Veterans Day links, with thanks to the Iowans in public life who have served

November 11 first became a day to honor war veterans in 1919, one year after the First World War ended. Congress officially designated "Armistice Day" a national holiday in 1926 and changed its name to Veterans Day in 1954. Many Americans will make a special effort today to thank the veterans they know. In that spirit, Bleeding Heartland acknowledges some of the Iowans in public life who have served in the armed forces.

Iowa’s Congressional delegation includes only one person who has served in the military: Senator Joni Ernst. The number of veterans in Congress has declined dramatically over the last 40 years. In 1971, "when member military service was at its peak, veterans made up 72 percent of members in the House and 78 percent in the Senate." But in the current Congress, just 81 U.S. House representatives and 13 U.S. senators have served in the military. I enclose below more statistics from Rachel Wellford’s report for NPR.

Governor Terry Branstad is the only veteran among Iowa’s current statewide elected officials.

Of the 50 Iowa Senate members, seven are veterans: Democrats Jeff Danielson, Tom Courtney, Dick Dearden, Bill Dotzler, and Wally Horn, and Republicans Bill Anderson and Jason Schultz.

Of the 100 Iowa House members, nineteen are veterans: Republicans John Kooiker, Stan Gustafson, John Landon, Dave Maxwell, Kraig Paulsen, Sandy Salmon, Quentin Stanerson, Guy Vander Linden, Matt Windschitl, Dave Heaton, Darrel Branhagen, Ken Rizer, Zach Nunn, John Wills, and Steve Holt, and Democrats Dennis Cohoon, Jerry Kearns, Todd Prichard, and Brian Meyer.

The population of veterans faces some special challenges, including higher rates of mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). An estimated 22 U.S. military veterans die by suicide every day, which means suicide "has caused more American casualties than wars in Iraq and Afghanistan." The Military Suicide Research Consortium provides information on the problem and resources for those needing help, in addition to white papers summarizing current research on factors that contribute to suicides. For instance, sexual assault in adulthood or childhood sexual abuse both increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and attempts. Also, veterans who know someone who died by suicide "reported more than twice the frequency of suicidal ideation." I was surprised to read in this paper that major public holidays are not associated with higher rates of suicide. On the contrary, "holidays may act as more of a protective factor" against suicide, possibly because of greater "social integration during holiday periods."

Last month the Iowa Department of Public Health released the Iowa Plan for Suicide Prevention 2015-2018, which "seeks to reduce the annual number of deaths by suicide in Iowa by 10 percent by the year 2018 – a reduction of 41 from the 406 three-year average from 2012-2014 – with an ultimate goal of zero deaths by suicide." The full report (which does not focus on veterans) is available here (pdf). Iowans with suicidal thoughts or who are concerned a loved one may be considering suicide can call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK or Your Life Iowa at (855)-581-8111. For online assistance: Suicide Prevention Lifeline or Your Life Iowa.

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District Court lets stand Branstad veto of mental health institute funding

Polk County District Court Judge Douglas Staskal has dismissed a lawsuit challenging Governor Terry Branstad’s authority to veto funding intended to keep two in-patient mental health facilities open. Twenty Democratic state lawmakers and the president of Iowa’s largest public-employee union filed the lawsuit in July, arguing that the governor’s line-item vetoes violated Iowa Code provisions requiring that the state "shall operate" mental health institutes in Mount Pleasant and Clarinda. But Judge Staskal found that "Existing statutes cannot limit the Governor’s item veto authority," which "is of constitutional magnitude. The only limitations that have been placed on that authority have been derived from the language of the constitution itself. […] And, there is no language in the item veto provision which suggests a statutory limitation on the power it creates. It is elementary that, to the extent there is conflict between a constitutional provision and a statute, the constitution prevails."

I enclose below longer excerpts from the court ruling, which can be read in full here. Mark Hedberg, the lead attorney representing the plaintiffs, told Bleeding Heartland they "are preparing an appeal" to the Iowa Supreme Court "and will ask that it be expedited."

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Iowa Senate President Pam Jochum endorsing Hillary Clinton is a big deal

Iowa Senate President Pam Jochum endorsed Hillary Clinton for president today in a guest column for the Des Moines Register. This afternoon, she will elaborate on her reasons at a Women for Hillary event in Dubuque.

