Weekend open thread: Accountability

Senator Chuck Grassley hit a new low last week in running interference for the White House on the Trump/Russia investigation. After leaders of the private research firm Fusion GPS called on Congressional Republicans “to release full transcripts of our firm’s testimony” about the so-called Steele dossier, Grassley and Senator Lindsey Graham wrote to the Department of Justice and the FBI “urging an investigation into Christopher Steele.” Ranking Senate Judiciary Committee Democrat Dianne Feinstein was not consulted about the referral, which she accurately characterized as “another effort to deflect attention from what should be the committee’s top priority: determining whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the election and whether there was subsequent obstruction of justice.”

Here in Iowa, the Department of Human Services recently acknowledged that privatizing Medicaid “will save the state 80 percent less money this fiscal year than originally predicted,” Tony Leys reported for the Des Moines Register. The Branstad/Reynolds administration has claimed since 2015 that shifting care for one-sixth of Iowans to private companies would result in big savings for the state. Officials were never able to show the math underlying those estimates. Staff for Governor Kim Reynolds and the DHS now portray the miscalculation as an honest mistake, which a more “comprehensive methodology” will correct. The governor would have been wiser to pull the plug on this disaster last year.

Forthcoming Bleeding Heartland posts will address those failures in more depth. But now it’s time to hold myself accountable for the 17 Iowa politics predictions I made at the beginning of 2017. Did I improve on my showing of seven right, two half-right, and seven wrong out of my 16 predictions for 2016?

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The 17 most-viewed Bleeding Heartland posts of 2017

I had mixed feelings about compiling last year’s review of highest-traffic posts. Being hyper-aware of clicks and views can be demoralizing, because the most labor-intensive stories rarely attract the most attention.

On the other hand, it’s fascinating to see what strikes a chord with readers. A preview of stores coming to an outlet mall in Altoona was the fourth most-read Des Moines Register article of 2017. The second most popular New York Times story contained highlights from a boxing match. And this year’s highest-traffic piece at USA Today was about the “kiss cam” at the NFL Pro Bowl.

During an unusually eventful year in Iowa politics, some hot topics at Bleeding Heartland were predictable. But surprises were lurking in the traffic numbers on posts published during 2017 (418 written by me, 164 by other authors).

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Recognizing Bleeding Heartland's talented 2017 guest authors

Bleeding Heartland published 140 guest posts by 81 authors in 2016, a record since the blog’s creation in 2007.

I’m happy to report that the bar has been raised: 83 authors contributed 164 guest posts to this website during 2017. Their work covered an incredible range of local, statewide, and national topics.

Some contributors drew on their professional expertise and research, writing in a detached and analytical style. Others produced passionate and intensely personal commentaries, sometimes drawing on painful memories or family history.

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Learning from the past

Former teacher Bruce Lear, a retired regional director for the Iowa State Education Association, looks at one of the major events of the 2017 legislative session for insight on what to expect from Republican lawmakers next year. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Teddy Roosevelt said, “The more you know about the past, the better prepared you are for the future.” One piece of recent history that needs to be revisited, as the next legislative session begins, is the dismantling of Chapter 20, the collective bargaining bill. Oh, I can hear it now, “Stop whining about what happened and make the best of it.” The problem with that rationale is we still don’t know the full impact of what was done to us.

So, before we examine the possible impacts, indulge me and let’s revisit the ugly beginning of the 2017 session that culminated in Governor Terry Branstad signing the bill on the cold morning of February 17.

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Iowa Republicans found yet another way to hurt teachers this year

No matter how closely you were following the horror show that was the Iowa legislature’s 2017 session, chances are you didn’t notice every Republican favor to moneyed interests at the expense of working people, especially public sector employees.

So it was that I learned just this week about a new law that could cost some Iowa educators part of their retirement savings.

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No wonder Bill Dix wanted to bury the GOP sexual harassment investigation

Less than two weeks ago, Iowa Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix led journalists to believe there was no written report from the internal investigation of sexual harassment in the Senate GOP caucus.

Senate leaders arranged to have a redacted version of that report (addressed to Dix’s attention and dated August 15) published the day after Thanksgiving, when few Iowans would be paying attention to political news.

No wonder the original plan was to keep these findings secret: they reveal ongoing problems in the workplace as well as inherent flaws of an in-house investigation.

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