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Speaking of being fawned over by politicians, eleven declared or potential contenders for the presidency spoke at the Iowa GOP's Lincoln Dinner last night. Three declared candidates missed the event (former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz), as did at least a couple of others who are considering the presidential race (Ohio Governor John Kasich and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie). A dozen or more candidates will likely crowd the stage at GOP primary debates. My thoughts about the Lincoln Dinner speakers are coming in a future post. Philip Rucker and Jenna Johnson wrote a good piece for the Washington Post on Republican insiders' growing anxiety about their large presidential field. Their sources included a heavyweight hated by many Iowa conservatives:
We're in a danger zone," said Doug Gross, a top Republican establishment figure in Iowa. "When the party poobahs put this process together, they thought they could telescope this to get us a nominee who could appeal to a broad cross-section of people. What we've got instead is a confederation of a lot of candidates who aren't standing out - and in order to stand out, you need to scream the loudest."
Speaking of people who stand out by screaming loudly, Representative Steve King posted a picture of himself yesterday with Dick and Betty Odgaard, who (in his words) were "targeted by LGBT activists/litigated out of 1man/1woman wedding business." False. Here's what really happened after the Odgaards refused to let a gay couple rent the Görtz Haus in Grimes for a wedding.
"Joni understands that big government is an impediment to job creation, and that the best way to turn the economy around and create jobs is through pro-growth economic policies. The U.S Chamber is proud to stand with Joni and highlight her work removing regulatory barriers and encouraging competition in Iowa. In today's economy, that's the type of leadership we need in Washington."
I don't know what work they're talking about--as a first-term state senator in the minority caucus, Ernst hasn't been in a position to remove regulatory barriers or encourage competition. More likely, the Chamber of Commerce settled on Ernst as the most credible alternative to Jacobs.
Over at The Iowa Republican blog, Craig Robinson reviews recent tv ads and campaign spending in the IA-Sen primary. By June 3, Jacobs will have spent more than $1.4 million on broadcast and cable television, plus about $24,000 on radio spots. Based on ad time Ernst has reserved up to now, she will close out the primary race having spent just under $240,000 on broadcast and cable tv. She and her strategists must feel very confident; otherwise they would allocate more campaign funds ($427,201 cash on hand as of March 31) to paid media.
In their Washington Post piece about how Ernst's debut tv ad "transformed Iowa's U.S. Senate race," Philip Rucker and Dan Balz quoted Jacobs supporters Nick Ryan and Doug Gross criticizing Ernst's ads. Her media consultant Todd Harris shot back, "People should remember that Joni is a mom, a grandmother who has volunteered at a crisis hotline, and that part of her bio will be told." Thanks for the preview of Ernst's general election transformation: the pig castrating, Harley-riding, leather-wearing "farm girl" who's going to "unload" on Obamacare will become a mom and grandmother who volunteered at a crisis hotline. I'm surprised anyone with experience comforting victims would use "Make 'Em Squeal" as the main slogan on her t-shirts, bumper stickers and campaign bus. Many Americans instantly recognize that phrase from a rape scene in the movie "Deliverance."
Any comments about the IA-Sen race are welcome in this thread.
P.S. - I think Balz and Rucker should have acknowledged the convenient timing of Ernst's tiny ad buy for the "Squeal" spot. I find it hard to believe that a campaign endorsed by Mitt Romney didn't get any advance warning from the Romney-connected outside groups America Rising and Priorities for Iowa, which dropped a bomb on Bruce Braley just as Ernst launched that attention-getting ad.
UPDATE: The National Rifle Association announced its endorsement of Ernst on May 13. The press release is after the jump.
Governor Terry Branstad will be shopping for a new chief of staff for the first time since the 1990s. Jeff Boeyink announced today that he is stepping down for an unspecified private sector job, effective September 6. After many years with the conservative advocacy group Iowans for Tax Relief, Boeyink briefly served as executive director of the Republican Party of Iowa before leaving to manage Branstad's 2010 gubernatorial campaign. After the 2010 election, Boeyink co-chaired the governor's transition team, and he has served as chief of staff ever since.