Jochum joins the list of prominent Iowa supporters of Barack Obama before the 2008 caucuses who are now backing Clinton. An Iowa House Democrat at that time, Jochum headed Obama’s leadership team in Dubuque County. Obama easily won a plurality of delegates in Dubuque and carried all of the neighboring counties too.

More important, Jochum is a hero to many on what you might call “the Democratic wing of the Iowa Democratic Party.” I’m thinking of the 26 percent who voted for Ed Fallon in the 2006 gubernatorial primary, as well as people who have long advocated for campaign finance reform at the state level. Although I think highly of Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, he’s not the progressive champion Jochum is—not by a long shot. She has helped fight some very tough fights, where powerful interest groups were lined up on the other side. I can’t think of an Iowa state legislator in my lifetime who has reached such a senior leadership position while being as consistently progressive as Jochum.

My impression is that many on the “Democratic wing” of the party have already committed to caucus for Bernie Sanders. Others feel conflicted as I do, drawn to Sanders for his passion and his uncompromising policy agenda, while recognizing Clinton’s strengths as a candidate and what it would mean for this country to elect a woman president. That Jochum is on board with Clinton could carry a lot of weight with undecided Democrats like me.

Before today, eight Democratic state senators and nine state representatives had already endorsed Clinton for the 2016 caucuses. I’ve enclosed the full list after the jump, along with excerpts from Jochum’s Des Moines Register op-ed.

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Iowa Senate district 16 primary preview: Pam Dearden Conner vs. Nate Boulton

A generational battle is shaping up in the Democratic primary to replace State Senator Dick Dearden, who has represented parts of Des Moines in the legislature since 1995. Dearden recently disclosed plans to retire in 2016. Like last year’s campaign to replace Jack Hatch in Iowa Senate district 17 on the south side of Des Moines, the June primary will determine Dearden’s successor.

Senate district 16 covers heavily Democratic neighborhoods on the east side of Des Moines, and also the growing suburb of Pleasant Hill. A detailed map is after the jump. The latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office indicate that the district contains 14,624 active registered Democrats, 6,978 Republicans, and 10,106 no-party voters. Dearden was unopposed in 2004 and defeated his Republican challengers by wide margins in 2008 and in 2012.

More candidates may enter the race later, but for now the primary will pit the incumbent’s daughter Pam Dearden Conner against labor attorney Nate Boulton. Iowa Labor Commissioner and former Secretary of State Michael Mauro endorsed Conner on Facebook this past weekend. She is his administrative assistant and also worked for him in the Polk County Election Office and the Secretary of State’s Office. Many other longtime friends and backers of Senator Dearden have expressed their support for Conner’s campaign on social media.

Nate Boulton is a partner in a law firm that has represented Iowa’s largest pubic employee union (AFSCME) in several high-profile cases against Governor Terry Branstad’s administration. Since last Friday, many Democratic activists in their 20s and 30s have promoted his candidacy on social media. Bouton’s on Twitter here, and his campaign is on Facebook here.

I enclose below press releases from each candidate, containing short biographies and statements of values. Both Conner and Boulton have strong pro-labor credentials and are pledging to support consensus Democratic priorities like education. Boulton’s statement hints at the case he will make in the primary, promising to “be an active and engaged representative of district interests” and to “bring bold progressive ideas and a fresh, energetic style of leadership to the Iowa Senate.” Such phrases allude to the fact that Dearden, while a solid vote in the legislature, has never been at the forefront of progressive fights. In fact, I’m hard-pressed to think of a cause he has led on, besides bringing back dove hunting, which isn’t a partisan issue. Dearden didn’t accomplish that longstanding goal until Governor Terry Branstad was back in office.

Two (or perhaps more) committed candidates working hard to identify and turn out supporters next June can only help Democratic GOTV in the general election. Here’s hoping for a competitive race that doesn’t turn bitter and negative, as happened in Senate district 17 last spring.

