick Smith reports for the Cedar Rapids Gazette,

[Eugene] Kopecky filed a lawsuit this week in Linn County District Court against the commission and the four of five commission members who voted April 17 to deny a state gaming license to casino investor group Cedar Rapids Development Group LLC.

Kopecky, who has practiced law in Cedar Rapids since 1966, said Thursday that his lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgment. He said he wants the court to instruct the commission on the state's gaming law in a way that would require the commission to revisit the Cedar Rapids casino application and grant a state gaming license.

Kopecky said the state's gaming law requires voters in a county to approve gaming before a casino is permitted to operate. [...]

He said state law doesn't give the state commission the ability to deny a casino license in one county based on a license in another county, he said.

The fact that voters must approve a plan before a casino can be licensed does not imply that the commission must approve every application for a casino license where a referendum has passed. The Racing and Gaming Commission has denied some two dozen gambling licenses in its 30-year history. There is ample precedent for the commission denying a license based on concerns a new casino would largely cannibalize from existing ones. I've seen no evidence that state legislators thought commissioners were exceeding their authority in those cases. I'm not an attorney, but I would be shocked if a court agreed with Kopecky's interpretation of Iowa statute.

Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett commented yesterday that he supports the lawsuit. For his part, Kopecky "said his lawsuit could take more than two years to make its way through the Iowa court system if a decision in Linn County District Court is appealed."

What a shame to waste so much time on a Hail-Mary pass, when Cedar Rapids could be considering other development plans for the downtown space. Richard Florida, a leading expert on urban land use, has written that "urbanists across the ideological spectrum are unanimous" about one thing: "building casinos, especially in an already thriving downtown, is a truly terrible idea."  

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Five good reads on Ronald Reagan and race-based appeals

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jul 24, 2014 at 21:42:35 PM CDT

Republicans have been long been masters at demanding that prominent Democrats apologize for some obscure person's offensive comment. Today the Black Hawk County Republicans used this tried and true technique to score a story by the Des Moines Register's chief politics reporter. In a now-deleted post on the Black Hawk County Democrats' Facebook page, a volunteer shared a graphic comparing Presidents Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama. Among other things, the graphic described Reagan as a "white supremacist."

Jennifer Jacobs' story leads with a Republican press release and includes an apology from the chair of the Black Hawk County Democrats for this "unfortunate" and "unacceptable" post. However, nowhere does Jacobs hint at why anyone would think to apply this label to Reagan in the first place. Maybe she's playing dumb, or maybe she's too young to remember.

Sad to say, the U.S. has had more than a handful of white supremacist presidents. I don't think Reagan was one of them. But I recommend the following reads on his use of racially charged language to win support for his political agenda.

Ian Haney-Lopez provides a good overview of how Reagan "used coded racial appeals to galvanize white voters."

During the 1980 presidential campaign, Reagan traveled to Philadelphia, Mississippi, site of the most notorious murders of the civil rights movement, to deliver this speech declaring his support for "states' rights." (full transcript) As Bob Herbert wrote many years later, "Everybody watching the 1980 campaign knew what Reagan was signaling at the fair. Whites and blacks, Democrats and Republicans - they all knew. The news media knew. The race haters and the people appalled by racial hatred knew. And Reagan knew."

David Love chronicles Reagan's "troubling legacy" on race. Not only did he oppose the Voting Rights Act of 1965, during the 1980 campaign he criticized that law as "humiliating to the South."

In 1981, Reagan White House aide Lee Atwater gave a remarkably frank interview about the GOP's "Southern strategy." He described how overtly racist political rhetoric evolved into conservative slogans about busing or economic policies that hurt black people more than whites.

Peter Dreier reminds us that Reagan's "indifference to urban problems was legendary" and notes that his administration "failed to prosecute or sanction banks that violated the Community Reinvestment Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in lending."