The Des Moines Register's Jennifer Jacobs listed some possible successors to Boeyink. The governor's legal counsel Brenna Findley used to serve as Representative Steve King's chief of staff before she ran for Iowa attorney general in 2010. David Roederer has long been in Branstad's inner circle and now heads the Iowa Department of Management. Former Iowa GOP staffer Chad Olsen is currently chief of staff for Secretary of State Matt Schultz. Michael Bousselot has been advising Branstad on health care and other issues. Sara Craig was state director of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign in Iowa before the 2012 caucuses. Matt Hinch has held many political jobs and is now senior vice president of government relations and public policy for the Greater Des Moines Partnership. I can't imagine that Doug Gross would want to go back to the job he held nearly 30 years ago. Former Iowa GOP Chair Matt Strawn is busy with his new consulting and lobbying firm.
Republicans thinking about running for Iowa's open U.S. Senate seat next year are still in a holding pattern, waiting for Representative Steve King to make up his mind. Bret Hayworth of the Sioux City Journal just dropped his "King Meter" from 63 to 58, reflecting only a slightly better than 50-50 chance that King will run for Senate. If Bleeding Heartland had a King Meter, it would have started at zero and stayed there.
Today former GOP gubernatorial candidate Doug Gross predicted that neither King nor two other prominent Iowa Republicans will run for the Senate in 2014.
Eighteen casinos currently operate in Iowa, but if backers have their way, that number will grow in the near future. Early voting is under way for the March 5 Linn County referendum on a proposed casino in Cedar Rapids.
Meanwhile, this week some people rolled out plans for a new casino in Norwalk (Warren County), just south of the Des Moines metro area. Links and details are after the jump.
As Republicans in Iowa and across the country ponder how to improve their chances in the next presidential election, bashing the Ames straw poll is all the rage.
Most strategists and politicians recognize that the Republican Party of Iowa needs to dump or radically reinvent its largest pre-caucus fundraiser, traditionally held during the August before the Iowa caucuses. But a few people can't read the writing on the wall.
Governor-elect Terry Branstad today put Debi Durham in charge of job creation for his administration. She will start as head of the Iowa Department of Economic Development, which Branstad plans to convert into a public-private partnership. Durham's work will be crucial for some of Branstad's central campaign promises: creating 200,000 new jobs, increasing family incomes by 25 percent, and reviewing all state economic development programs to discard ones that don't work. Branstad has said he will travel widely to sell Iowa to the business community, and Durham will be a partner in those marketing efforts.
During this year's campaign, Governor Chet Culver said IDED already has plenty of business input and has helped keep Iowa's unemployment far below the national average. He also cited news reports showing that the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, which Branstad embraced as a model, touted "bogus" job creation claims and concealed information about tax credits some companies received. Iowa legislators should ensure that the revamped IDED doesn't have similar transparency problems. Branstad can't restructure economic development programs by government directive; he needs a new state law for that.
Culver appointed Durham to the Iowa Department of Transportation Commission and "spoke highly" of her during the September gubernatorial debate in Sioux City. Assuming the Iowa Senate confirms Durham (which should be no problem), she may need to give up her position on the transportation commission. If so, expect Branstad to appoint someone friendly to road-builders' interests.
In related news, Branstad is raising money from private donors to help pay for the transition from Chet Culver's administration to his own. Current Iowa law set aside only $10,000, clearly not enough to cover those costs. I look forward to seeing the list of donors. People looking to preserve certain business tax breaks or economic development incentives may be eager to help the new administration.
"Obviously when you hear private/public partnership that is the biggest question is the transparency," Durham said. "What I can assure you and I'm going to take my lead from Gov. Branstad. Everything about Gov. Branstad and this administration is transparent So anything that will have anything to do with any public funds or public funding will certainly meet that threshold of transparency.
