Josh Mandelbaum taking on Des Moines City Council member Christine Hensley

Promising to be a “voice for strong neighborhoods and strong schools,” defending local interests and fighting harmful state policies, Josh Mandelbaum confirmed Thursday night that he will run for Des Moines City Council against 24-year incumbent Christine Hensley. I enclose below the audio and full transcript of Mandelbaum’s first campaign speech, along with background on the candidate and a map of Ward 3, which covers west-side neighborhoods south of University Avenue and much of the south side.

I’ve been acquainted with Mandelbaum since before he was a policy advisor for Governor Tom Vilsack and Lieutenant Governor Sally Pederson. More recently, I’ve closely observed his work on renewable energy and clean water issues through our mutual involvement in Iowa environmental circles. I’m an active supporter of the non-profit Environmental Law & Policy Center, where Mandelbaum is a staff attorney. Last year Midwest Energy News named Mandelbaum to its “40 Under 40” list of list of “emerging leaders” working on “America’s transition to a clean energy economy.” He was one of only two Iowans to receive that recognition.

Even if I couldn’t personally vouch for Mandelbaum’s talent and work ethic, I would be excited to see a progressive willing to take on this incumbent. Hensley’s 2015 vote to extend a tax abatement program was indirectly a vote to benefit her employer. Timothy Meinch reported for the Des Moines Register at the time that the city attorney “warned of an ‘appearance of impropriety’ and ‘potential of a conflict of interest’” before Hensley “cast a pivotal vote in favor of developers.” Des Moines Cityview’s Civic Skinny column explained here how Hensley’s deciding vote benefited Midwest Housing Equity Group, “an Omaha-based firm that syndicates and sells tax credits from developers” where she “is a director and paid consultant.”

Hensley has given Des Moines residents plenty of other reasons to look for new representation. Mandelbaum covered several of them in the remarks I transcribed below. Her most egregious act was joining the small board of directors of the Orwellian-named Iowa Partnership for Clean Water. This advocacy organization grew out of the Iowa Farm Bureau’s desire to discredit the Des Moines Water Works, which delivers drinking water to half a million central Iowans, including all of Hensley’s constituents. My theory is that Hensley hitched her wagon to this cause in the hope of becoming Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett’s running mate in the 2018 race for governor. Whatever her motives, she chose to stand with Big Ag against her own city’s utility, despite evidence connecting farm runoff with high nitrate levels and toxic algae blooms that threaten the local water supply.

This year Hensley urged the city council to support legislation that would disband the Des Moines Water Works. The bill is widely understood to be retribution for the Water Works lawsuit against drainage districts in northwest Iowa (see the first part of this post). Mandelbaum spoke against House File 484 at a public hearing earlier this month; scroll down to view the video.

Taking on an entrenched incumbent is always an uphill battle, especially for a first-time candidate. Hensley will raise a ton of money. Even so, this race is winnable for Mandelbaum. City council elections are low-turnout affairs. Hensley didn’t have a challenger in 2005 or in 2009 and defeated Cal Woods by 3,536 votes to 2,248 four years ago.

Ward 3 “has an overwhelming Democratic registration advantage and has a D+20 performance index,” Pat Rynard noted last month. The Water Works issue alone is highly salient for Des Moines residents. A large number of teachers and public workers live on the west and south sides of Des Moines, as do many progressives interested in economic and social justice. If Mandelbaum can tap into outrage over statehouse Republicans destroying collective bargaining rights and lowering the minimum wage in Polk County, don’t bet against him turning out a few thousand Democrats who have never voted in a local election before. He won’t be able to match Hensley’s fundraising, but with Pederson and former Attorney General Bonnie Campbell co-chairing his campaign, he should raise enough money to get his message out to Ward 3 residents.

This race will be one of the most important local elections in central Iowa this November. Please spread the word.

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Joni Ernst town hall: The overflow edition

Thanks to Stefanie Running for talking with Iowans who had hoped to question Senator Joni Ernst yesterday. -promoted by desmoinesdem

It was unusually warm for St. Patrick’s Day in Des Moines. Despite being spring break week for Drake University, the campus where Senator Joni Ernst chose to hold her town hall had remarkably little available parking. I arrived about 4:45 p.m., fifteen minutes prior to the start of the event, but was unable to join the throng inside; Sheslow Auditorium had reached capacity.

