Three reasons Geri Huser should not have picked the fight the Iowa Utilities Board just lost

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The Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) announced yesterday that it "has started the process to transfer funds earmarked for the Iowa Energy Center (IEC) at Iowa State University and the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research (CGRER) at the University of Iowa." The retreat came less than a week after a spokesperson had insisted, "The board will disburse the funds when they are satisfied (the centers) have answered all the board’s questions."

Restoring the flow of money means the centers charged with promoting alternative energy and efficiency and "interdisciplinary research on the many aspects of global environmental change" no longer face possible staff layoffs or program cuts. But yesterday’s climb-down won’t erase the damage done by IUB Chair Geri Huser’s unwise and unprecedented decision to withhold funding, in the absence of any legal authority to do so. She miscalculated in three ways.

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Preview of an Iowa House district 7 rematch: Tedd Gassman vs Dave Grussing

Democrat Dave Grussing announced earlier this month that he will challenge two-term Republican State Representative Tedd Gassman again in Iowa House district 7, which covers Emmet and Winnebago counties plus half of Kossuth County on Iowa’s northern border. A detailed district map is below, along with background on both candidates. Grussing’s campaign is on the web at Grussing for Iowa House and on Facebook here. His key campaign issues include job creation for rural Iowa, more funding for K-12 schools and community colleges, "encouraging veterans and military retirees to locate in Iowa," and raising the minimum wage. Grussing has also expressed concern about Governor Terry Branstad’s unilateral decision to close two in-patient mental health institutions and privatize Medicaid.

House district 7 has been one of the most competitive state legislative districts in recent election cycles. Democrat John Wittneben defeated Republican Lannie Miller in an open-seat race by just 32 votes in 2010. That campaign likely would have ended differently if Iowa Republican leaders and key GOP-leaning interest groups such as the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and the Iowa Association of Business and Industry had not left Miller behind. Redistricting following the 2010 census made House district less friendly territory for a Democrat, and Wittneben lost his 2012 re-election bid to Gassman by just 44 votes.

House district 7 leans Republican, with 5,269 active registered Democrats, 6,323 Republicans, and 8,307 no-party voters, according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. Voters living in the district supported Mitt Romney over Barack Obama by 51.82 percent to 46.97 percent in 2012 and favored Joni Ernst over Bruce Braley in last year’s U.S. Senate race by 55.71 percent to 38.56 percent, nearly double Ernst’s statewide margin of victory. Grussing’s challenge to Gassman was one of seven Iowa House races the progressive group Democracy for America targeted last cycle, probably because of Gassman’s narrow win in 2012. But Gassman easily won by more than 1,700 votes.

Even in a presidential election year, when more Democrats turn out to vote, Grussing will need to outperform the incumbent substantially among independents and win some crossover Republican votes. That’s not an insurmountable task for a hard-working candidate, though. Especially since Gassman promised during the 2014 campaign to "support education at all levels," saying "his first priority would be to approve a supplemental state aid bill for K-12 education." Although Gassman served as vice chair of the House Education Committee during the 2015 legislative session, to my knowledge he did not speak out for investing more in education as Republican House leaders refused for months to compromise on school funding. Nor did I hear of him criticizing Branstad’s decision to strike nearly $65 million in K-12, community college, and state university funding from the supplemental spending bill lawmakers approved. Gassman certainly didn’t try to override Branstad’s vetoes. Grussing should remind voters frequently that their elected representative stood by while the governor blew a hole in the budgets of K-12 school districts and Iowa Lakes Community College in Emmetsburg.

In addition, for lack of a more tactful way to say this, Gassman is kind of weird. He has often put himself way outside the mainstream, even in his own party. For instance, during an Iowa House subcommittee hearing to consider his 2013 bill to end no-fault divorce for couples with children under age 18, Gassman speculated that his daughter and son-in-law’s divorce put his 16-year-old granddaughter at risk of becoming "more promiscuous." Only six of his fellow Iowa House Republicans co-sponsored that no-fault divorce bill. The same year, Gassman was among just ten GOP state representatives to co-sponsor a bill that would have banned county recorders from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples "until such time as an amendment to the Constitution of the State of Iowa defining marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman is submitted to the electorate for ratification." The bill was clearly unconstitutional and would have created a circus like what Kentucky experienced this summer, thanks to rogue county clerk Kim Davis.

Gassman’s not a strong fundraiser, although his campaign disclosure reports for 2013 and 2014 (see here, here, and here) show that he receives a fair amount of "free money" from political action committees that give the same amount to dozens of state lawmakers. During the 2014 campaign, Grussing benefited from a number of labor union PAC donations, which will likely come through again if he can demonstrate he is running an active campaign.

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Iowa Utilities Board Chair Geri Huser's disturbing power play

In an unprecedented and "perhaps illegal" step, Iowa Utilities Board Chair Geri Huser is "withholding funding from the state’s renewable energy research center until its leaders satisfy her questions about its programs and finances," Ryan Foley reported today for the Associated Press.

Huser’s overreach reflects a serious misunderstanding of her role as a member of the Iowa Energy Center’s advisory council. Her power play also raises questions about why Huser would go to such extraordinary lengths to disrupt activities at a center that has been promoting energy efficiency, conservation, and renewable technologies for nearly 25 years.