One of Branstad's key campaign promises is to create 200,000 jobs throughout the next five years. Durham acknowledged after today's press conference that the goal is a tall order.
"I think it is a stretch goal but like I said will go to work every single day knowing that is the goal before us," Durham said.
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement criticized Branstad's appointment of Durham today. Their statement is after the jump.
Even Terry Branstad's admirers will tell you the man enjoys campaigning more than governing. He loves touring the state, speaking to groups, working a room. His wife says he's been "giddy as a schoolgirl" since becoming a candidate again. Sitting governors attend many official events that indirectly serve their re-election ambitions. It's one of the advantages of incumbency, and it's fair game.
The documents illustrate how Branstad and members of his Administration participated in campaign fundraising, opposition research and candidate recruitment from the Governor's office.
Doug Gross, Branstad's Chief of Staff, was playing a key role in running the Republican Party of Iowa as well as Branstad's re-election campaign from his office at the Iowa State Capitol. Another member of Branstad's staff, Jerry Mathiasen, was helping run a Congressional campaign from the Capitol and coordinating the Republican Party's legislative campaigns. In addition, Branstad's State-Federal Relations Director, was spending his day working on selling fundraising dinner tables for the Republican Governors Association.
"This is part of clear pattern of dishonesty and scandal," said [Culver campaign manager Donn] Stanley. "Already during this campaign, Branstad has admitted that, for the majority of his tenure as Governor, the books were never balanced but what's worse is that by keeping two sets of books, he hid the truth about the state budget from Iowans. While today's information is new to Iowans, we already knew that, as Governor, he used the state plane for political purposes and held campaign fundraisers shortly after awarding donors multi-million dollar state contracts."
Whether this activity was illegal at the time or merely unethical is beside the point. Taxpayer dollars fund the salaries of the governor's staff. It is inappropriate to have the governor's staff doing campaign work for Branstad and other Republicans on the public's dime.
The Branstad campaign's response to this week's document dump was telling:
"Chet Culver and his campaign can spend their time wallowing in the past, while Terry Branstad is looking to the future and committed to open, honest and transparent government," [Branstad campaign manager Jeff] Boeyink said. "This attack is as sad and pathetic as Chet Culver's four years as governor."
So no denial, no apology, and no promise that Branstad's policy staff won't do campaign work in the future. We don't even get the "learned from my mistakes" line Branstad pulls out whenever someone challenges his dismal fiscal record.
Final note: Culver's campaign raised the issue of Branstad's abuse of power in response to the Republican's latest tv ad, unveiled this week. The viewer sees clips from Branstad's rallies and hears Branstad tell the crowd: "We're all here for one reason: to give Iowans a government that is as honest, as hard-working, that is as good as the people of this state. To those communities fighting to stay alive, to the workers hunting for good jobs, to those families hoping for a better education for their kids, change is coming! For those Iowans who want honest, open and scandal-free government, change is coming! We did it before, and we can do it again!" If Branstad wants to campaign on "honest, open and scandal-free government," he should be prepared to defend his own record.
UPDATE: The Culver campaign released this statement on July 2:
DOES BRANSTAD BELIEVE HE IS TRULY ABOVE THE LAW?
3 DAYS AND NO RESPONSE ON EGREGIOUS MISCONDUCT
DES MOINES - Terry Branstad and his campaign must believe that he and his cronies are above the law because they have yet to admit that using the Governor's Office to further Branstad's own political ambitions instead of putting the people's work first is wrong.
"Branstad has yet to admit any wrong-doing or even promise the people of Iowa that he would avoid abusing the Governor's Office if elected again. Terry Branstad abused the power of the Governor's Office and it's time he admit culpability," Culver/Judge Communications Director Ali Glisson.
On Wednesday, the Culver/Judge Campaign produced 400 pages of documents showing that Branstad and his closest associates, including Doug Gross, abused the power of the Governor's Office. Branstad raised money for his campaigns and for the Republican Party of Iowa, using official state stationery, making fundraising calls, and used various staff and state resources for these efforts instead of working for the people of Iowa.
