Weekend open thread: Revisionist history

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

Many cities and towns in northeast Iowa have been flooded over the last few days, and Cedar Rapids is bracing for the city’s second-worst flood in history. The latest forecast indicates the Cedar River will crest Tuesday morning around 23 feet, about two feet below the projected crest from a couple of days ago but still seven feet above "major flood" level. Many downtown streets are closed, National Guard members will assist local law enforcement, and a small army of volunteers have been sandbagging and trying to protect local landmarks. The Cedar Rapids Gazette is regularly updating this page with more 2016 flood coverage.

Several Iowa House Republican candidates began running television commercials this past week. Some GOP candidates for the Iowa Senate have been on the air for a couple of weeks now, and campaigns on both sides have begun to send out direct mail. Usually, those communications are not available online, so I appreciate reports on any direct mail pieces or state legislative campaign commercials you’ve seen or heard on radio and tv stations in your area. Whatever details you can remember are helpful, as are screen shots or pdf files showing images. My e-mail address is near the lower right-hand corner of this page.

In Iowa House district 43, one of the top targets for Democrats, House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow is running a tv ad whitewashing his record on education. Several other Republicans are trying out similar talking points, which presumably tested well in polls that were in the field a few weeks ago. I’ll have more to say about Hagenow’s ad in a future post. A few key points for now:

• Five legislative sessions in a row, House Republicans have refused to pass bills setting state support for K-12 education ("allowable growth") on the timeline required by state law. Their delays left school district leaders unable to plan their budgets on time.
• Six legislative sessions in a row, Iowa House and Senate Democrats have fought House Republicans over education funding. Every year, House GOP leaders insisted on a final budget below what school districts, community colleges, and state universities would need to keep up with rising costs.
• Hagenow absurdly postures as a supporter of more funding for preschool. In reality, within weeks after Republicans took over the Iowa House in 2011, Hagenow and everyone else in his caucus voted to eliminate state preschool funding. If Hagenow had gotten his way, Iowa would not even have a state-supported preschool program for 4-year-olds.

Speaking of revisionist history, Donald Trump’s campaign is now claiming that Carter Page was never a foreign policy adviser to the presidential candidate. Both Trump and Page talked to journalists in March about his adviser role. Why the change? Probably because according to Michael Isikoff’s September 23 story for Yahoo News, "U.S. intelligence officials are seeking to determine" whether Page "has opened up private communications with senior Russian officials." Questions center on Page’s activities during a July visit to Moscow.

But how well-connected is Page in Russia anyway? Julia Ioffe talked to specialists in the U.S. and Moscow and reported in her must-read piece for Politico, "despite the tightly knit nature of the expat business community in Russia, no one I spoke to had ever heard of Carter Page." Several people who have worked in the Russian energy sector discounted Page’s self-described role with the gas monopoly Gazprom. People who knew Page from Merrill Lynch’s Moscow office or his work with Russia’s electricity monopoly were unimpressed. Talk about irony: the ultimate con man Trump, who lies about matters large and small, may have been tricked into elevating Page’s stature.

Ioffe’s reporting suggests that Iowa’s own Sam Clovis recruited Page on behalf of the Trump campaign. Clovis refused to answer the journalist’s questions.

Final note: Craig Robinson and I discussed the Trump campaign’s Russia connections with Dave Price for one of WHO-TV’s September 21 newscasts; click here to watch that video. Robinson and I talked about other aspects of the presidential race on today’s edition of "The Insiders." I’ll add links when they become available.

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A close look at Republican message-testing in key Iowa House races

Republicans are testing potentially damaging messages about Iowa House Democratic candidates, along with statements that might increase support for GOP candidates in battleground legislative districts. After listening to several recordings of these telephone polls and hearing accounts from other respondents, I have three big takeaways:

• Republicans are seeking ways to insulate themselves from voter anger over inadequate education funding and the Branstad administration’s botched Medicaid privatization;
• The time-honored GOP strategy of distorting obscure legislative votes is alive and well;
• The Iowa Democratic Party’s platform plank on legalizing all drugs may be used against candidates across the state.

Read on for much more about these surveys.

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Weekend open thread: Trump at the Ernst "Roast and Ride" edition

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump was back in Des Moines yesterday as the headliner for Senator Joni Ernst’s second annual "Roast and Ride" fundraiser. Approximately 400 people rode their motorcycles to the state fairgrounds, where politicians addressed a crowd of about 1,800. Radio Iowa posted the full audio of Trump’s remarks and highlights here. Shane Vander Hart live-blogged the event for Caffeinated Thoughts.

I got a kick out of the Ernst Twitter feed, featuring photos of the rock band The Nadas, various other special guests and crowd shots, but not a single picture of headliner Trump.