There were about 200 of us still outside, unsurprised but still disappointed. We were given the opportunity to fill out the question cards, the same as our comrades who made it inside. It was a consolation prize of sorts, knowing the questions wouldn’t be asked. A few people wrote their names and their questions, the rest either left or milled about. A few groups crowded around those who were playing live-streams the discussion on their phones.

I was able to speak to a handful of folks who had come to hear Ernst address their concerns, ask their own questions, or see if she actually engaged honestly.

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Rich Leopold becomes first Iowa Democratic candidate for governor

Vowing to be an outsider who can bring a “different kind of government” to Iowa, Rich Leopold just announced in a Facebook live appearance that he will run for governor as a Democrat in 2018. I enclose below his news release and a statement of “four cornerstones” that will guide his candidacy, along with a transcript of his comments on video. Leopold’s campaign website is here and his Facebook page is here.

A first-time candidate for office, Leopold stands apart from the “lobbyists, special interests, and the insider’s club that for far too long has run our government” and “is free from the generations of deal-making and permanent campaigning that has poisoned the capitol,” his “cornerstones” document declares.

Leopold has government experience at the local, state, and federal level. He served as Iowa Department of Natural Resources director during Chet Culver’s administration from 2007 to 2010, when he took a job with the Midwest Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He later worked for the Dickinson County Conservation Board and since 2013 has been with the Polk County Conservation Board, where he is now director. (Disclosure: I joined the board of directors of the Iowa Environmental Council when Leopold was that non-profit’s executive director, shortly before he left to lead the DNR.)

Leopold also chairs the new Grow Iowa PAC, which raised about $10,000 last year and donated to eighteen Democratic candidates or committees.

No other Democrats have confirmed plans to run for governor, but outgoing Iowa Democratic Party chair Andy McGuire is widely expected to announce her candidacy early this year. If either wins the June 2018 primary, Leopold or McGuire would be the first Iowa nominee for governor since Roxanne Conlin in 1982 not to have held elected office.

Many politics-watchers expect at least one member of the Iowa House or Senate to seek the nomination as well, perhaps State Senator Liz Mathis or State Representative Todd Prichard.

UPDATE: State Senator Chaz Allen is also rumored to be considering the gubernatorial race. He or Prichard would have to give up their seats in the legislature in order to run for governor. Mathis was just re-elected to a four-year term, so could run for governor without leaving the Iowa Senate.

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A year's worth of guest posts, plus tips for guest authors

One of my blogging new year’s resolutions for 2016 was to publish more work by other authors, and I’m grateful to the many talented writers who helped me meet that goal. After the jump I’ve linked to all 140 guest posts published here last year.

I encourage readers to consider writing for this site in 2017. Guest authors can write about any political issue of local, state, or national importance. As you can see from the stories enclosed below, a wide range of topics and perspectives are welcome here.

Pieces can be short or long, funny or sad. You can write in a detached voice or let your emotions show.

Posts can analyze what happened or advocate for what should happen, either in terms of public policy or a political strategy for Democrats. Authors can share first-person accounts of campaign events or more personal reflections about public figures.

Guest authors do not need to e-mail a draft to me or ask permission to pursue a story idea. Just register for an account (using the “sign up” link near the upper right), log in, write a post, edit as needed, and hit “submit for review” when you are ready to publish. The piece will be “pending” until I approve it for publication, to prevent spammers from using the site to sell their wares. You can write under your own name or choose any pseudonym not already claimed by another Bleeding Heartland user. I do not reveal authors’ identity without their permission.

I also want to thank everyone who comments on posts here. If you’ve never participated that way, feel free to register for a user account and share your views. If you used to comment occasionally but have not done so lately, you may need to reset your password. Let me know if you have any problems registering for an account, logging in, or changing a password. My address is near the lower right-hand corner of this page.

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Deep Dive: Adams County, Iowa

Inspired by a recent profile focusing on demographics and election outcomes, a guest author with family roots in the area tells us more about the smallest Iowa county by population. -promoted by desmoinesdem

How do I explain Adams County to outsiders? It’s a place that is suspended between the past and the future. It’s a place where you are so close to your history that you can literally reach out and touch it, while simultaneously watching that legacy disappear. It’s a place filled with innovation yet steeped in tradition. It’s a place that’s excited about the future while mourning the past.

My experience in Adams County is pretty typical. When I go “home,” it’s to my grandparents’ house in Brooks. My grandparents have lived in the same house for 62 years. The old outhouse is still there. There is a propane tank next to the house for winter heat. As a child, I learned to turn off the water when shampooing and soaping during my shower, only using water to rinse off, in order to keep the well from running dry.