"What Branstad did is wrong and unethical. He put himself above the law and used state resources to further his own political agenda over any efforts to help the people of Iowa."
To see all 400 pages of documents released this week by the Culver/Judge Campaign, visit BranstadFacts.com.
Vander Plaats will be the featured guest on Steve Deace's WHO radio program today at 5 pm, on the eve of the Iowa GOP's state convention in Des Moines. Like Terry Branstad, I won't be listening to Deace's show, but I do enjoy a little scenario spinning about the options facing Vander Plaats.
The Branstad campaign is anxious to avoid an embarrassing display of support for Bob Vander Plaats at this Saturday's Republican state convention. Today they hit convention delegates with an e-mail blast and robocalls stressing Reynolds' "conservative credentials." The strong words from Scheffler and Lehman in support of the ticket may prevent any media narrative from developing about religious conservatives rejecting Branstad. The Iowa Family Policy Center (viewed by many as a rival to the Iowa Christian Alliance) backed Bob Vander Plaats in the Republican primary and vowed not to endorse Branstad against Democratic Governor Chet Culver. That group recently affirmed that Branstad would need to undergo a "fundamental transformation" to win their support in the general election campaign.
To my mind, Reynolds' record in the Iowa Senate says only that she sticks with the consensus in the Republican caucus. She has not taken any unusual positions or been outspoken on any major issues under consideration. An acquaintance I spoke with today, who spends a lot of time at the capitol every year during the legislative session, had not even heard of Reynolds before this week. That's how low her profile has been during her two years at the statehouse. Reynolds may be a reliable back-bencher for conservatives, but I don't see her as a strong advocate for the religious right. She doesn't have the stature to drive the agenda if Branstad is elected. Like Todd Dorman wrote yesterday, the lieutenant governor gets to do "whatever the governor lets you do. And in a Branstad administration, if the past is an indicator, his mate will be the special director of the Department of Not Much."
Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge spoke about Reynolds today on behalf of the Culver campaign. She suggested that Reynolds may not help Branstad with the social conservatives who supported other candidates for governor, because she "comes out of the same camp as Terry and Doug Gross rather than out of the camp of Bob Vander Plaats or Mr. Roberts." In a press release and news conference, Judge also emphasized that we don't know much about Reynolds' views on key issues, and that her learning curve will be steep, because she has relatively little experience at the statewide level: "It will take a lot of study on Kim's part. [...] If [Branstad] keeps her in the basement in a small office as he did [former Lieutenant Governor] Joy Corning, then she's not going to have much of an opportunity to know what's going on." Say what you will about Patty Judge (I'm not a fan), but she did have a strong legislative record and eight years of holding statewide office going into the 2006 campaign. She has had real influence on policy in the Culver administration.
Being a blank slate may have its advantages, however. Iowa State University Professor Steffen Schmidt thinks Reynolds was a good choice because she is so unknown that she won't turn voters off or take attention away from Branstad.
Share any thoughts about the Branstad/Reynolds ticket in this thread.
Kim Lehman, another member of the Republican National Committee and formerly president of Iowa Right to Life, praised Reynolds' selection and her legislative record, ticking through each of the bills she has sponsored since entering the state Senate in 2008 and concluding, "Reynolds went into office and took the bull by the horns and got busy."
However, a closer look at the bills Reynolds signed on to reveals she only sponsored one piece of legislation on her own - a requirement that the Department of Natural Resources develop depredation plans to fill harvest quotas of antlerless deer in each county that have not been met at the end of the last established deer hunting season each year.
Other than that, she nearly always joins with all or a large majority of the state Senate's 18 Republicans to push bills.
"I remain dedicated to the fight for private property rights in this state," said Kaufmann. "The last four years of Democratic control of the Legislature has yielded no strengthening of these rights. The Democratic majority has not allowed debate of a single property rights bill despite overwhelming support for the 2006 landmark legislation."
