Weekend open thread: Hall of Fame and Family Leadership Summit edition

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

All five Democratic presidential candidates appeared at the Iowa Democratic Party’s Hall of Fame dinner in Cedar Rapids on Friday night. I’ve posted below my impressions from the speeches; you can watch the videos on C-SPAN. It’s a shame the venue couldn’t accommodate more people, because lots of interested Iowa Democrats were unable to get tickets for the event.

Before the Hall of Fame dinner, I spent some time with an old friend who’s a huge Hillary Clinton supporter. Huge, as in, she didn’t take down her Hillary yard sign until the grass was long enough to need mowing in the spring of 2008. She mentioned to me that she’s relieved to see Clinton working hard this year instead of “ignoring” Iowa like last time. When I told my friend that Hillary visited Iowa more than 30 times in 2007, spending all or part of 70 days in the state, she was surprised. I’m amazed by how many Iowans have bought into the media-constructed narrative that Clinton “bombed” in the caucuses because she took the state for granted.

Ten Republican presidential candidates came to Ames on Saturday for the Family Leadership Summit organized by Bob Vander Plaats’ FAMiLY Leader organization. C-SPAN posted all of those speeches here. As usual, Donald Trump sucked up most of the oxygen in the room by questioning whether Senator John McCain had been a hero during the Vietnam War. O.Kay Henderson posted the audio at Radio Iowa. Rival presidential candidates with the exception of Ted Cruz rushed to condemn Trump’s remarks. Some of the Family Leadership Summit attendees may have been more upset by Trump’s comments about his three marriages and his admission that when he’s done something wrong, “I don’t bring God into that picture.”

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Ryan Wise is the new Iowa Department of Education director (updated)

Catching up on news from last week, Governor Terry Branstad appointed Ryan Wise to lead the Iowa Department of Education, effective July 1. I’ve enclosed below the full statement from the governor’s office, which includes more background on Wise. He should have no trouble during the Iowa Senate confirmation process, having served as deputy director at the education department since September 2013.

Wise replaces Brad Buck, who started work on July 1 as superintendent of the Cedar Rapids Community School District. It’s no surprise that he sought new opportunities after less than two years in the top state education job. Branstad instructed Buck to prioritize the tourism industry’s demands over the consensus of school district leaders on academic calendars, even though the large body of research supporting shorter summer vacations for students contrasts sharply with the lack of evidence that “early [school] start dates interfere in any meaningful sense with the Iowa State Fair or with any other tourism activity in Iowa.” During Buck’s tenure as education director, Branstad also asked lawmakers to approve miserly increases in state aid to K-12 schools. The governor’s latest draft budget included “allowable growth” for K-12 education of 1.25 percent for fiscal year 2016 and 2.45 percent for fiscal year 2017. Those levels are low by historical standards and not nearly enough to allow school districts to cover growing costs, leading to either staff and program cuts or property tax increases in many localities.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. UPDATE: Added below excerpts from fifth-grade teacher Amy Moore’s editorial for the Des Moines Register, sounding the alarm about Wise’s experience with the Teach for America program.

P.S.- Almost every time I read a press release from the governor’s office, I am struck by the relentless branding of Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds as a single unit. The communications staff have been doing this for years, supporting Branstad’s desire to make Reynolds his successor. Still, it’s jarring to read unnatural-sounding quotes mentioning the “governor and lieutenant governor” or “Governor Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Reynolds’ leadership.” Does anyone really talk the way Wise “speaks” in the enclosed press release (“I admire the Governor’s and Lieutenant Governor’s commitment to providing every child in Iowa with the world-class education they deserve”)?

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Why is Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey blocking a liberal blogger? (updated)

UPDATE: This morning Secretary Northey unblocked me and said the blocking had been unintentional. Glad to hear it.

Pulling together some links for a future post about how Iowans have responded to a new Environmental Protection Agency clean water rule, I checked Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey’s Twitter feed yesterday and saw this:

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Northey may be the first Iowa Republican elected official to block me. Certainly he is the only statewide official ever to do so. A guy who is likely to run for governor in a couple of years might want to grow a thicker skin.

UPDATE: I learned this morning that I am unable to view Iowa House Judiciary Committee Chair Chip Baltimore’s Twitter feed. That was not the case a few months ago. He may have deleted that account; the old @ChipBaltimoreIA feed has no new tweets since 2013. I haven’t mentioned Baltimore at Bleeding Heartland in a while, but in April I did tweet a link to an unflattering story about him.

SECOND UPDATE: It seems Baltimore deleted that @chipbaltimore Twitter account.

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Branstad's plans on Medicaid, mental health facilities unpopular as well as unwise

Governor Terry Branstad is forging ahead with some major policies he didn’t campaign on last year, oblivious to concerns about the impact on Iowa’s Medicaid recipients and people served by two mental health institutions the governor wants to close.

According to Public Policy Polling’s latest Iowa survey, the governor’s plans are deeply unpopular.

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Tom Vilsack future plans speculation thread

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack plans to move back to Iowa after President Barack Obama’s term ends, according to Radio Iowa’s summary of his remarks on Iowa Public Television’s "Iowa Press" program. Vilsack has served in Obama’s cabinet from the beginning and said he’s not interested in continuing to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture if Hillary Clinton is elected president in 2016. He wants to move back to Iowa and might teach at a university, but he doesn’t want to become the University of Iowa’s next president. O.Kay Henderson reports that Vilsack is open to running for office again someday.

“You know, you never want to say never,” Vilsack said. After disappointing losses in 2014, the Iowa Democratic Party is in the midst of a rebuilding process and Vilsack seems personally committed to the effort. “It’s going to require a lot of work and it’s going to require all hands on deck,” Vilsack says. “And it’s going to require making sure that we are competitive and getting the message out and working in all 99 counties.”

How many Iowa Democrats would like to travel back in time two years and talk Vilsack into running for Tom Harkin’s Senate seat? There’s no doubt in my mind that even in a Republican landslide year, Vilsack could have beaten Joni Ernst. If he agreed to take her on in 2020 (a potentially tougher race because Ernst will be the incumbent), Vilsack would be nearly 70 years old.

Governor Terry Branstad came back to his old job after twelve years—would Vilsack run for governor in 2018? He would be well positioned beat Kim Reynolds or Bill Northey (who appear to be the two most likely GOP nominees), but I don’t see Vilsack going back to that job.

If Representative David Young wins re-election to Iowa’s third Congressional district in 2016, some Democrats would probaby try to recruit Vilsack to run against him in 2018. But a U.S. House seat in the minority caucus probably wouldn’t sound appealing. My best guess is that Iowans will not see Tom Vilsack’s name on a ballot again. What do you think, Bleeding Heartland readers?

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