Why so shy, Senator?

Not to worry, lots of other people got pictures of Ernst standing next to Trump and recorded her urging Iowans to get out the vote for the whole GOP ticket.

Representative Steve King (IA-04) was up there with Trump and Ernst, despite telling Radio Iowa on Friday he was "uneasy" about the presidential nominee seeming to backpedal lately on his promise to deport undocumented immigrants. ABC’s Meghan Keneally recapped Trump’s mixed messages about immigration policy this past week. For more, see Nick Corasaniti’s latest report for the New York Times and this piece by Peter Beinart for The Atlantic. Trump attempted to clean up the mess in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Friday. His campaign manager Kellyanne Conway tried but failed to articulate a coherent position on CBS this morning.

At the Roast and Ride, Trump promised, "We’re gonna get rid of these people, day 1, before the wall [is built on the Mexican border], before anything." The family of Sarah Root, the inspiration for Steve King’s "Sarah’s law," joined Trump on stage. My heart goes out to them. Losing a loved one to a drunk driver would be devastating.

Senator Chuck Grassley and Representatives Rod Blum (IA-01) and David Young (IA-03) all spoke to the Roast and Ride crowd but declined to stand on stage for the group photo with Trump. Who can blame them?

Speaking of Trump’s toxicity, Hillary Clinton delivered an excellent speech this week to connect the dots on how Trump has promoted racist and race-baiting ideas, giving hope and cover to white supremacists. The full transcript is here. Watching the white nationalist movement become emboldened by Trump’s campaign has been one of the most disturbing political developments of the last year.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome. I skipped the Roast and Ride to go knock some doors on behalf of Jennifer Konfrst, the Democratic candidate in Iowa House district 43. Incumbents have a lot of advantages when running for re-election, especially a powerful legislator like Konfrst’s opponent, House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow. But a leadership role has drawbacks in a campaign too. For instance, when a no-party voter in this district tells me at the door she’s upset the legislature hasn’t done anything on bike safety, it’s nice to be able to mention that as majority leader, Hagenow has a huge say in what bills come out of committee and up for votes on the House floor. So if you want the House to act on bills that have already passed the state Senate (like the safe passing law that’s a high priority for the Iowa Bicycle Coalition, or real medical cannabis reform, or insurance coverage for autism services, or better oversight of privatized Medicaid), you need to change the House leadership.

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July 4 open thread

Happy Independence Day to the Bleeding Heartland community! Enjoy the day safely, and please remember that amateur fireworks can not only hurt people, but also cause distress for war veterans suffering from PTSD.

It’s less hot today than usual on July 4, which will make walking with Jennifer Konfrst and other Democrats in this afternoon’s Windsor Heights parade much more pleasant. If you went to any parades this weekend, please share your anecdotes. I urge Democrats to wear sunscreen, comfortable shoes, and a t-shirt with a positive message. Don’t be rude to any political adversaries, and don’t respond in kind if heckled by Republicans. My go-to answers to parade watchers insulting me or candidates I support include, "My dad was a Republican" or "It’s a free country" or "Happy Fourth of July!"

This is an open thread: all topics welcome. Thanks to media coverage picking up on the Iowa DNR’s recent warning about wild parsnip, last year’s post about that hazardous plant and poison hemlock has become the most-viewed edition of Iowa wildflower Wednesday. This weekend’s follow-up with more pictures of wild parsnip has become the most-shared Bleeding Heartland piece about wildflowers, which is ironic, since very few of more than 125 posts in this series have featured European invaders.

Some people confuse wild parsnip with golden Alexanders, a North American native with small yellow flowers. But the plants look quite different, and golden Alexanders tend to boom earlier in the year than wild parsnip.

Iowa Democrats trying to add autism insurance coverage to budget bill

Earlier this month, Claire Celsi informed Bleeding Heartland readers about the demise of an autism insurance bill after State Representative Peter Cownie refused to bring the measure up for a vote in the Iowa House Commerce Committee, which he chairs.

As both Autism Awareness Month and the 2016 legislative session wind down, Democrats in the Iowa House and Senate have been working to add the same requirements to a must-pass budget bill. Follow me after the jump for background and where things stand in this fight.

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Prospects for increasing diversity in the Iowa legislature (post-filing edition)

Now that the deadline to compete in the Democratic or Republican primaries has passed, the field of candidates is set in most of the 100 Iowa House districts and 25 Iowa Senate districts that will be on the ballot this fall.

It’s time for a first look at chances to increase diversity in the state legislature for the next two years. The proportion of white lawmakers is unlikely to change, while the proportion of women could move in either direction.

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