"Our attempts to protect property rights will be thwarted, as usual, by Governor Culver and Democratic leadership without Republican control of the Legislature," added Kaufmann. "To me, all other property rights discussions are secondary to that goal. I look forward to working with Kim Reynolds in the future to protect property owners in the future."
I fully support the 2006 legislation that curtailed the use of eminent domain to take private property. I do not support eminent domain for commercial development purposes. I support eminent domain only for essential public services.
That answer satisfied Vander Hart. However, one issue with these recreational lake projects (like ones proposed for Page County, Clarke County and Madison County in recent years) is that the advocates will claim the land grab serves an essential public service, like providing more drinking water. However, analysts dispute whether the lake is really needed as a drinking water source, or whether that's a ruse to obscure the real goal behind the project. A few people stand to make a lot of money if the farmland they own can be developed as lakeshore property. So the question is whether the state would allow other people's farmland to be condemned in order to create a lake that's basically a private commercial development.
Roberts acknowledges the other two men have raised a LOT more money and are better known. After all, Branstad has been governor 4 terms before. [Bob] Vander Plaats has run for governor 3 times. Roberts plans on not just going after typical Republican primary voters to make up for his lack of recognition (he also added that he will just have to outwork the other 2). He plans on getting Democrats and Independents who are unhappy with the money Governor Chet Culver has spent since he took over and who are also unhappy with the overall direction of the state. Roberts told me this will be the year for the outsider. And he said he will be the outsider.
Join me after the jump for closer look at Roberts and his campaign strategy. I doubt he has any chance of winning the primary, but his presence in the race will probably help Branstad.
I expected 2009 to be a relatively quiet year in Iowa politics, but was I ever wrong.
The governor's race heated up, state revenues melted down, key bills lived and died during the legislative session, and the Iowa Supreme Court's unanimous ruling in Varnum v Brien became one of this state's major events of the decade.
After the jump I've posted links to Bleeding Heartland's coverage of Iowa politics from January through June 2009. Any comments about the year that passed are welcome in this thread.
Although I wrote a lot of posts last year, there were many important stories I didn't manage to cover. I recommend reading Iowa Independent's compilation of "Iowa's most overlooked and under reported stories of 2009," as well as that blog's review of "stories that will continue to impact Iowa in 2010."
Former Governor Terry Branstad is coming to a venue near you. In the course of announcing his retirement as president of Des Moines University today, Branstad said he will "fully explore" whether to run for governor again. Somehow I doubt he would ditch a job that pays half a million dollars a year without being absolutely committed to running for governor.
Branstad plans to visit all 99 counties, but he didn't say when he will make a final decision or whether he will attend events featuring other Republican candidates. Branstad avoided answering a question about same-sex marriage today. He'll need an answer ready soon if he's going to tour the state.
Branstad didn't criticize other Republican candidates today, but noted that he has more experience and name recognition than they do. He had harsh words for Governor Chet Culver's handling of the budget, which he called a "fiscal debacle" (he would know). During his four terms as governor, Iowa's sales tax and gas taxes went up, but Branstad said today that he cut taxes as well and will be happy to debate his record on taxes. My memory is that when times were tough, Branstad raised regressive taxes, but when times were good, he preferred to cut income taxes, especially for the wealthiest Iowans.
Bret Hayworth of the Sioux City Journal interviewed Doug Gross this week about Branstad as a potential candidate. Gross was one of Branstad's top aides and has remained close to the former governor. He told Hayworth that as a friend, he hasn't encouraged Branstad to get back into politics, but that seems disingenuous. The Branstad recruitment efforts might never have happened if not for polls on the governor's race that Gross's Iowa First Foundation commissioned in March and July.
Meanwhile, Culver launched the first television commercial of his re-election campaign today:
It's risky to make a virtue out of budget cuts that may turn out to be unpopular. On the other hand, this ad pre-empts Republican charges that Culver didn't act quickly and decisively to balance the budget.