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Steve King: Ted Cruz is the "constitutional conservative" who can "restore the soul of America"

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Representative Steve King endorsed Senator Ted Cruz for president a few minutes ago, calling the senator from Texas "the answer to my prayers, a candidate God will use to restore the soul of America." After going through several key issues, including the need to stop President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration and to repeal "root and branch" the 2010 Affordable Care Act, King said his candidate would need to be committed to those policies. In addition, King said a successful candidate needs to be able to appeal not only to establishment Republicans, but also to "constitutional Christian conservatives" and libertarians. The candidate must be able to raise enough money to run a strong campaign, and must be able to inspire Christian conservatives for a large turnout. In King’s view, one reason Republicans lost the 2012 presidential race was millions of Christian conservatives staying home.

King argued that Cruz is "unmatched in his tenacity to take on the Washington cartels" and has "consistently stood on principle" against the D.C. elites. He "does listen, and he does think." Asked how much he will do to support Cruz before the Iowa caucuses, King joked that "if they’ll let me," he is prepared to hit the campaign trail, adding, "I’m in with both feet, I’m in all the way." Asked to sum up his reasoning in one sentence, King said, "Ted Cruz is the full package, the constitutional conservative that can restore the soul of America."

King didn’t endorse a candidate before the 2012 Iowa caucuses, and didn’t take a stand the previous cycle until shortly before the 2008 caucuses, when he endorsed Fred Thompson. I suspect that coming out so early for Cruz reflects King’s concern about Donald Trump’s and Ben Carson’s long ride at the top of the Iowa and national polls. During the Q & A, King said he hopes his endorsement will add "clarity" to Cruz’s position on immigration, and asserted that some others are trying to distort Cruz’s stance on that issue. When a reporter asked King why he doesn’t see Carson as a candidate who can restore the soul of America, King praised Carson’s intellect but suggested that Washington, DC is not "a zone that he is familiar with." Later in the Q & A, King made a similar point about Trump—he doesn’t know enough about how Washington works. He made clear that he would support Trump if he became the GOP nominee and said he appreciated that Trump has raised some of the issues King has worked on for a long time.

UPDATE: Added below some reaction to today’s news and the official video of King endorsing Cruz, which the senator’s campaign sent out a few minutes before King made the big reveal at his press conference. One of the pro-Cruz super-PACs also announced King’s endorsement before the congressman did.

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12 examples of President Barack Obama being weak during his first term


Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s presidential campaign is pushing a new line of attack against Senator Bernie Sanders: in 2011, Sanders said President Barack Obama was "weak" and perhaps should face a challenger in the 2012 Democratic primary. O’Malley’s communications staff have also pushed out reports suggesting Sanders himself was considering a primary challenge to Obama and failed to campaign vigorously for the president’s re-election later in 2012 (not that Vermont was ever in play for Mitt Romney).

Those talking points may fire up Democrats who already resent the fact that the self-proclaimed democratic socialist Sanders has always campaigned as an independent. But I doubt they are a promising line of attack for moving caucus-goers and primary voters away from Sanders and toward O’Malley. The inconvenient truth is that Obama’s record hasn’t always lined up with progressive principles or with his own campaign promises. I suspect those who "feel the Bern" are more likely to agree with than be offended by Sanders’ critique of the president.

I don’t know yet for whom I will caucus, the first time I’ve ever been undecided so late in the election cycle. But I count myself among those "millions of Americans" Sanders described as "deeply disappointed in the president" during the interview O’Malley’s campaign portrays as harmful. I caucused uncommitted in 2012 to send the message that the president "hasn’t stood up for core principles of the Democratic Party." Moreover, O’Malley’s own stump speech hints at some valid reasons for Democrats to be disaffected by Obama’s rightward drift.

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Iowa reaction to Obama rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline

President Barack Obama announced yesterday that he is rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have transported tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast of the U.S. Earlier in the week, TransCanada had asked the Obama administration to suspend its review of the pipeline project, presumably hoping to "delay the review process in hopes that a more sympathetic Republican administration will move into the White House in 2017."

I enclose below the full text of the president’s statement on Keystone and reaction from members of Iowa’s Congressional delegation. U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst sharply criticized the decision, as did Republican Representative David Young (IA-03). I have not seen any comment from GOP Representatives Rod Blum (IA-01) or Steve King (IA-04) but will update this post as needed. King is currently visiting the Middle East. Both he and Blum have consistently backed the Keystone XL project.

Democratic Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02) refrained from criticizing the president’s decision, instead calling on politicians to "focus on the issues that are important to the American people." Loebsack’s voting record on Keystone XL is mixed, but earlier this year he twice supported a bill that would have authorized the pipeline. (Obama vetoed that legislation.)

All three Democratic presidential candidates welcomed the news about Keystone’s demise, while most of the GOP field denounced Obama’s decision.

The USA Today reported that Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement, "The critical factor in my determination was this: moving forward with this project would significantly undermine our ability to continue leading the world in combating climate change." Kerry’s outstanding lifelong voting record on environmental issues was a major reason I became a precinct captain for him before the 2004 Iowa caucuses and continued to volunteer during that year’s general election campaign. I wish he had acted much sooner on Keystone XL, but better late than never. He doesn’t seem to have entirely convinced the president, though; speaking yesterday, Obama asserted that the pipeline would not have been "the express lane to climate disaster proclaimed" by climate hawks.

I enclose at the end of this post a joint statement from Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and the Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition, which called on "all the other pipelines proposed from the Tar Sands of Canada and the Bakken Oil fields of North Dakota" to be rejected on the same grounds as Keystone XL. Energy analyst Aurelien Windenberger published an interesting commentary this week questioning whether the Dakota Access (Bakken) Pipeline even makes "economic sense" anymore for parent company Energy Transfer Partners. Click here for more background on the Bakken proposal.

UPDATE: Added below a statement from Pat Murphy, one of the Democratic candidates in Iowa’s first Congressional district.

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