On a related note, Reagan's riff about "welfare queens" is perhaps the most famous example of how he used racial code words. Josh Levin published a fascinating profile of the con artist who inspired that part of Reagan's stump speech.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Wild petunia, plus May apple with fruit

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jul 23, 2014 at 20:22:00 PM CDT

This week's featured flower resembles a common garden planting, but wild petunia (Ruellia humilis) is native to much of the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains. In Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie, Sylvan Runkel and Dean Roosa note that this plant can grow "in a variety of habitats, from open woodlands to moist prairies to sand plains." According to Iowa naturalist Leland Searles, the petunias often grown in gardens are in the nightshade family (Solanaceae) and have alternate leaves. Wild petunia is a member of the acanthus family (Acanthaceae) and has opposite leaves.

Also known as hairy wild petunia, this plant isn't hard to grow in a garden, according to the Illinois Wildflowers website. A related species called smooth wild petunia has similar blossoms but smooth leaves.

I've posted below several pictures of wild petunia blooming, along with a couple of flowers I hope the Bleeding Heartland community will help me identify. As a bonus, I included a shot of fruit growing on May apples, also known as umbrella plants. May apples are one of my favorite spring wildflowers, but deer or other wildlife tend to eat all the fruit from the plants closest to my corner of Windsor Heights. I was lucky to find a stand of untouched May apples a couple of weeks ago while hunting for black raspberries. Supposedly you can make preserves from ripe May apple fruit, but I've never tried it, nor have I tried eating the fruit raw. This blogger found out the hard way that the seeds are toxic.

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More Iowa political reaction over unaccompanied immigrant children (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jul 22, 2014 at 20:49:39 PM CDT

As new reports indicate that Iowa families are caring for more than 100 unaccompanied immigrant children who have entered the U.S. illegally during the past year, Governor Terry Branstad stands by his cold shoulder to the kids, while leading Iowa Democrats have called for a more welcoming stance.

I enclose below some recent news and commentary about how Iowans should react to the humanitarian crisis.

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Lots of links on potential 2016 Iowa caucus candidates

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 21, 2014 at 14:16:13 PM CDT

It's been a while since Bleeding Heartland dedicated a thread to the potential 2016 presidential candidates. Please share any comments related to the next Iowa caucus campaign in this thread. Lots of links on various Democratic and Republican contenders are after the jump.
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Obama executive order bans federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 21, 2014 at 11:40:00 AM CDT

President Barack Obama signed an executive order today that prohibits federal contractors from discriminating against workers based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Labor Secretary Tom Perez explained,

My colleagues in the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs have enforced the government's nondiscrimination laws for federal contractors for years. Their work ensures that contractors and subcontractors doing business with the government don't use taxpayer money to discriminate in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability or status as a protected veteran. With this executive order, it will also include America's LGBT workers.

We still need to go further. Passage of federal legislation to prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity would mean that all workers across the country would enjoy these protections. But with Congress failing to lead on this issue, the president is taking the initiative as part of this Year of Action.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed the U.S. Senate last fall with bipartisan support but is going nowhere in the Republican-controlled U.S. House.

Justin Sink noted in his report for The Hill that the president still wants Congress to pass that bill, although "some gay and civil rights groups have abandoned ENDA over concerns stemming from the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision." After the jump I've posted more background on that aspect of today's news. While the Hobby Lobby ruling ostensibly was limited to a religious exemption from the contraception mandate in the 2010 health care reform law, it's likely to have more far-reaching effects.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. I'll update this post if needed with Iowa political reaction.

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Weekend open thread: Walking the talk edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Jul 20, 2014 at 08:01:34 AM CDT

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

State Representative Chuck Isenhart, the ranking Democrat on the Iowa House Environmental Protection Committee, has installed solar panels on his Dubuque home as a personal step to address climate change. Details are after the jump. Solar power has a reputation for being expensive to install, but technological advances and policy changes have reduced the payback time for many home and business owners. Isenhart expects to save money in the long-term. A bill approved during this year's legislative session improved Iowa's tax incentives for solar in several ways.

The Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, begins its northern route in Rock Valley today. Good luck to everyone in the Bleeding Heartland community planning to do all or part of RAGBRAI. Last week's weather would have been absolutely perfect; I hope the high temperatures will mostly stay below 90 this week. In its recent feature on "33 useful tips for newbies" to the experience, I found it strange that the Register focused so much on the drinking culture. Carl Voss, a Des Moines bicycling advocate and veteran of 36 RAGBRAIs, unloaded on what he called "sophomoric drivel" in an angry letter to the editor. Excerpt:

Granted, alcohol attracts some riders and non-riders among the more than 10,000 RAGBRAI participants. It happens. But trust me, that isn't the way most participants enjoy RAGBRAI, Iowa and our communities.

Now, flip to the RAGBRAI website, where RAGBRAI (and therefore the Register) includes among the "Top 10 Recommendations for Rider Safety": Do NOT drink alcohol and ride. [...]

Publishing crap like this in your news columns will turn me off to RAGBRAI and the Register.

Another letter to the editor, which I've posted after the jump, focused on the large number of puppy mills near this year's RAGBRAI route. The Iowa legislature passed a bill in 2010 that was designed to reduce abuses at puppy mills, but unfortunately Iowa still has some bad actors in the industry. Adopting a pet from a shelter such as the Animal Rescue League has so many advantages. If your heart is set on a purebred animal, at least visit the breeder's facility before buying a pet.

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Iowa Congressional 2Q fundraising news roundup, with a few surprises

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jul 18, 2014 at 13:24:37 PM CDT

With all four U.S. House districts in Iowa targeted by one or both parties this year, and competitive primaries happening in three of the four races, I was eager to see where the nominees stood at the end of the second quarter.

Highlights from the Federal Election Commission filings are after the jump. After lackluster fundraising the last three quarters, six-term Representative Steve King finally managed to out-raise his Democratic challenger Jim Mowrer, but to my surprise, Mowrer retained a big advantage over King in cash on hand as of June 30.  

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Yellow jewelweed (Pale touch-me-not)

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jul 16, 2014 at 22:57:41 PM CDT

Dry and unseasonably cool weather has made this a perfect week to get out and see summer wildflowers. One of my summer favorites, American bellflower, is prevalent along most of the wooded trails in central Iowa. Dozens of prairie flower species are in bloom, and you can find many in small city plantings (for instance, around Gray's Lake in Des Moines and on nearby trails) if you don't have time to get to a native or restored prairie.

This week's featured native plant thrives in wooded areas where the ground is moist, and prefers partial sun. Yellow jewelweed (Impatiens pallida) is also commonly known as pale touch-me-not or pale jewelweed. It's reportedly less common than orange jewelweed, a closely related plant. For centuries, various Native American tribes used jewelweed to soothe itches from poison ivy rashes, mosquito bites, and hives. I know hikers who swear by it. Conveniently, the plant often grows near poison ivy and stinging nettle, legendary skin irritants. This post on Nature Labs explains how to use jewelweed and includes more detail on its medicinal properties.

Incidentally, the common name "touch-me-not" doesn't mean plants in this family are harmful to touch. Rather, the name was inspired by "the sensitive triggering of seeds from the ripe capsule," which tends to explode when touched.  

After the jump I've enclosed several photos of yellow jewelweed, growing along a stretch of the Windsor Heights bike trail. Although I've walked or ridden my bicycle by the spot literally hundreds of times in the last dozen years, I never noticed this plant growing there until this summer--which should come in handy, now that the mosquitoes are out in force.

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No welcome mat from Terry Branstad for unaccompanied immigrant children

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jul 16, 2014 at 13:46:09 PM CDT

For two days I've been trying to find the words to react to Governor Terry Branstad slamming the door on unaccompanied and undocumented immigrant children who are staying in crowded facilities near the U.S. southern border. Since last fall, at least 50,000 children are estimated to have entered the country via Mexico from various countries of origin, mainly Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. The Obama administration has asked governors to help house the kids. During his Monday press briefing, Branstad made clear he doesn't want any of the children sent to Iowa.