The line about choosing to rebuild after the floods refers to the I-JOBS state bonding initiative, which includes $165 million for disaster recovery and prevention, along with $100 million to reconstruct flood-damaged buildings at the University of Iowa. Republicans have unanimously denounced the bonding program.
The line about investing in new industries alludes to the Iowa Power Fund, which has also drawn Republican criticism. Allocated $25 million in state funding a year for four years, the Power Fund has supported a wide range of projects.
Former Governor Terry Branstad is expected to announce soon that he's running for governor again. The rumor going around town is that he will name his running mate immediately upon entering the race. One person I've heard mentioned for that role is former State Representative Libby Jacobs. She represented Iowa House district 60, containing most of West Des Moines, from 1995 until she retired in 2008.
Jacobs would be a logical choice for Branstad in some ways. She could help correct the gender gap that hurts Republican candidates. She could help the GOP in wealthy suburban areas that are no longer solidly Republican. Jacobs never faced serious opposition in House district 60, but Chet Culver carried the district in 2006. Although House district 60 voters elected Republican Peter Cownie to replace Jacobs last November, Barack Obama narrowly beat John McCain in the district.
Choosing Jacobs would incur some political risks for Branstad, because she was a fairly reliable pro-choice vote in the Iowa House. Jacobs hasn't been active in Planned Parenthood like some other former Republican women legislators (Joy Corning, Janet Metcalf, Betty Grundberg, Julia Gentleman), but that distinction won't matter to social conservatives. Certain people on the religious right had trouble accepting even GOP Congressional candidate Mariannette Miller-Meeks, who was against abortion rights with very few exceptions.
WHO reporter Dave Price posted a good scoop at the Price of Politics blog about a flyer attacking Terry Branstad, which appeared on some cars in Des Moines on Saturday. The flyer says "Paid for by Iowans For Truth and Honest Government," but it reads like the case that supporters of Bob Vander Plaats would make against Branstad in the Republican gubernatorial primary. The distributors seem to have wanted publicity, because they put the flyers on at least one car in the WHO-TV parking lot.
Attacking Branstad for saying nice things about Mitt Romney may reflect the fact that Branstad's former top aide, Doug Gross, was Romney's Iowa chairman before the 2008 caucuses. However, it should be noted that one of Vander Plaats' campaign co-chairs is State Representative Jodi Tymeson, who also supported Romney for president.
If Branstad gets back into politics, most of the Republican establishment will support him, but a significant number of rank-and-file Republicans may be swayed by the arguments made in this flyer. It would be ironic for Branstad's main obstacle to be the religious conservatives, who carried him to victory in the 1982 and 1994 GOP primaries.
Iowa Democratic Party chair Michael Kiernan released a memo on Friday making the case against Branstad from a different perspective. I'll have more to say on that in a future post.
Branstad is accepting invitations to meet with party activists. Two weeks ago, he met with about 50 political and business leaders at the Alden home of Bruce Rastetter, an influential Republican fundraiser and ethanol industry executive.
New calls for Branstad's candidacy, and encouraging words from key donors such as West Des Moines developer Gary Kirke, underscore a growing feeling in his party that Democrat Gov. Chet Culver is vulnerable as he finishes his first term and that the emerging GOP field lacks a contender who can beat him.
I do not think that rank and file Republicans are going to sit back and let these kingmakers choose Branstad as their candidate against Culver. Then again, I still think Branstad is not going to run for governor, so I could be proven wrong.
In other news on the GOP race for governor, Jason Hancock wrote a good piece for Iowa Independent on the pros and cons of a competitive Republican primary. I tend to agree with Republicans who think a tough primary will help the GOP by generating media buzz and starting to close the voter registration gap with Iowa Democrats. On the other hand, there's a chance that harsh infighting could damage the eventual nominee. The most disastrous outcome for Republicans is still John Deeth's dream of Vander Plaats winning the nomination at a state convention. A Branstad candidacy would eliminate that possibility.