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IA-03: Democratic establishment consolidating around Jim Mowrer

The candidate filing deadline may be nearly six months away, but it seems increasingly likely that the fight for the Democratic nomination in Iowa’s third Congressional district will be a two-way contest between Desmund Adams and Jim Mowrer. Today Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02), the only Democrat left in Iowa’s Congressional delegation, made his "full support" for Mowrer official. I enclose the statement from Mowrer’s campaign after the jump. It includes a list of well-known endorsers, such as former Lieutenant Governor Sally Pederson, State Senators Dick Dearden and Bob Dvorsky, State Representatives Charlie McConkey, Todd Prichard, and Abby Finkenauer, former Iowa Democratic Party chair Sue Dvorsky, three IDP State Central Committee members, and Democratic Party chairs in five IA-03 counties.  

Endorsements at this stage are not aimed at persuading Democratic primary voters. Rather, they serve mainly to deter other candidates from getting into the race. They also signal to donors inside and outside Iowa that Mowrer is the “serious” candidate. He already was likely to raise substantially more money than Adams, by virtue of his strong fundraising effort as the 2014 Democratic candidate against Representative Steve King in IA-04.

On a related note, last month the Cook Political Report changed its rating on IA-03 from “toss up” to lean Republican. One reason: “Each day Mowrer consolidates support, the less likely it is that Democrats’ very top choice, U.S. Attorney Nick Klinefeldt, gets in. Former Gov. Chet Culver was rumored to be interested but now looks unlikely to run.” I’m intrigued that a handful of unnamed sources (including one “operative”) managed to convince beltway experts that Klinefeldt would be the “gold standard” candidate in IA-03. Not meaning to knock Klinefeldt, but I’ve had scores of conversations with local Democrats about this race. It’s hardly a consensus view that the U.S. attorney would be the strongest possible candidate to face first-term Republican David Young.

Speaking of Young, earlier this month James Hohmann and Elise Viebeck reported for the Washington Post that he had signed a contract with the National Republican Congressional Committee as a condition for getting help from the NRCC’s incumbent protection program. You can view the fundraising, communication, and political requirements laid out in that contract here.

The sixteen counties in IA-03 contain 150,572 active registered Democrats, 163,096 Republicans, and 163,748 no-party voters, according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. More than half of the district’s voters and roughly two-thirds of the Democrats live in Polk County, containing Des Moines and most of its suburbs.

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Judge denies motion to dismiss lawsuit over Branstad closing mental health facilities

Polk County District Court Judge Douglas Staskal ruled yesterday that a lawsuit challenging Governor Terry Branstad’s line-item vetoes of mental health facility funding can move forward.

A group of Democratic state legislators and AFSCME, Iowa’s largest public employee union, filed the lawsuit in July. Last month, attorneys for the state filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit or force the plaintiffs to “recast” (revise and resubmit) their court filing.

But in a thirteen-page ruling, Judge Staskal rejected the state’s arguments that “the plaintiffs lack standing, have failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted and that the case presents a nonjusticiable political question.” He found that AFSCME Iowa Council 61 President Danny Homan has standing because he represents the interests of state workers who were laid off when the state government closed in-patient mental health facilities in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant. The judge also noted that state legislators “have standing to challenge the propriety of the Governor’s exercise of his veto authority.” Judge Staskal found plaintiffs had stated a claim: “a challenge to the Governor’s exercise of his line-item veto authority.” As for the political question, the ruling noted, “Whether to close Clarinda and Mount Pleasant is a policy matter for the other branches of government. Whether the Governor’s particular use of his line-item veto power is constitutional is a matter for the courts.”

Judge Staskal did find in favor of one argument advanced by state attorneys, releasing Iowa Department of Human Services Director Chuck Palmer as a co-defendant: “The Director [Palmer] plainly has no authority to veto legislation and there is no allegation that he did veto legislation. Therefore, there is no conceivable set of facts upon which relief could be granted on the claim that the Director exercised an improper veto.”    

The legislators who joined this lawsuit are State Senators Rich Taylor, Tom Courtney, Janet Petersen, Tony Bisignano, Herman Quirmbach, and Dick Dearden, and State Representatives Bruce Hunter, Curt Hanson, Jerry Kearns, Mark Smith, Art Staed, Ako Abdul-Samad, Jo Oldson, Ruth Ann Gaines, Sharon Steckman, Todd Taylor, Mary Gaskill, Kirsten Running-Marquardt, Timi Brown-Powers, and Dave Jacoby.

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