It's not that I expected Branstad to welcome any of these kids. This is a guy who demagogued on illegal immigration during his last campaign and disagrees with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows undocumented children to be educated in public schools. Still, for those of us old enough to remember Governor Bob Ray welcoming refugees from Asia to Iowa during the 1970s, it's dispiriting to hear Branstad trot out tired excuses and talking points. He wants "empathy for these kids" but doesn't want to "send the signal to send these children to America illegally." As if these children deliberately broke the law. As if families in desperate circumstances, trying to save their kids from murderous gangs in central America, would be influenced by "signals" from generous Iowans.

I have nothing profound to say, I just find it depressing to hear the governor cite some charitable work by his wife as an excuse not to do anything to alleviate a humanitarian crisis. After the jump I've posted some news clips on the story, along with a call to action from the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa. Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

P.S.- What a disgrace for WHO-TV to allow reporter Aaron Brilbeck to file a story referring to human beings as "illegals" in the headline and the lede. Where were the newsroom editors? I expect that kind of language in a press release from Representative Steve King's office, not from a reputable media organization.

P.P.S.- Philip Brasher, formerly of the Des Moines Register, filed an excellent feature for Roll Call about "The Other Side of the Border."

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Change in Iowa Medicaid policy hasn't reduced abortion access

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jul 15, 2014 at 20:43:35 PM CDT

A year after Iowa law changed to require the governor to approve all Medicaid reimbursements for abortions, the new policy does not appear to have limited low-income women's access to abortions in cases of rape, incest, threat to the mother's life or severe fetal abnormality.

On the other hand, the policy has in effect ended Medicaid coverage of abortion in Iowa, which was already among the most restrictive states in this area.  

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IA-03: Zaun's out but two "Liberty" candidates are in

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jul 15, 2014 at 07:39:09 AM CDT

Catching up on news from last week, State Senator Brad Zaun confirmed on the July 10 edition of Simon Conway's radio show that he will not leave the Republican Party or run for Congress as an independent in Iowa's third district. I had a feeling Zaun was just seeking attention or fishing for compliments with his July 4 Facebook post about friends "encouraging me to switch to an Independent." He told Conway, "I basically just put out a provocative post [...] I didn't commit myself one way or the other and of course it exploded."

Zaun's third term in the Iowa Senate expires in 2016. He has reportedly been telling people he does not plan to seek re-election to the state legislature again. Zaun left his party's Iowa Senate leadership team shortly after Republicans failed to regain a majority in the 2012 election.

Meanwhile, at least two conservative third-party candidates are running in IA-03 this year. Ed Wright received the Libertarian Party of Iowa's nomination in June. His campaign is on the web, Facebook, and Twitter.

Council Bluffs native Bryan Jack Holder officially announced his campaign in March as a Republican, but he did not qualify for the GOP primary ballot. Last month he confirmed on Conway's radio show that he will file to run for Congress as an independent.

After the jump I've posted some background information on Wright and Holder from their respective campaign websites. Neither candidate will raise enough money to reach voters district-wide through traditional campaign methods. However, these advocates for restoring freedom and the Constitution could influence the outcome if the race between Democrat Staci Appel and Republican David Young is close. In 2010, two little-known conservative candidates in Iowa's first district gained more votes combined than Representative Bruce Braley's winning margin against Republican Ben Lange.

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Supreme Court ruling will speed up small solar projects in Iowa

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 14, 2014 at 11:42:57 AM CDT

The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday affirmed a lower court ruling that will make it easier for small-scale solar projects to move forward in Iowa. The up-front cost of installing solar panels has long been a barrier to unlocking Iowa's huge potential to generate solar power. Now municipalities, home or business owners will be able to have solar panels installed through a "third-party power purchase agreement," whereby they pay for the electricity generated after installation.

Follow me after the jump for background on this case, key points from the majority ruling, and reaction to the decision. Advocates for solar power in Iowa and elsewhere are enthusiastic about the potential for more small-scale renewable energy projects (sometimes called "distributed generation"). Utility companies are warning that the ruling will drive up electricity costs.  

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