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Bruce Rastetter still in the running to be Trump's agriculture secretary

Bruce Rastetter visited Trump Tower in New York today, as seen in this photo Craig Robinson posted on Twitter. Since making a fortune in the agriculture sector (large hog lots and ethanol), Rastetter has been among the largest Iowa donors to Republican candidates. He gave the maximum allowable contribution of $2,700 to Trump’s campaign in August, shortly before joining the GOP nominee’s informal agricultural advisory committee, aptly described by Brian Barth as a “who’s who of industrial agriculture advocates.” Rastetter had supported New Jersey Governor Chris Christie before the Iowa caucuses and maxed out to several Republican U.S. senators as well as to Christie’s presidential campaign.

Trump said little about food or agricultural policy during his campaign and has kept people guessing about his favored candidates to run the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Rastetter’s name didn’t appear on short lists for the job published in the New York Times or Modern Farmer, but he was mentioned in similar stories by Politico and Successful Farming. Such articles aren’t necessarily accurate; Idaho Governor Butch Otter has confirmed that he is being vetted for secretary of agriculture, and his name wasn’t on any short list that I’ve seen.

I assumed Rastetter was no longer a serious contender for Trump’s cabinet in part because of his connection to Christie, who appeared to have fallen out of favor soon after November 8. Vice President-elect Mike Pence took charge of the transition effort and specifically “assumed oversight of the transition at USDA,” according to Daniel Looker’s November 21 report for Successful Farming.

On the other hand, Rastetter is a frequent and influential adviser to Governor Terry Branstad, whom Trump selected to be U.S. ambassador to China this month. He was backstage during Trump’s December 8 “thank you” rally in Des Moines. Though he doesn’t obsessively brag about his wealth like the president-elect does, Rastetter has a large enough bank balance to fit into a cabinet packed with billionaires and multimillionaires.

Picking Rastetter to run the USDA would reassure biofuels supporters who are deeply concerned that Trump chose opponents of the Renewable Fuel Standard to run the U.S. Department of Energy (former Texas Governor Rick Perry) and the Environmental Protection Agency (Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt). For what it’s worth, Branstad has claimed “Trump personally reassured him that Pruitt ‘is going to be for ethanol.’” If Trump keeps his promises on immigration policy, the agriculture sector may be facing a different set of problems. Barth observed in this Modern Farmer story that deporting millions of undocumented immigrants “would undermine the agricultural workforce and ripple out in the food economy in unforeseen, but likely negative, ways.”

Rastetter is currently president of the Iowa Board of Regents, the governing body for Iowa’s state universities. His six-year term on that body expires in April 2017, and Democrats have enough Iowa Senate seats to block his confirmation, should Branstad appoint him to another term.

UPDATE: Ryan Foley of the Associated Press predicted that Rastetter’s attempt to use Iowa State University to promote a major land acquisition in Tanzania “will be thoroughly re-examined” if Trump names Rastetter to his cabinet. Foley reported in 2012 that Rastetter “blurred the line between his role as investor in AgriSol Energy […] and his position on the Board of Regents” when working with ISU on his company’s “plan to develop 800,000 acres of Tanzanian farmland for crop production.” Bleeding Heartland posted many more links here on Rastetter’s attempted “land grab” in Africa.

Tom Philpott reviewed the top prospects for the USDA job in a December 20 piece for Mother Jones. Rastetter’s not on his list. Philpott considers him a “truly heinous” option for various reasons.

SECOND UPDATE: Speaking to the Des Moines Register’s Jason Noble on December 21, Trump spokesperson Jason Miller said, “I do not know if Mr. Rastetter is being considered for a particular post. Obviously he’s someone who comes with a wealth of knowledge and is very well-known in Iowa politics. But [I] don’t have any particular updates on his meeting with transition officials.” (Trump is spending this week at his Florida resort.)

JANUARY UPDATE: After a late push to find a Latino for the USDA position, Trump was supposedly leaning toward former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, according to Politico’s morning “Playbook” on January 2. Marvin G. Perez and Jennifer Jacobs reported for Bloomberg later the same day,

Perdue appears to be emerging from a broad pack of candidates. Trump and his aides have interviewed several others, including former Texas A&M University President Elsa Murano, former Texas U.S. Representative Henry Bonilla, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs, former California Lieutenant Governor Abel Maldonado, Idaho Governor Butch Otter, and North Dakota U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat

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