Iowa Senate leader stripped two Republicans of committee chairmanships

In an unusual move between the first and second years of a legislative assembly, Iowa Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix took committee chairmanships away from two members of his caucus this week. Senator Jake Chapman is the new leader of the Commerce Committee, replacing Bill Anderson. Senator Craig Johnson, who was just elected for the first time last November, now chairs the Transportation, Infrastructure, and Capitals Appropriations Subcommittee, replacing Rick Bertrand.

Dix handed the more significant demotion to Bertrand, who no longer serves on any appropriations subcommittee. Anderson’s remaining committee assignments still include a spot on one appropriations subcommittee as well as a position on the powerful Ways and Means panel.

Senate Republicans didn’t publicize the changes, which took effect on May 24, on their website or social media feeds. The snubs to Bertrand and Anderson attracted little notice amid the transfer of power from Governor Terry Branstad to Kim Reynolds. Senate GOP communications staff, Johnson, Bertrand, and Anderson did not respond to my requests for comment. When I reached Chapman by phone on May 24, he confirmed his new committee chairmanship but declined to speculate about the reasons, saying, “I don’t make those decisions.”

My first thought was that Dix punished Bertrand for throwing a bit of a tantrum (starting at the 6:12:20 mark of this video) during the final debate on Senate File 471, the bill banning almost all abortions after 20 weeks. But when senators first considered the same bill in March, Chapman had tried to suspend the rules to force a floor vote on “personhood” language. Johnson was among sixteen Republicans to support that breach of Senate protocol. Anyway, my initial hunch wouldn’t explain what Dix did to Anderson, who has never called out his GOP colleagues during a Senate floor speech, to my knowledge.

My best guess is that Bertrand and Anderson paid a price for missing too many votes this year. Follow me after the jump for details.

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Branstad disregarded 99.8 percent of public comments on Leopold Center

In one of his final bill signings, former Governor Terry Branstad disregarded almost all the public input his office received regarding the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. Last month, Republican state lawmakers voted to redirect revenues from a fertilizer fee that had provided the bulk of the center’s funding for 30 years. They zeroed out a separate line item which had covered most of the center’s other operating costs.

After GOP legislators ignored feedback from hundreds of Iowans who came to the Capitol or submitted written comments in support of the Leopold Center, attention turned to Branstad, since the governor has the power to veto line items from budget bills. Legal counsel Colin Smith informed me today that Branstad’s office “received approximately 907 emails” on this subject, of which only two favored eliminating the Leopold Center. More than 900 e-mails and “all but a handful” of more than 500 phone calls on this issue supported maintaining the center.

In other words, at least 99.8 percent of more than 1,400 constituent contacts urged Branstad to allow the Leopold Center to continue its work.

However, Branstad vetoed only two line items, which would have removed language about the Leopold Center from Iowa Code. He left in place provisions that redirected most of the center’s funding. Some income from the ISU Foundation remains, but that is insufficient to fund new research on topics such as water quality, conservation practices, soil erosion, and local food systems.

The ambush on the Leopold Center was a favor to corporate agricultural interests, which sought to divert fertilizer tax revenue to ISU’s narrowly-focused Nutrient Research Center, where agribusiness will likely have more control over the agenda. No one even pretended to make a substantive case for defunding the Leopold Center. Yet Branstad reduced a respected institution to a shell, ignoring almost every Iowan who appealed to him.

Before being sworn in as governor yesterday, Kim Reynolds told Barbara Rodriguez of the Associated Press, “I’m going to travel the state and I’m going to go into communities and I’m going to talk to Iowans and I’m going to listen. […] What are we missing? What are we doing right?”

A key test for Reynolds: will she–unlike her mentor–be willing to change course when Iowans overwhelmingly oppose her administration’s policy? Or will she “listen” politely, then have staff follow up with a form letter after she does whatever Republican ideologues or business lobby groups ask of her?

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Defunding Planned Parenthood may limit health care for Iowa's newly uninsured

The collapse of Iowa’s health insurance exchange could leave more than 70,000 people with no way to purchase individual policies for 2018.

More than half the Iowans at risk of becoming uninsured would have qualified for some services under the Iowa Family Planning Network. But our new state-run family planning program–created at great expense because Republican lawmakers and the Branstad/Reynolds administration insisted on defunding Planned Parenthood–won’t be able to accommodate an influx of patients who had been on the exchange.

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What do you have to do to get fired from the Waterloo Police Department?

When I learned last summer that several Waterloo police officers who had used excessive force against black residents had not been disciplined, even after one officer threw a 17-year-old boy to the ground and filed a false report about the incident, and other officers kept their jobs despite making racist remarks at a murder scene or hitting a handcuffed, immobilized suspect on the back of the head, I wondered: what does someone have to do to get fired from the Waterloo Police Department?

Last week the answer became apparent: a lot more than I would have imagined.

One officer remains on the Waterloo force even though Chief Dan Trelka determined he had abused his authority and “displayed poor judgement, unprofessionalism, a lack of competency, a lack of knowledge, a failure to conform to work standards, [and] a failure to take appropriate action”–without showing any remorse.

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Now we can see which Iowans will suffer most from Planned Parenthood and victims assistance cuts

It’s not abstract anymore.

We knew eliminating state funding for Planned Parenthood’s family planning services would cause thousands to lose access to basic health care.

We knew deep cuts to state funding for victims assistance would affect thousands of sexual assault and domestic abuse survivors.

Now we are starting to see which Iowans will be the first to suffer from Republican choices on how to spend the public’s money.

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